Food Sunday: New Years Resolutions
What do you plan to eat in the new decade? I like to follow Hippocrates advice to "Let food be thy medicine," i.e. let your diet and other lifestyle choices be your first line of defense for good health. I’m also a fan of eating in a way that respects the planet and the people and animals who made your food. Your diet can be as potent a way to fight global warming as your choice of vehicle. So here are a few ideas for resolutions in 2010…
1. Eat Less Meat (or Better Meat and Dairy or Both)
This is something that you can define yourself. I won’t tell anyone to go vegetarian or vegan, but I will tell you how and where to find better meat and why you might consider eating less meat or giving it up. Ditto on dairy and eggs. Then it’s up to you whether you want to go meatless on Mondays, or skip meat at breakfast, eat meat just one day a week, stick to a vegan diet before 6pm each day, or whatever works for you. Many people choose to buy better meat and then offset the higher price by eating less of it, and I think that’s a great idea.
So why meat specifically?
Why pick on this one food? Am I part of some secret PETA plot to save all of the cuddly animals? Not even slightly. Meat and dairy have an enormous carbon footprint. Just think, instead of feeding grain directly to a human, we feed it to an animal who uses it to grow and produce meat but also for energy and to produce non-edible body parts like bones. That’s why it’s so energy intensive. You’ve also got a living breathing pooping farting animal on your hands who adds carbon to the atmosphere in the form of methane and nitrous oxide, both of which are WAY worse than CO2. A study done at University of Chicago called Diet, Energy, and Global Warming found that the least carbon-emitting diet was a vegan diet. It’s not all black and white though. Chicken is better than beef, and less meat is better than more meat. In addition to the impact on the climate, livestock farming often uses a lot of water (something quite scarce in my home state of California) and results in polluted waterways (from manure as well as fertilizer and other chemicals used to grow the animals feed).
Then there’s the health aspect. A recent 10-year study of 500,000 people ages 40 to 50 found that people who ate at least 4 oz of red meat (including pork) daily were significantly more likely to die in those 10 years. That’s a reason alone to eat less of it. Not to mention the way slaughterhouse workers are treated (read the story of one Tyson hog plant worker if you’d like). And of course, the way the animals are treated. And, honestly, in many cases even the factory farmers get screwed along the way too, all to profit the big meatpackers like Tyson or JBS Smithfield. (If you want to understand that, read about how the chicken industry works.)
So how about finding BETTER meat (and dairy and eggs)? It’s easy to find. Go to http://www.eatwellguide.org or http://www.localharvest.org and punch in your zip code to do so. Or you can order meat online and have it shipped if that’s your only option. By buying from a farmer you know, you can support your community and ecologically responsible and humane farmers. Done right, raising animals can actually HELP the environment (even though it still will result in carbon emissions). The key terms you are looking for are "grass fed," "grass finished," or "pasture raised." You want an animal that was raised outside, at least during parts of the year when the weather permits. When an animal can forage on grass (and in the case of poultry, bugs), their meat, milk, and eggs are richer in omega-3s.
2. Eat Responsible Seafood.
Sorry to keep harping on meat and such, but eating seafood is a minefield these days. Some types of seafood are overfished. Others are chock full of mercury or PCBs. Still others are farmed using environmentally devastating methods. To find out what’s good and what isn’t, check out the Seafood Watch site. The list changes over time so you have to continually check it. Right now, my eye is on shrimp, which is AWFUL for the environment and farmed in such a disgusting way that I wouldn’t want to eat it anyway. Other fish to skip out on are swordfish and shark. And then there’s tuna… the rule of thumb there is that light is three times better than albacore. You can actually check a tuna calculator to find out how frequently you can have tuna safely. And, if you want to splurge, check out American Tuna (sold at Whole Foods). It’s line caught and lower in mercury than the norm.
3. Eat Real Foods
If you don’t already, start eating real foods. By that I mean whole foods, and I’m not talking about the grocery chain. Pack your diet full of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. Add a little bit of dairy, eggs, and meat if you wish. That means skipping out on all of the processed stuff that so dominates the American diet (and the grocery stores!) these days. All of the cookies, crackers, chips, breakfast cereals, sodas, energy drinks, and juice drinks, etc, all go out the window. That’s not to say you can’t ever have it again, but I try not to keep that stuff in the house.
If you do those three things, your diet will be much better than the average American already. Here are a few other ideas for New Years Resolutions…
- Grow food in a garden or even flowerpots.
- Cook your own food instead of eating out.
- Find a nearby farmers market and use it as your main source of food shopping.
- Get to know a farmer.
- Involve your kids in cooking and gardening.
- Waste less food.
- Buy organic if you can. It’s OK to buy food that was produced organically but is not certified organic if you are buying directly from the farmer. If you can’t afford an all organic diet, use the "dirty dozen" list to prioritize which foods should always be organic.
- Give up soda. (I know people who lost weight just by doing that.)
- Avoid all products containing high fructose corn syrup. (I also know people who lost weight just by doing THAT.)
- Don’t eat at any place that has a drive-thru.
- Skip out on the chain restaurants and look for restaurants that serve local, sustainable, or organic food instead.
- Avoid genetically modified foods. That means buying organic only for soy, corn, canola, and papaya. For sugar look for either organic sugar or cane sugar because sugar beets are often genetically modified as well.
- Avoid food that has artificial food dyes (i.e. Red 40 or Yellow 5), especially if you have kids.
- Try a food you’ve never tried before, like a strange fruit (ever had a cherimoya?), vegetable (kohlrabi? burdock root? celeriac?), or whole grain (emmer? quinoa? amaranth? millet?).
I hope this gives you some good ideas. My #1 resolution is to involve the kids in cooking and gardening, including some kitchen "experiments" like making yogurt, sauerkraut, bread, cheese, and jam. I also want to stop eating out when I’ve got food in the house because that wastes both money and food. And for pete’s sake, I ought to get my sweet tooth under control. I ended the year on a junk food binge and I’m starting it with a few weeks of "detox" (not some formal detox diet or fast, but just good, clean, healthy eating with a lot of raw food supplemented by milk thistle tablets and detox tea).