Food & Diet Sustainable Living

The Power of Food Choice: Health, Ethics & Sustainability

January 22, 2018

Sayings like “Eat your veggies, they’re good for you!” or “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” have been used for decades by mothers, fathers or grandparents desperately trying to persuade a stubborn child to eat that conspicuous looking vegetable or fruit that has been pushed to every part of the plate in hopes to appear eaten. Yet as we grow up, our parents no longer observe every meal and we aren’t required to finish that ‘stinky’ broccoli before being excused from the table. As adults the food we consume is our personal choice. And although it may seem banal, food choice is a great responsibility. The choice we make every time we stroll the aisles of the supermarket has direct effects on our physical, emotional and mental health.

We all know that some foods are healthier than others. In fact, the World Health Organization declares that a healthy diet is rich in vegetables, legumes and fruit; and low in refined sugars, sodium, cholesterol & saturated and trans fats. One particular group of foods that is associated with many health concerns are those containing animal proteins and fats. Meat (especially red and processed) contains high levels of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. Some scientific correlations have been found between high meat consumption levels and heart attack, stroke and cancer. In addition, meat produced by industrial means is even more likely to have harmful effects on health due to use of antibiotics, pesticides and fertilizers.

On the contrary, vegetables and legumes rich in antioxidants may be protective against cancer cell formation. [1] In fact, high consumption of vegetables, fruits and legumes correlate inversely with the risk of lung, stomach, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic and brain cancer. Not convinced? I know it’s probably an argument that you’ve heard before… “…meat is bad, veggies are good…” But there’s more!

Not only does following a lifestyle that includes tons of veggies promote personal health it also promotes a healthy planet.

Wait.. what? Am I really telling you that if you eat more vegetables you also contribute to helping Mother Earth survive and thrive? No, not really. This crazy notion only holds some truth and is part of a much, much bigger and complicated picture. Stick with me.

The reality is that simply eating more veggies will not change the world. In fact, it may do little to nothing if other factors are not considered. We need to look past the food group itself and look at the agricultural and production means. Unfortunately with rising population and demand, the most common way that food is currently produced is by industrial agriculture that relies on pesticides, fertilizers and generates waste harmful to the environment and our health. In addition, industrial farming uses large amounts of non renewable resources; it also uses concentrated production means, driving out small producers. It is based on the use of mass production of animals on factory farms and mono-crop cultures.

In fact, about 56 billion, yes BILLION, animals are reared and slaughtered annually around the globe, and most of these animals are raised industrially [2]. Think about how much water and grain must be used to raise billions of cows, chickens or pigs. It can take up to 7 kilos of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef, 4 to every kilo of pork and 2-3 for every kilo of chicken. [Consumo Critico, Russo et. al 2011] It’s not a very good input-output ratio. It is also estimated that it takes about 20-50 times more water to produce 1 kilo of meat than for 1 kilo of vegetables. [3] We would do much better to change the style of these feedlot operations and refocus on more efficient ways of feeding our growing population.

In addition to excessive resource use, factory farming is harmful to the ecosystem. Greenhouse gasses (GHG) are vapors that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to pollution and climate change. Up to 30% of GHG emissions are due to agriculture [4]. According to the U.S Greenhouse Gas Inventory , agricultural soil management (fertilizer and other cropping practices) contributes to 79% of total nitrous oxide emissions in the USA. The use of pesticides and fertilizers, while intended to eliminate pests, are not select between the species that they harm, posing another threat to the environment. In addition thee livestock themselves produce large quantities of GHG’s due to their production of over 300 million tons of liquid and solid waste annually.

The good news is… there are better options! As an individual, there are many ways we can begin to make a change. Here’s just a few…

What We Can Do:

  1. Eat Better:  Eat organic and locally raised meat (when possible and available).
  2. Eat Less: Start limiting meat consumption in general. You could try getting into the swing of the currently trendy Meatless Monday. Make it an event for the whole family to get involved in. Have fun brainstorming recipes together.
  3. Eat More: Eat Your Veggies!! Lots of them. Get creative in the kitchen with vegetarian dishes. Go to your local farmer’s market to see what’s in season and stock up!
    –Hint: SO many great Italian recipes (’cause everyone loves Italian food right?) are naturally vegetarian, plus you get to load up on the pasta! I’ll add one to the end of this post.

Although I dislike labelling my diet type, I must clarify that I am not vegan. I am not strictly vegetarian. I try to eat healthily and sustainably, and therefore for me that means very little meat. I eat fish, dairy and eggs in moderation. And veggies in abundance. Yet on the rare occasion that meat is part of my meal, I strive to find quality meat that was not produced by industrial agriculture. I am not against meat eaters & I’m not implying that everyone should cut meat suddenly and forever from their diet.

Plus, the argument of eating meat is just the tip of the iceberg and definitely NOT the only problem. The first step is for us to keep in mind where our food comes from and recognize that meat is one of the ‘high impact” food groups that affects our personal health and wellbeing. We must also consider the effects that our actions & food choice will have on the stability of our world for the generations to come. I challenge you to becoming more aware of personal food choices, not just on Mondays, but everyday.

 

“You as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit”

–Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm

 

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 {Meat}Less Monday Recipe #1: Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese

Ingredients:

  • 500 g  Pizzoccheri pasta (If pizzoccheri can’t be found, any other buckwheat pasta will work)
  • 300 g potatoes (3-4 small, diced).
  • 1 small head of Savoy cabbage (sliced).  It can be replaced or mixed with spinach.
  • 100 g Valtellina Casera cheese (grated or cubed). (Substitute with Fontina, Montasio, Raclette, Provalone or Gouda if Casera is unavailable in your region).
  • 20 g Parmigiano cheese (grated).
  • EVOO (the real recipe calls for butter, but I prefer to cook with vegetable oils)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (sliced).
  • 2 or 3 leaves of fresh sage (optional).
  • Salt and black pepper.Preparation:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add cubed potatoes. After 5 minutes add the buckwheat pasta. About 4-5 minutes before the pasta is cooked, add the savoy cabbage. Strain.
  2. While the pasta and potatoes cook prepare the oil/butter sage sauce. Bring oil to a low simmer and add garlic and sage. Once garlic begins to brown turn off the heat.
  3. Create layers alternating between the pasta/potato/cabbage mix, then adding cheese and finally drizzling the sage oil. Repeat until all ingredients are used. Add a pinch of black pepper.
  4. Serve and Enjoy!

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Author: Ali @ Sustainable Psyche

My name is Ali. I am an American living in Italy. I am passionate about delicious food that is also ethical, healthy and sustainable. I love pasta and pizza, traveling, horseback riding and exploring the vibrant city of Milan that I call home.

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