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Eco-friendly Eating: What You Eat and its Impact on the Planet

Every day and every meal, we make food choices.  When we do, we invariably make an impact on the planet because different foods carry different environmental footprints.  Below are a few things to keep in mind in terms of what you eat and its effect on God’s creation, the Earth.

  • Choose less meat in your diet:   Most if not all of the climate pollution that our food creates happens before we buy it. The extent of these impacts depends on how much energy, land, feed or fertilizer, processing, and transportation is required to put a particular food on our tables. Yet sometimes the food itself is the problem. Cattle, for example, produce 34% of all U.S. emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Some of the meats with the largest carbon footprint include:  Lamb, which has the highest emissions of any food, generating 86.4 pounds of greenhouse gases for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) eaten and beef, which is number two with 59.6 pounds of gases produced per 2.2 pounds consumed.  Eliminating or reducing the amount of lamb and beef in your diet will go a long way toward reducing your own carbon footprint.
  • Choose grass-fed, pasture-raised and organic meats:  If you prefer not to reduce or eliminate meat from your diet, you are best off eating meat that is grass-fed, pasture-raised and/or organic and locally raised.  Meat that is organic, locally raised and/or grass fed has a lower carbon impact in terms of producing the meat as it goes from farm to your table.
  •  Fish has a lesser environmental impact than beef or poultry, but it is still preferable to buy wild fish as opposed to farmed fish.  The former is both healthier and better for the planet as its cultivation uses less energy and has a lower carbon footprint.
  • Also try to reduce your cheese intake, as cheese is number three on the list in terms of having a high carbon footprint. Try eating more strong flavored cheeses like cheddar and bleu. You can use less of these and still retain a distinctive cheese taste in your dishes.
  • Go vegetarian:  Try going vegetarian for all or some of your meals.  There is such a wide variety of tasty vegetables readily available today at local farmers markets, conventional grocery stores or through joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  Pick up a good vegetarian cookbook and you might not miss that meat after all.

In general, it’s no secret that the lower we eat on the food chain, the fewer impacts we’ll create.  Even making small changes to your diet can go a long way.

Gail Wechsler is the Director of Domestic Issues/Social Justice at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. She is the staff person for the Jewish Environmental Initiative (JEI), a committee of the JCRC and a part of the JCRC's Bohm Social Justice Initiative.
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