DEEP: Eating For Health and the Environment

Eating For Health and the Environment
 
{Image of vegetables, coffee and people}
 
Do you know where your food comes from, how it's grown or produced, how far it's traveled to get to you and what's in the packaging? Most of us donít. But the answers to those questions have a big impact on the environment and our health. Every step taken to bring food to our table or to dispose of it can pollute our air, water and land. And sometimes the food or the packaging is heavily laden with chemicals or even bacteria that can make us sick. 
 
Below are some ideas to limit your exposure to chemicals while taking steps to support sustainable agriculture. Learn more about eating "green".

"Why don't we pay more attention to who our farmers are? We would never be as careless choosing an auto mechanic or babysitter as we are about who grows our food."

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's View of the World

 
 
 
Local and Organic Food
Peaches from Florida? Lettuce from California? Strawberries in the middle of winter? Transporting food long distances causes pollution and loss of flavor 
Did You Know?
Organically managed soils can store more than 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre while non-organic systems can cause carbon loss. This means that buying organic products can help to reduce the effects of climate change. Source: Rodale Institute
and freshness. Go local instead!
  • Support local farms and farmerís markets. Purchase Connecticut grown, local food and businesses that support the CT Farm to Chef program.
  • Find out what CT grown food is in season now.
  • While it may not be practical or fit your budget to eat organic all the time, you can limit your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals while protecting our natural resources by choosing to eat some organic foods. Download a pocket shopping guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that details produce grown with the least and the most pesticides.
  • Find "pick your own" fruits and vegetables farms in CT.
  • Grow your own! UConn's Home and Garden Center and CT Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) have information to get you started, including soil testing and classes.
  • Don't have the space to have a garden at home or you would like to share the work with a friend? Check to see if your town offers community gardening space.
Food Labeling
  • "Organic", "natural", "grass-fed", "cage-free"... Food labels with these claims can be misleading. Learn how to decode food labels.
  • Farmers and processors pay to be certified organic and have the right to use the USDA organic seal. Small farms may be using organic methods, but not certified by the USDA. (If you are buying local, ask the farmers about how the crops are grown.) 
Seafood, Meat and Poultry
Growing animals for food exacts a toll on the environment and some
Did You Know?
Wild salmon get their orange/pink color from the krill they eat. Because krill is not part of farmed salmonís diet, pigment is added to their feed to make them look like wild salmon.
Source: 10 Catchy Salmon Facts, EWG   
chemicals used may not be healthy for our health, either. Learn how to make better choices when eating beef, seafood, or poultry. 
  • What is factory farming?
  • Learn about added hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy
  • Aquaculture is fish farming. Many types of fish like tilapia and salmon and products like seaweed are grown in diverse operations that have impacts on our oceans and our health. 
  • Select the best seafood for your health and the environment.
  • Organic and sustainable farming help protect the soil, water, air and crop biodiversity, but they can be different. Learn the difference between organic farming and sustainable farming.
Fair Trade Products
  • Fair trade products utilize sustainable farming and provide a living wage for the farmers and laborers. (The Fair Trade logo on a food product label doesn't necessarily mean that the product is organic.) Some foods to consider buying "fair trade" are shade grown coffee, tea and chocolate. Find out where to buy fair trade products in CT.
Vegetarian Meals
  • Try a Meatless Monday! Replacing 1 beef meal per week can save more than 40,000 gallons of water, 70 tons of grain and avoid 300 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year. (Estimates prepared for New American Dream, Turn The Tide program.)
  • Although you may not want to eliminate meat, poultry or fish from your diet entirely, for your health and the environment, try to eat more vegetarian meals. Don't know where to begin? Take Vegetarian 101.
Drinking Water
Packaging
  • Buy food products with the least amount of packaging.
  • Buy items you use regularly in bulk. Find a CT co-op where you can buy in bulk.
  • Avoid canned food as much as possible. Canned food may leach Bisphenol-A, (BPA) which prevents the cans from rusting and extends shelf life. If you buy canned food, look for "BPA-free" on the label. (Read more about BPA from the CT Dept. of Public Health.)
  • Fast food wrappers and some non-stick cookware may contain a PFC coating. PFCs are potentially harmful to many organs as they can stay in the body for decades.
  • Bring your own shopping bags. If you do use the store's plastic bags, bring them back for recycling.
  • Recycle as much packaging as you can. Check with your town's recycling coordinator to see what can be put in your bin.

  • Compost your food scraps. Don't know how? Watch a video!

  • Use your purchasing power! Contact the manufacturers of items you use and let them know you want products that have less packaging and less toxic packaging. There is usually a website or phone number on the label.

Additional Resources
Check your library for books and videos about food. For example:
  • Michael Pollan, "Omnivores Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat"
  • David Kessler, "The End of Overeating"
  • Food, Inc. (documentary)
 
Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) maintains the content on this web page to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of environmental issues. The CT DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.

Content last updated November 2011