It's Easy Being Green - Voting for a Healthy Planet - With Your Fork!

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Even if you can’t put solar panels on your roof or a Tesla in your garage, you can still greatly reduce your carbon footprint with what you put on your dinner plate. Analyses by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (UN FAO) estimate that the global average for anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is between 14 and 18 percent. That’s more than WRI’s estimated emissions for the transportation sector, which is 13.5 percent! That means that changing what we eat is just as important as how we move around the planet. Looking for a way to lessen your footprint when it comes to your diet? Try these suggestions!

Think Global, Eat Local

On average, food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from the field to your table, which is 25 percent more than just 20 years ago. It now requires more energy to grow and transport the food than we actually consume from the food. Fortunately, there are many local growers in the region. You can join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm where you invest in the local farm and then enjoy fresh produce throughout the season - it’s a wonderful way to develop a sense of place when it comes to your meals. If you like more control over what produce you’re are receiving week-to-week, try one of the area’s fine farmers markets. Just make sure you ask if the vendor grows their own vegetables. If a vendor is the only one at the market with tomatoes in June, chances are they are shipping them in. Buying local not only helps the environment, but it also helps the local economy and connects you to where your food comes from. Growing your own garden is another way to keep your diet local. Plus, if you compost your food scraps, you are keeping waste out of landfills and rebuilding the soil in your garden.

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Cool Beans

Last year, 21 billion pounds of coffee were consumed. These beans were grown across 27 million acres in the tropical forest, vital habitat for birds and other wildlife. Because of the high demand for coffee, traditional ways of growing coffee have given way to industrialized methods which cause deforestation, water pollution, and loss of soil quality. If giving up your morning cup of coffee is totally off the table, there are still choices you can make to lessen your impact on the planet. Look for shade-grown coffee beans. This means that the coffee trees are planted under native trees, mimicking how the coffee trees would grow in nature -this helps the birds and maintains the biodiversity of the forest. You can also look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified label. Moreover, the Fair-trade label ensures that the farmer growing and harvesting the coffee beans gets a fair, livable wage.

Avoid the K-Cup coffee makers! As convenient as they may be, they are an environmental nightmare. According to the Story of Stuff, the amount of K-Cups in the landfill could wrap around the earth 11 times! It is more environmentally friendly to opt for home-brewed coffee in a french press or coffee pot (just make sure to unplug the coffee pot when not in use so it doesn’t zap unnecessary power). If you can’t live without your K-Cups, they do make a reusable K-Cup filter. Making your coffee at home also reduces the extra energy consumed by coffee shops; it also ensures that you are using responsibly sourced, shade-grown and Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Skipping the latte and the creamer also helps reduce the carbon footprint of your coffee. Milk represents 60 to 70 percent of the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee with a few tablespoons of milk; or as much as 90 percent for a latte! For more information on sustainably-sourced coffee, check out Audubon’s guide to Bird-Friendly coffee.

Sustainable, bird-friendly coffee agro-forestry.

Sustainable, bird-friendly coffee agro-forestry.

Pass on the Palm Oil

Coffee is relatively benign compared to the environmentally destructive industry of conflict palm oil plantations. Rainforests sequester most of the world’s carbon, but they are being bulldozed for palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, 18 million more hectacres of rainforest are slated to be converted to palm oil plantations by 2020! Not only is this practice bad news for the climate because of the intense carbon emissions from deforestation, it also poses immediate disastrous effects on forest peoples and the wildlife of the forest, particularly Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants, and orangutans. Palm oil is found is many processed foods - actually, it’s found in roughly 50 percent of consumer goods, from lipstick to detergent. Read the ingredient label and pass on foods that contain palm oil. For a great resource on palm oil, the many aliases it goes by, and the foods it is found in, click here.

Deforestation for palm oil plantations.

Deforestation for palm oil plantations.

Eat More Plants and Go Pasture-Raised

We have all heard that reducing our meat and dairy consumption can make a huge impact on the planet. According to an FAO report, “The global livestock sector contributes a significant share to anthropogenic GHG emissions, but it can also deliver a significant share of the necessary mitigation effort.” Cattle raised in CAFO’s or confined animal feeding operations for beef production and dairy contribute heavily to GHG emissions. On the other hand, cattle raised in well-managed pastures can actually help to store carbon back in the soil.

But just how much does it matter? If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week, it’s like not driving your car for five weeks!That’s just one meatless meal a week. Check out Meatless Mondays for a source of recipes and information. You can also check out Seafood Watch to ensure you are making sustainable choices with your fish and seafood consumption. Simply going vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean better for the planet. If you are purchasing a lot of heavily processed and packaged vegetarian meals (with soy shipped from other parts of the world), this can also have a big impact. So remember to eat local and whole foods whenever possible and skip the packaging.

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Want to Go Deeper?

Check out Yale’s Climate Connections for more ways to reduce your carbon footprint with your diet!