Less meat; more vegetables better for humans and our environment. Start a garden?
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
In February 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture released updated proposed guidelines that set the meat industry’s teeth on edge. For the first time, the USDA guidelines consider the health of people and the environment. Since meat production leaves a massive carbon footprint, recommended meat consumption will be lowered.
There are compelling reasons to take the environment into account when creating dietary guidelines. As disconnected as modern humans may feel from the earth as we move from brick and mortar buildings in cars, we still rely on this planet. “The pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan called it, is the only home we’ve ever known or will know (at least until we settle Mars.) And after all, there’s no point to dietary guidelines if there are no humans around to use them.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says, “Linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security.” If you agree with that statement (or vehemently oppose it) make your voice heard. The period for public comments has been extended to May 8, 2015.
What’s Good For the Planet is Good For You, Too
Americans do tend to eat too much “shelf food” and not enough vegetables. “Shelf food” are the food goods typically found in the center aisles of the grocery store. Food that only requires one step, like add water and microwave, is generally unhealthy. No, the food that’s best for human beings is food that gets pulled out of the dirt or off a tree: vegetables and fruits.
Let’s follow the USDA’s lead for a moment. Fruits and vegetables are good for health and require less energy to produce than meat. But how good is it for the planet when our grocery bags are full of produce from far flung places like Chile, Mexico or the opposite side of the country? How much energy and fossil fuels went into putting those nutrient-rich greens on the table? If we wish to get healthier while tending to the environment, what’s the best option? Simple. Tend a garden.
Gardening is possible for everyone, though what we can grow differs. If you’re an apartment dweller, you can plant salad greens in a box on your balcony. Don’t have a balcony? Set some potted herbs by the window and you’ll enjoy more flavorful food when you cook at home. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard or access to a public garden, you can garden in a raised bed.
In 1943, the era of the “Victory Garden”, 20 million gardens were producing 8 million tons of food. Spurred by patriotism and a sense of duty, Americans aided the war effort by turning every nook and cranny of land into a garden. These small-scale gardens produced around 41 percent of all the vegetables that were eaten in America. Today, we need a new era of victory gardens. We’re fighting for healthier, happier citizens and children. We’re fighting for fruits and vegetables that are good for our bodies and the planet we live on and in.
If you’d like to start a garden, here are a few resources that will make your mouth water and get you on your way.