5 Ways Your Food Choices Can Positively Impact the Environment

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1. Purchase Your Food From Retailers Who Have Committed to Sustainable Practices

While the small changes you make as an individual consumer can have a positive impact, large changes made by major players in the food industry can produce more dramatic results. As a consumer, you can motivate the food industry to adopt sustainable practices, such as buying solar panels or by only shopping with companies who have committed to sustainability. In addition to researching the practices of the retailers you shop with, look for products with eco-friendly labels, such as USDA organic.

2. Eat Less Meat and Highly Processed Foods

Beef is one of the least eco-friendly foods you can eat. Cows eat a lot of food, which means tremendous resources are poured into producing corn and cutting down forest land to create pasture to feed them. Additionally, the methane produced by the digestion of their food and their manure contributes significantly to global warming. It is estimated that if every American ate just a quarter-pound less beef per week, harmful emissions could be reduced by as much as eliminating four to six million cars from the roads. The production of pork, poultry and fish also has significant negative impacts.

Next to meat, highly processed foods have the largest negative environmental impact due to the energy used to produce all the ingredients that go into them and then turn those ingredients into products. You can make your diet greener by choosing to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, instead of meat and processed foods. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over frozen or canned varieties. Purchase sustainably produced fish. When you do eat meat, chicken has the least environmental impact, followed by pork. Limit red meat consumption to no more than once or twice a week.

3. Waste Less Food

The USDA has found that as much as 31% of all food produced in the United States ends up in the trash. In addition to wasting money, wasting food also wastes all of the resources that went into producing that food and contributes to methane production in landfills. Avoid purchasing food that you will not eat before it goes bad and promptly freeze your leftovers. Compost your organic waste to avoid contributing to the greenhouse gasses produced in landfills.

4. Purchase Locally Produced Food

Much of the negative environmental impact of food production comes from fossil fuels used to transport it for sale. Avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables that are out of season, because those products have likely been transported long distances. Instead, seek out local seasonal produce. Your regular grocery store probably carries at least a few locally produced options. You can expand your selection by seeking out farmer's markets, co-ops and farms that sell directly to consumers in your area. You may also find local options for purchasing meat, poultry and fish.

5. Use Less Packaging

A lot of resources go into producing the colorful, eye-catching packaging most processed foods come in. You can reduce the amount of packaging your food comes in by making minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, a staple of your diet. When you purchase packaged foods, avoid foods packaged in plastic or styrofoam and look for brands that utilize recycled materials. Rather than throwing the packaging in the trash after you consume your food, sort and recycle the paper, glass and metal products. Cut down on plastic bag use by taking your own cloth shopping bags and reusable produce bags to the store. The food industry has an enormous impact on the environment. As a consumer, you can reduce the impact of this industry by making eco-friendly food choices.

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