As consumers look to improve their diets and choose more natural meal options, food and beverage companies adapt to capture the growing market share. Unfortunately, some of the tactics they use are downright confusing, if not misleading. Catchphrases like “all-natural,” “organic,” “no chemicals,” or “good for the environment” are on many products, but are they actually true? Let’s break down what an eco-friendly diet is (or is not).
For a diet to be eco-friendly, no aspects should harm or negatively impact the environment. To increase the likelihood that you’re making sustainable food choices, consider these key elements.
Components of an Eco-Friendly Diet
For a diet to be eco-friendly, no aspects should harm or negatively impact the environment. To increase the likelihood that you’re making sustainable food choices, consider the following elements:
Buying produce when it’s in season reduces food’s impact on the environment in a few ways. First of all, buying locally-raised food supports your local economy and promotes good farming practices. Secondly, even if the out-of-season produce is locally available, it may require more water, resources, and chemicals to encourage it to grow when it normally doesn’t. Lastly, purchasing what is currently available minimizes the carbon emissions the food you’re buying creates.
Imagine you’re in the mood for strawberries in December. The strawberries you buy at the market came from halfway across the world where it’s summertime. Those strawberries traveled by emissions-heavy airplane, boat, and/or truck in plastic packaging. Avoid the cravings for non-seasonal products and buy what’s available at the moment.
There is no reason to buy non-organic fruits and vegetables any longer. Certified organic produce is widely available at major supermarkets, small grocers, health-food stores, and local farmers’ markets. As more farmers elect to go organic with their growing practices, organic produce pricing has become more affordable.
Organic food is grown without using chemicals or pesticides, which are harmful if you eat them, destroy the soil, and even leach into the groundwater supply. Buying certified organic products eliminates many of the harmful chemicals mass growers use and gives the environment a needed break.
If you’re just starting your journey towards an eco-friendly diet, there are some things you need to be aware of, however. Organic produce may not look as “perfect” as non-organic alternatives. That’s because non-organic produce is often coated with wax so it shines, or is genetically modified to look larger or more colorful than the natural, original version.
Organic fruits and vegetables have a shorter shelf life since they don’t have any preservatives or other types of chemicals. You may notice your organic produce attracts fruit flies since the fruit is pesticide-free. There are quite a few ways to get rid of them, but a more permanent solution is to buy less organic produce more often.
There’s a good reason why many sustainability leaders recommend a vegan diet. Going vegan is good for your health and has less of a negative impact on the earth. Meat production increases greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and destroys biodiversity as untouched land is converted into farmland.
Then there’s the use of hormones and antibiotics in many types of meat. As we consume the meat product, we build resistance to antibiotics, reducing our treatment options for infectious diseases in the future. One of the most important changes you can make for your health and the environment is minimizing the amount of meat you consume and replacing it with vegan meal alternatives.
Legal terms for eco-friendly foods
Next time you’re at the supermarket, go in knowing what the legal terms and eco-friendly certifications are. Catchwords like “all-natural” and “hormone-free” may be nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Here is what you should look for:
- Certified Organic: Foods displaying the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the only truly organic foods on the shelves. To earn the certification, the foods are non-GMO because they were produced without genetic engineering. And according to the USDA, “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity” when grown.
- Fair Trade Certified: You’ll often find this label on coffee, tea, rice, spices, and sugar. Fair Trade USA enforces compliance. Products must be produced by workers receiving fair wages, have safe working conditions, and may join trade unions, in order to earn the label. Child labor is prohibited. Crops must be grown and processed ethically.
- Non-GMO Project certification: The Non-GMO Project provides food producers with third-party certification of their food and beverages. If you see the label, rest assured the product you’re considering was made without genetically-engineered ingredients.
Many Benefits to an Eco-Friendly Diet
An eco-friendly diet doesn’t exploit the environment or the workers that produce the food. Making more deliberate and sustainable choices for what foods you buy at the market and choose to eat is not only good for the environment, but it’s also good for your health and the local economy.
What are your key tips for following an eco-friendly diet?
Share your thoughts and comments with us.
About the Author
Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering environmental protection, social justice, business best practices, and more. You can follow her work on Twitter @indianalee3, or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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