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Meeting our basic needs -- food, water, air, sleep -- poses complex environmental problems. Basic needs issues, because they are addressed by every culture on earth, are addressed in as many ways as there are different cultures. Each approach entails different environmental dimensions, and thus there is no simple recipe for eating sustainably. At least for those of us in modern society, two concepts generally apply: organic and local.
Eating organic means that food is free of synthetics: pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones, plastic leach, and other harmful chemicals. These toxic chemicals were introduced into food production as world populations grew in order to cheat the fate of Malthusian cycles. Today, it is estimated that, if all food was grown organically, only a fraction of the world's population could be fed.
Whereas 15 years ago nay-sayers dismissed organic food as unmarketable, today organic labels are a major selling point. Although the USDA Organic certification system is not without problems, it is the best thing that the average consumer currently has to go on, and the promise of future initiatives and legislation is untold.
One way to eat green is to eat organic, but the health of the planet depends on our reduction of transportation pollution, which means we also need to focus on eating locally. Furthermore, becoming aware of the farms from which your food comes and of their farming methods enriches the eating experience -- enhancing an appreciation of your food and rewarding the green eater with a greater sense of community. Most gratifying is that you know exactly what you’re getting, it's exactly what you want, and there is no uncertainty regarding the opaque practices of big industry. Indeed, some products are so laden with chemicals and additives that they can hardly be called real food. So, in the words of Michael Pollan, eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
The greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of transporting food long distances is a serious threat. There are systems being developed around the world to allow consumers to know how many miles one’s food has traveled, from the farm to your plate. These are called food miles, and reducing food-miles is key.
As consumers, it is important to ask supermarket employees, farm-stand vendors, and restaurant staffers where their food comes from. If we don’t care enough to ask, then suppliers will have less reason to focus on providing local and organic products. Suppliers define themselves by what consumers demand--- if we don’t demand, they don’t supply. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions: ask, ask, ASK!
Green eaters eat for the health of the planet, and by extension, their bodies, as personal health is intimately connected to the health of the planet. With health comes enjoyment, yet with green eating comes the added enjoyment of enhanced appreciation-- of where your food comes from and how it is produced. Some studies suggest that at least for some foods (milk, tomatoes) organic is more nutritious, and there is no denying that local food is the freshest. In short, owing to richer nutritional content and freshness, green eating is not only more healthful--- for you and the planet, it is more tasty.
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