Don’t worry – I’m not going to condemn you for eating meat. I’ve been an on-again off-again vegan/vegetarian (currently in an on-again phase) for the past 8 years, so I’m obviously not one to talk about permanently committing to being meat-free and dairy-free. That said, with the explosion of factory farms, slashed funding for organic agriculture, and over fishing across the world, there are some things you should know about the impact of what you eat.
This includes everything from produce and dairy to seafood and meat, on the environment and on your health. Therefore, I am a big fan of sustainable dining and buying organic when it makes sense. As is generally the case with choosing the eco-option, it’s better for the environment, and it’s better for your health too. For example, choosing organic vegetables and hormone-free milk means that pesticides and rBGH won’t end up in you. Learn all about sustainable dining here.
Sustainable dining guide to green travel for everyday living
Food policies and requirements vary across the world, but a good rule of thumb is the know where your food is coming from. Here’s how I try to do that:
- Get produce, meat, and dairy from the farm itself. Site visits are good because you can see the way the animals are treated and build a relationship with the farmers. See if you can stick around a while and help out. CSAs in the US encourage you to.
- Get the goods from a farmer’s market where you can talk to the farmers. That way you can ask questions – about what’s organic, their farming techniques, or whether or not the eggs are really from free-range hens. (Obviously, it helps to know the language of the farmer here.)
- Dine at local restaurants and talk to the workers. The owners are likely to support the local economy and have relationships with the farmers themselves. Some even distinguish themselves as offering sustainable dining options. Find these restaurants! Most bigger chain restaurants lose that sense of community and responsibility. You can ask the owners questions about where the food comes from.
- Research. Use resources like the Eat Well Guide (US and Canada) to find sustainable dining options and restaurants wherever you are. If you find yourself in the Twin Cities, there are excellent sustainable restaurants in Minneapolis – St. Paul.
The industrial pesticides sprayed on foods damage the environment and may negatively impact your health. Go organic when possible, and when it’s not available, go local. The farther your food has to travel to get to you, the bigger its carbon footprint. If you’re in the US, use the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Guide to find what’s in season near you, then find out which produce has the highest pesticide concentration with the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
photo credit: Dawn Endico
I love love love cheese. It may well be my favorite food so I want to be sure to find sustainable dining options so I don’t ingest hormones and antibiotics from my food. Unfortunately, the bovine growth hormone (rBGH) increases cow’s milk production so there’s a big incentive for factory farmers to inject it. The fact that it negatively affects cows (and possibly humans) isn’t really a consideration. The good news is, it’s banned in Canada in the EU – but not the US. Bottom line: if at all possible, find out where your dairy comes from before you dig in.
Poultry and Eggs
There are two main things to think about when ordering chicken or eggs. Animal welfare: Were the chickens kept in cages and not allowed to move their entire lives? Were their beaks clipped to keep them from pecking at each other in such close quarters? The other is organic certification. Ideally, you want chickens that were free range; that is, clucking around outside in the grass every day. You want chickens that were fed organic grain and not injected with antibiotics to increase production as the chemicals end up in you when you eat them. Doing a little research on sustainable poultry might just convince you to buy it all the time.
Not making sustainable dining choices in this category can contribute to overfishing; habitat damage; and sea animals accidentally being caught, then being tossed back injured or dead. Check out this excellent resource: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Guide to learn which fish are best choices (abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways) and which to avoid (over-fished and/or fished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment). Also have a look at Environmental Defense Fund’s seafood-related Health Alerts that cover the levels of mercury and PCBs (toxic chemicals that were banned but still pollute water) in various fish and other ocean dwellers. Learn more about how to choose sustainable seafood here.
Sustainable Table has a great overview of the issues around sustainable meat, including environmental impact, factory farming, and waste. The Food Alliance, a “nonprofit organization that creates market incentives for sustainable agricultural practices, and educates business leaders and other food system stakeholders on the benefits of sustainable agriculture,” lets you search for certified members by US region. With all the controversy surrounding meat, it is best to research sustainable dining options.
When you’re traveling, especially in a place where you don’t speak the language, it’s not always easy to find sustainable food – or even ask about it. A great resource for travelers is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which lists organic farm volunteering opportunities across the word. Consider volunteering and even if you can’t, use WWOOF to find organic farms in the country you’re visiting. Here are some other resources for volunteering abroad:
Sustainable dining is easy to do
You can make a difference in your health as well as increase the demand for sustainable dining products by the choices you make every day. Shop local. Choose organic. Frequent farmer’s markets. Join a CSA. Choose free-range chicken and eggs. Check out the seafood guide before purchasing fish. Choose farm-to-table restaurants and find food trucks while traveling. Eating cleaner will help you and your family as well as support local the local economy.