Going Green: Meals, Food and Shopping [15 Tips]

Part 4 in an 8-Part WebEcoist Series on How to Go Green

As stated in the Beginner’s Guide to Going Green: “Green grub is not just tofu and organic carrots. In future posts, you’ll learn about the foods you don’t have to buy organic and cheap ways to buy the ones you do. You’ll learn about food miles and whether local is really best. You’ll find out how you can be a green steak lover. Green food should be healthy, cheap, delicious and accessible.”

In past generations, eating local, storing up food, cooking at home, gardening and composting were all done as a matter of course. These days we call it “green” but ultimately it’s just sensible and affordable (and actually pretty fun, too). Here are fifteen great tips to get you started on a greener and healthier diet.

Where to find eco-friendly foods:

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As noted in the beginner’s guide to green consumption, the best choices are farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and organic or local co-op grocery stores.

farmers’ markets give all the profits to farmers, rather than large conglomerates, and farmers’ markets typically offer fresher, healthier fare, even if it is not always organic. (Many small farmers cannot afford organic certification but raise their produce in organic methods regardless.) Nearly every city has a farmers’ market, and if you show up before closing you’re bound to get delicious produce for next to nothing.

– CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are a great way to be conveniently green. Sign up for a local CSA and get organic, fresh produce delivered to you at your convenience, for a great price. All the while, you’ll be supporting local food and thereby reducing food miles. (There is even an organic, free-range humane meat CSA for steak lovers.)

– Though places like Wild Oats or Whole Foods are pricey even Albertson’s now offers a wonderful organic line of foods. Costco may seem cheaper on the surface, but the sacrifice to your health and the planet (mass-produced, often weeks or months-old food, and major food miles) is truly not worth it in the long run. Look for low-cost organic and local alternatives to chain outlets.

What foods are eco-friendly?

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– In general, animal products are not “green” because they require intensive resources to produce. By some estimates, beef consumption is contributing more to global warming than automobile use. You don’t have to be vegan (although there are some delicious vegan recipes you may want to try.) A good rule of thumb is to eat lower on the food chain, favoring fresh veggies, fruit, grains, beans and tofu over beef, cream, butter, pork and chicken. Opt for organic animal products when you do enjoy them, and eat small portions. Make it a goal to eat vegetarian at least one day a week. It’s really very easy to do these days, even at restaurants.

– Choose organic foods to reduce the impact of farming – organic foods are raised in a sustainable way and are often healthier, too. The “dirty dozen” is worth learning – things like apples have some of the highest levels of pesticides of any food. However, not everything needs to be organic – avocados, for example, are typically safe (see a great list of foods that you don’t have to buy organic).

– Don’t forget to “green” the goodies: choose biodynamic wine that sustains vineyards; opt for fair trade coffee that benefits workers; choose organic chocolate to ensure a sustainable treat.

Out and about and on-the-go:

Image via Nahh

– Try to eat out less – the average American dines out at least 4 times per week. You might try skipping out on one restaurant meal per week to start, or get into the habit of splitting meals with your friends. You’ll help the planet and maybe even lose a few pounds. You’ll save a lot of money, too. You don’t have to become a gourmet chef; cooking at home is more about planning in advance than anything. Get into the habit of cooking – it’s a green thing to do.

– Vending machine candy bars and chip packs are tasty, but they aren’t healthy for you; and processed snacks are terrible for the planet. They represent the ultimate in wasteful, unsustainable consumption. The shelf-stable ingredients are often genetically and chemically modified with no regard for nutrition, food miles, or sustainability. Make a point of snacking on whole, fresh, organic treats like almonds, apples and organic string cheese.

– When dining out, make a point of choosing vegetarian options whenever possible to reduce your impact. For example, choose a veggie pizza, salad without the grilled chicken, or tomato-and-vegetable penne pasta dish instead of heavier, meat-filled entrees. You’ll save money, help the planet, and likely lose a few pounds as well.

Know Your Labels:

– 100% Organic is truly organic and the most sustainable choice. This means that no harmful chemicals are used, that animals are raised according to strict standards and that farmland is managed sustainably. There are no hormones used, there’s no irradiation, and genetic modification is banned, too.

– Organic means 95% of the ingredients are organic. This certification is easier for agricultural companies to comply with but if you have the options of 100% Organic and Organic, choose the former. (Kind of tricky, aren’t they?) If you’re unconvinced about the importance of purely organic foods, read this article.

– Country of origin – this is a new labeling that will be introduced at the end of September. Country of Origin Labeling will apply to meat, fish, nuts and some other foods, and should help to weed out concerns about sustainable foods. (For example, fish is often considered a healthy, eco-friendly choice, but foreign farm-raised fish are not subject to the same standards as in the United States, and contamination and poor living standards for the fish have been some of the many concerns.)

Things you can do:

Image via Tobi

– Carry a reusable sack for groceries. This is often the first step of many seeking to go green, and for good reason – it’s easy, inexpensive and really makes a difference. Both plastic and paper bags are bad for the environment, so choose a stylish canvas option and forget the throwaways.

– Say goodbye to bottled water (and juice, and soda). Bottled water is unnecessary with our access to pure tap water, and it’s horrible for the environment. Just think: carting tap water halfway around the world in non-renewable bottles…and paying a premium for this!

– Grow your own. Backyard – or urban – gardening is fun, fulfilling and inexpensive. You can grow tomatoes, herbs, potatoes and other necessities easily from your apartment window, balcony or simply the back porch. Urban gardening is a hot trend and a sensible one, and there is plenty of advice online about getting started. In World War II, virtually all of the nation’s produce was raised by individuals at home in a concerted effort to save resources. These “victory gardens” fell by the wayside during the 1950s but it’s time they made a comeback. Why pay through the nose when you can grow your own veggies at home with ease?


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