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6 Ways to Eat More Responsibly

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Did you know that even the food you eat has a carbon footprint? Follow these tips to make sure that the food you buy has a minimal impact on the environment.
Originally Published: 01/25/10

If you're concerned about the environment, chances are that you're already trying to buy organic. You probably also tote your reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, and recycle all those food packages after you empty them.

But now there's another factor you can take into account to make sure that your food purchases are making a minimal impact on planet Earth.

No doubt you've heard about the concept of carbon footprints. Basically, a carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by your daily activities. The amount you drive, whether or not you recycle, if you buy organic foods, or if your house has energy-efficient appliances, for instance, are all factors in determining your carbon footprint (this calculator can help you figure out where you stand in terms of your energy and resource consumption).

Well, it turns out that the foods we eat also have a carbon footprint of their own—that is, how much negative impact they have on the environment. A recent piece in the Washington Post discussed how certain conventionally grown crops require more pesticides and fertilizers than others, how some crops make more efficient use of the land than others and how some offer more nutritional bang for the buck to offset the use of chemicals.

Knowing which produce or crops have a low negative impact on the earth can help steer you to making more responsible decisions at the supermarket. Here are a few tips:

Go Organic If Possible. Obviously, crops that are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides mean that these toxic substances do not leach into water supply or harm local wildlife.

Nix Conventionally Grown Berries. Raspberries and strawberries grown in California are among the biggest users of pesticides.

Eat More Legumes and Grains. Beans, peas and white rice, even when they're conventionally grown, all have a lesser impact on the environment than many other crops. Wild rice, however, is treated very heavily with pesticides and should be avoided.

Eat Less Meat. Even cutting back once a week can have a huge impact on the environment. The meat industry is estimated to contribute to one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

When You Do Eat Meat, Choose Wisely. Avoid red meat like beef, lamb and goat, because these animals require a lot of land, eat a lot of food (which translates to more pesticides and fertilizers use to grow this food) and create a lot of manure. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is a wiser choice because they create less waste, reproduce more efficiently and gain weight more quickly.

Buy meat from local farmers if possible, which cuts down on pollution and energy use from transportation. Certain types of meat have less impact on the environment than others. Grass-raised bison, for instance, do not cause overgrazing and erosion issues like cattle do.

As for fish, find a good resource (such as the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch) where you can find fish that is responsibly fished or farmed.

Check the Price. Brendan Borrell, author of the Washington Post article, writes that often a lower priced fruit or vegetable means a lower impact on the earth. "The trick doesn't always work," he writes. "But, in general, the cheaper one probably required less fertilizer, pesticide, land and energy."

Got any ideas on how to lower the carbon footprint of your food? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.