The food items that we choose to eat have a major impact on the environment. While many people understand why eating organically and locally is better for the overall health of the planet, they aren’t aware that the specific items they choose to purchase also have an effect.
Different foods can represent widely divergent uses of resources, and the production of some foods creates more pollution than others. For example, processed foods almost always come with a heavy carbon footprint, while fresh, unprocessed foods often do not. In addition, the industrial production of some crops can deplete nutrients in the ground and make it difficult to grow more without the use of fertilizer, while other options may actually promote soil health.
Some of the most environmentally friendly foods that eco-conscious consumers can eat include:
One of the best foods that people can eat for their personal health and the environment is the humble lentil. As a “super food” from the legume family,lentils provide a lot of dietary fiber and protein along with a number of other nutrients. What’s more, growing lentils creates only a small carbon footprint.Studies have shown that lentils require 43 times less carbon than producing beef. Furthermore, growing lentils requires relatively little water, and the plants actually clean the soil and add nutrients back to it as they mature.This makes it easier to grow other crops afterward without adding so many chemical fertilizers.
Many farmers around the world are growing garden peas as an alternative to soybeans,which take quite a toll on soil nutrients. Garden peas, on the other hand,actually fix nitrogen into the soil, which reduces the need to use nitrogen-containing fertilizers in subsequent crops. Another benefit of growing garden peas is that they actually thrive in cooler temperatures, which means that less water is wasted through evaporation than with plants that do best in hot climates.
While tomato plants thrive during the height of summer, they require less water than most other vegetables grown in heat because their roots push deep into the soil,which means that they do not need wet topsoil to obtain moisture. Furthermore,tomatoes often come from local sources during the summer months, which means that they incur less of a carbon footprint than some other types of produce.These locally grown tomatoes also tend to be much tastier than ones grown elsewhere and shipped long distances.
Like lentils, beans also belong to the legume family. In general, beans come with significant amounts of protein, nutrients, and fiber, as well as a low carbon and water footprint. Moreover, beans come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, which make them a flexible ingredient that can be used in soups,salads, and a variety of other dishes. Pairing beans with rice provides ample protein and serves as an ideal base for a sustainable, satisfying, and nutritious meal.
Not only are potatoes filling, but they are also among the most ecologically friendly produce to purchase. This is because potatoes produce fungicides and pesticides naturally as they grow. Farmers can use potatoes to help protect their soil without relying on so many synthetic chemicals. In addition,potatoes are among the most water-efficient crops to grow. Producing a pound of potatoes consumes about 50 gallons of water. By comparison, growing a pound of rice consumes more than 400 gallons.
People may be surprised to see non-plant food items on this list, but mussels are cultivated in a way that helps clean the ocean. Traditionally, they grow on long ropes that are suspended into the water. As the mussels grow along the ropes, they eat food that naturally occurs in the water, meaning they require virtually no input of resources, and they help filter and clean the water in the process.Furthermore, mussels actually extract carbon from the ocean to make their shells.
Farmers don’t have to use as many synthetic pesticides when they grow broccoli since the plant produces compounds that naturally keep predators away. Thus, broccoli can help reduce pollution caused by the runoff of excess agricultural chemicals into waterways. Additionally, carbon emissions from broccoli production are much lower compared to other foods.
People who are conscientious about the amount of water that goes into producing their food maybe surprised to learn that growing one pound of oranges requires only 55 gallons of water—one pound of peaches, in comparison, requires 142 gallons.Among all fruits, oranges are some of the most water-efficient options. Remember that the environmental and health benefits of whole oranges don’t always transfer to orange products, however. Orange juice requires a lot of processing that can increase its carbon footprint, and many brands contain a considerable amount of added sugar.
While not a common part of the American diet, amaranth is an ancient grain that provides high protein and a range of other nutrients. Some agricultural professionals believe amaranth could be used to combat food scarcity around the world because it is such a resilient plant that can grow in just about any type of soil and requires little water. If amaranth increased in popularity, it could also help promote biodiversity in the American grain industry, which is dominated by corn.