The relationship between environmentalism and food was not always obvious to me. It was not until I accepted food’s effect on the spirit did I start caring about how I chose to nourish my body.
Environmentalism can also mean cherishing your body, your soul’s environment.
And what purer, more full circle way is there to nourish your soul’s environment than by respecting your own environment as well? Eating food that is harmful to Earth is like biting the hand that feeds you…dangerously counterproductive. Unfortunately for us gluttons, caring about the environment and watching what you eat go in hand-in-hand.
Recently, Sierra magazine named its “Five Foods That Are Killing the Planet.” The list names five tasty favorites: bluefin tuna, conventional coffee, factory-farmed beef, genetically modified corn and palm oil. That may sound like a lot of “no” to your taste buds, but fear not: The Daily Green has replacements for these seemingly essential eats.
LOVE ME? TRY ME
“People need to stop eating bluefin tuna. Period. It’ll be difficult because bluefin is uncommonly delicious and tends to be served at high-end sushi bars, where the fashion is to say ‘omakase‘ and submit to the chef’s will. But the numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast,” Jonathan Gold, a food critic and 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winner, told Sierra.
Bluefin tuna is, of course, a sushi favorite. Its dark fattiness outdoes any other tuna. This indulgent goodness means that bluefin tuna is delicious raw, making it perfect for sashimi. The tuna’s certainly got a fatty, and this fatty has mesmerized seafood lovers so much that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fish Watch.gov describes it as “overfished.”
“Because they’re long-lived, bluefin populations don’t stand up well to heavy fishing pressure—that’s why they’re so depleted. It’s just too sad to eat them. Plus, big fish are high in mercury,” Carl Safina, Blue Ocean Institute, told Sierra.
Fish Watch agrees that constant bluefin tuna indulgence is not sustainable, but don’t jump overboard yet, tuna tasters. There are other fish in the sea.
Enter Alaskan salmon. It’s pink. It’s squishy. It’s got flavor. And isn’t that what tuna’s all about?
Check out Food & Water Watch’s handy seafood cheat sheet for more seafood suggestions that are less demanding on Earth.
NEED ME? TRY ME
A lot of you say you can’t wake up without your coffee, but did you know that some coffee crops never wake up at all?
“[Conventional coffee] stems from manipulating this shade-loving plant into one that’s grown in full sunlight and requires substantial use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers,” Stephen Madigosky, PhD, Widener University environmental science professor and 2013 Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching recipient, told Sierra.
Coffea, the plant that produces coffee beans, are not meant to spend their lives under these conditions. Ingesting food grown in such unpleasant, unnatural and unloving conditions probably doesn’t yield the best nourishment for hungry souls.
You are what you eat, and if you’re constantly drinking conventional coffee, you’re a vampire of a plant still dripping wet from its chemical bath.
It’s time to upgrade your coffee from fungicides to free trade.
First of all, if you’re a daily coffee drinker, you SHOULD NOT be buying a cup of coffee every single day. If you do, you’re sacrificing money, time, flavor and originality for an enlarged carbon footprint made even larger with waste (cups, wraps, stirrers, napkins, sugar packets, creamers, etc.).
Instead, get yourself a cute little coffeemaker, and make a cup in your own kitchen. Can’t bear to function that early in the morning? Set up the coffeemaker the night before, and just hit the on switch when you wake up. You can do it, I believe in you.
Buying organic coffee will ensure that you’re not getting your morning pick-up from various –icides and fertilizers. If you want to get even more bang for your buck, make the bag fair trade.
Buying fair trade helps out the little guy.
“The number of community-based programs in coffee-growing countries directly benefit from the purchase of our coffee. For example, farmers in Peru and Mexico receive a higher price per pound for their coffee (above and beyond the going rate for certified coffee) to help support local domestic violence intervention programs and small business loans for women,” Grounds for Change.
If you want something more practical, and maybe even easier to find, try Bigelow’s organic tea line. The USDA Certified tea bags include classic flavors like green tea and decaf, and some Fair Trade Certified flavors as well.
CRAVE ME? TRY ME
Cows don’t get juicy all by themselves.
The cows that turn into your favorite fast food burgers are quite needy. A cow only gains one pound for every 10-14 pounds of grained-based feed it eats. Supplying all that feed means clearing room for genetically modified corn and soy crops that grow with the help of pesticides.
Thus, tropical forests are destroyed and local waters tainted to feed factory-farmed beef.
If you still want to have your beef and eat it too, make sure the cow you’re eating is grass-fed. Unfortunately for those who don’t enjoy fiddling with raw meat, this usually means buying the beef yourself.
But if you have to do fast food because, let’s face it, hunger, convenience, and hangovers can get to the best of us, at least try to show some humility.
Greasy fries can give you your fast food fix without the destructive factory beef of hamburgers. Better yet, try Five Guys fries, which the chain claims are fresh-cut and vegan-friendly.
“Without processing, [Five Guys minimizes] energy input, and the packaging is just a paper cup and an unbleached paper bag. The salty, deep-fried flavor reminds me of walking on a seaside boardwalk as a kid,” Jay Friedlander, founder of Stonyfield Café, America’s first organic fast-food chain, told Sierra.
Bonus: If your daily grind takes you to New York, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, or West Virginia, check out Elevation Burger. The Virginia-based chain specializes in (almost) guilt-free organic burgers made of free-range, grass-fed cows.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED CORN
AVOID ME SHOP ME
“Genetically modified corn violates so many sustainability boundaries—destroying habitats, depleting soils, breaking nutrient cycles, polluting air and water, contaminating native maize varieties, and on and on,” Douglas Fox, Unity College professor of sustainable agriculture, told Sierra.
According to Non-GMO Project, scientists make genetically modified corn “herbicide resistant (Roundup Ready)” with the ability to “produce its own insecticide (Bt Toxin).” It is popular in both canned, frozen and fresh ear form.
Genetically modified corn is also used to make high fructose corn syrup, which is used as a cheap sugar substitute in plenty of foods but isn’t sustainable.
“[High fructose corn syrup] takes a huge toll on the land, requires more pesticides and fertilizers over time as soil is depleted, and requires extensive processing…[GMOs] will continue to dramatically reduce biodiversity and drive historic fruits and vegetables to extinction,” Lee Greene, The Scrumptious Pantry founder, told Sierra.
If you’re concerned about the safety of GMOs, avoid them by buying food that is either 100% organic or Non-GMO Certified. Sometimes these foods are harder to find and even a bit pricier but adding them to your groceries is completely doable.
Switching a grocery item here and there won’t break the budget. Plus, adding organic and/or GMO-free products to your diet little by little gives you time to see if you notice any difference. You don’t have to find a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, who carries over 3,300 non-GMO products according to its blog, to get organic food. A lot of common big name companies make organic and GMO-free products as well.
These foods are a quick and easy way to finally get the organic wheel rolling.
GMOs also take away sweetness from the fruit of Earth’s labor. Our planet is constantly creating new life to nourish us, be it plants or animals. Earth is the first and original munchies maker. It has fed and maintained life since the beginning of time. Why mess with what isn’t broken?
Sure, GMOs make food more practical, but they are costly to our planet, our original and most important source of food.
Seventy-five percent of harvested palm oil is used for food.
“Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a wide array of packaged foods, including ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups,” Friends of the Earth Fact Sheet, Friends of the Earth.
According to Rainforest Action Network, palm oil use grew 500% since 2004. Such rapid growth means more room is needed to grow the cash crop. Again, the victim is the rainforest; palm oil is now one of it’s leading destroyers.
Can’t seem to avoid palm oil? Tell the big guys to get the oil more responsibly. According to Friends of the Earth, Wilmar International, Earth’s biggest palm oil trader, has vowed to reduce deforestation and peatland attacks that occur while obtaining its product. You can encourage the company to begin its commitment here.
Nipping the palm oil problem in the bud today means we’ll have rainforests tomorrow.
Friends of the Earth, an activist group founded by David Brower, also recommends cutting down waste to cut down palm oil use. That means less snacks, cosmetics and fuel.
In the end, can eat good food, love the planet and nourish your soul at the same time. Read what you eat. That means reading about its ingredients, its history, who and where it comes from and how. Neither your body nor the planet need be destroyed through ignorance and laziness. But if you are one of us lazy ignorant folk, try apps like Fooducate, which gives quick, free bios on grocery store items from your smartphone.