Lesson 11: Get Connected
How What You Eat Has Global Impact
Previous Lesson Review:
You tied together much of what you’ve through Thrive in 30 and discovered how the mental health hat-trick—whole food nutrition, regular exercise and restorative sleep—improves mood, focus and energy while reducing stress.
What began as a whispered warning twenty years ago has become a shouted rallying-cry: modern human activity has an unmistakable impact on our planet—we’re responsible for global climate change, pollution and the extinction of species. It’s up to us—collectively and as individuals—to make real changes now or face the irreversible consequences.
In this lesson, you’ll learn that the benefits of consuming a plant-based diet extend beyond yourself, making you part of the climate-crisis solution.
Reduce Your Environmental Impact
We’re all connected. Your choices—the food you eat, how you commute, what you buy—directly affect the quality of the air you, I, and our neighbors breathe. These choices affect the purity of the water we all drink to live and the quality of the soil that will feed our children.
Knowing this may feel like a huge weight of responsibility—but with this responsibility, you are also given the power and opportunity to make conscious choices—choices you can feel positive in making and fulfilled through contributing to a healthy future for this planet we call home. Making conscious choices that are better for the environment isn’t only good for the planet, your neighbors or our children—it’s good for your health (physically and emotionally), too.
Shrink Your Carbon Footprint
While a plant-based diet rich in fresh, local products is certainly healthy and delicious, choosing it also significantly reduces your carbon footprint—and by extension, reduces your individual impact on the planet.
Producing, processing and delivering the foods that make up the standard North American diet has a tremendous impact on the environment—more so than any other industry. A staggering 60% of the total energy produced in North America goes toward food production. Of that 60%, more than 85% of that energy is generated from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas—the burning of which is the primary source of greenhouse gasses, the cause of global climate change.
Standard agriculture—which includes the raising of animals for food—is far less energy-efficient than plant-based farming. In addition to using more energy compared to plant-based foods, animal products require significantly more land and water to produce—and that doesn’t include the energy, land and water needed to produce the crops to feed the animals! Beef production alone requires almost 16 times more fossil fuel energy than plants.
Consider this comparison: a purely plant-based breakfast shake* has a carbon footprint 38 times less than the traditional North American breakfast of bacon, eggs sausage, potatoes and toast. Next to a healthier version of the North American breakfast that includes yogurt, a banana, cereal and milk, the plant-based breakfast shake’s carbon footprint is still 10 times smaller.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, scientists agree that until a clean energy alternative is found, your best approach to reducing your impact is to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. Since food production is the largest energy draw in North America, choosing plant-based food is a good place to start. According to an Eshel and Martin (2005) study, making this switch to a plant-based diet can potentially result in as large a difference in one’s personal carbon footprint as choosing to drive an ultra efficient hybrid car instead of an average sedan.
Less Processing = Less Energy
Want to make an even bigger impact than simply choosing plant-based foods? Choose foods with minimal processing to conserve energy (obviously raw being the best). The more steps involved in food production, the more energy is needed to make it. Processed foods like ice cream require several additional steps before they reach their final form. And when a processed food consists of heavily processed ingredients like refined sugars and artificial flavorings, the energy impact of production is exponentially higher still.
When you choose organic over conventionally-farmed foods, you’re supporting sustainable farming practices that are easier on the environment. The principles of organic farming go beyond avoiding pesticides, herbicides and artificial chemical fertilizers—organic farming is about the long-term stewardship of the land through methods like strategic planting and crop rotation.
Not only does organic farming help preserve air and soil quality, it’s also usually done on a smaller scale. Using integrated pest management practices and other ways to grow a healthy crop instead of pesticides and artificial chemical fertilizers involves more hand-work, which ultimately means less carbon-producing energy is needed to grow and harvest the crop.
One final environmental benefit of choosing organic food? The preservation of rare or uncommon food-crop varieties—heirloom tomatoes and ancient grains like kamut and spelt are delicious examples of this.
Become a Season-Conscious Local-Vore
Another way your choices can help the environment is to buy local products. Our modern shopping habits supply a dizzying array of choices, shipped across great distances to satisfy a hankering for unseasonal watermelon on a snowy winter day.
It’s common sense: the farther a product travels to reach you, the more energy is used in transport and the bigger that item’s carbon footprint.
In not-so-distant history, the food you ate came mostly from within a roughly 100-mile radius of where you lived—you ate what was fresh, plentiful and in season. If you wanted fruit out of season, you found a way to preserve it naturally and would have thought it absurd to have it shipped from halfway around the world on a plane.
Develop a preference for locally-grown foods that are in season. When you become a “local-vore” you’re doing right on many fronts: you help the environment, support your local farmer and get the unexpected perk of enjoying whole foods, picked at their peak and packed with flavor.
By eating locally-grown, plant-based, whole foods, you can reduce your environmental impact significantly! Here’s the bottom line: the same food choices that are good for the environment are good for your body, too. Coincidentally, following the guidelines you’ve learned over the course of Thrive in 30 means you’ll automatically be making your positive contribution to saving the planet.
- Cultivate a new set of shopping habits. Make a point to select foods that will both nourish your body and help the planet. Use the sequence below as your decision-tree to help you identify and choose the wisest available option. The best foods are (in order of preference):
- Whole or minimally-processed
- Grown locally
- Grown organically
- Educate yourself: learn what time of year different foods are in season in your area—and where to shop for them.
- Write the seasonal availability of locally grown foods in your calendar to help you remember when you plan your menus for each month. (Tip: Your local or regional Farmers’ Market Association probably has a list on their website)
- Find out where—and when—your local farmers’ market is held. If your area does not have an organized farmers’ market, find out who the local growers are and which ones sell directly from their farm
Final Lesson Preview:
What happens next? Learn strategies for long-term, whole-food success in a fast food world, so you can thrive for life!
To choices that make a difference as one in a world of many!