Green Your Diet for a Healthier Planet

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See the top 3 things to prioritize when planning a green meal, and learn how simple changes in diet can have a positive impact on the environment and why. Use Eco Hatchery's free online carbon calculator to measure your dietary carbon footprint, and then offset your impact on global warming with the Eco Starter Kit which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 tons, equivalent to not eating 671 servings of beef.

Health and physique aren't all that's affected by your diet choices. What you eat has a significant impact on global warming as well.

A typical American diet accounts for an estimated 2.4 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, due to the high use of fossil fuels in the production, harvesting, processing, transportation and storage, in addition to a high percentage of inefficient protein sources in meats. Compare this to a developing country where the total greenhouse gas emissions per capita is just over 1 ton for transportation, housing, and diet.

When planning a green meal for yourself, friends and family, prioritize the following: 

1. Serve homegrown fruits and vegetables or buy local produce from a nearby vendor. Homegrown vegetables are the most environmentally neutral source of food, particularly if combined with home composting and minimal artificial fertilizer application. Organic farming practices reduce total CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating fossil fuel based fertilizers. It also facilitates management of emission-generating animal and vegetable waste. Note that driving farther than your local supermarket to "shop local" can result in more emissions from your automobile than is saved by highway transport.

2. Use fresh, rather than pre-packaged, food. Food consumption generates considerable amounts of carbon dioxide due to processing, packaging and inefficiencies in the US food production system. An average food item travels 1,300 miles before reaching your table (i). The average emissions per person in the U.S. for food production, processing and transportation is 2.4 tons CO2 (ii). In 2002, food production accounted for 17% of all fossil fuel use in the U.S.

3. Choose a meat with a low carbon footprint. The most carbon-efficient meat in the U.S. is poultry which rapidly converts farm inputs into protein. Due to the efficiency of poultry, a diet consisting exclusively of chicken and plant-based foods would have a lower environmental impact than a fish or octo-lavo diet. Surprisingly, fish is among the most fossil fuel-intensive food product in the U.S. This is due to the high level of fossil fuels used in both salmon farming and in the harvesting of big-fin fish such as tuna and swordfish. Overall, fish emissions are lower than beef, pork and lamb because fish production generates lower methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Inner coastal and freshwater (non farmed) fish have a significantly lower impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Please see the "CO2 Per Serving" chart.

To find out how your diet routine impacts your carbon footprint and why, try Eco Hatchery's online carbon calculator. You can measure your dietary carbon footprint based on one of several typical diets, or precisely calculate based on your typical weekly servings of fish, meats, dairy and eggs.

To offset your environmental impact, use the Eco Starter Kit to start reducing household emissions by approximately 2.5 tons, equivalent to not eating 671 servings of beef. Packed with high-impact products for greening your home, the kit includes a "cookbook" describing the rationale, process and time needed for doing the easy, earth-loving activities. In addition, the kit helps you save over $260/year in utility bills. Eco Starter Kit dimensions are 16" x 15" x 4". Price: $97.50.

Based in Milwaukee, WI, Eco Hatchery is "hatching" green homes by helping individuals take the first steps toward energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The web site features personalized recommendations for energy-saving products and projects, an Eco Shop, and Eco Communities for aggregating the carbon footprint of groups and tracking reductions.

[i] Heller, M. C., and G.A. Keoleian, 2000: Life cycle-based sustainability indicators for assessment of the US food system. Rep. CSS0004, Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, p. 41 (Note: this data is based on a 1960 Department of Defense Study. Since that time, food supply chains have undoubtedly lengthened substantially. Unfortunately, no comprehensive studies of current food supply chain exist).
[ii] Horrigan, L., R.S. Lawrence, and P. Walker, 2002: How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human health harms of industrial agriculture. Environ. Health Persp., 110, 445-456.

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Adam Borut
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