Navigating the eco-diet seas can be challenging. There are so many conflicting opinions out there on what makes up the greenest diet. Do you go vegan? Vegetarian? Limit yourself to sustainably raised meat and seafood from Seafood Watch’s green list? Do you buy everything organic? Or ignore the certification and adopt a 100 Mile Diet?
Thinking about everything we put in our mouths and evaluating it from an eco-perspective can be downright exhausting and take the joy out of eating. Yet, we all eat at least three times a day and the choices at the end of our forks matter a lot. It is the one area of our lives where we do have a lot of control over our impact on the environment.
By comparison, look at our driving habits. Driving burns non-renewable resources and pollutes the air, and it would be better if we did a lot less of it. Yet because many jobs are located far from residential areas and public transportation is often inadequate or nonexistent, it’s not such an easy thing for many people to choose not to drive.
Yet with food, we all have a choice about what we buy, prepare and put in our mouths. But how do we know which choices are best from an environmental point of view and how do we modify our lifestyles to make them?
If anyone has a sure-fire, no nonsense way to eat green without agonizing over it, it’s got to be the Lazy Environmentalist.
Josh Dorfman is executive producer and host of Sundance Channel’s The Lazy Environmentalist. He is also the author of two books on cutting-edge green products, companies, and trends: The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish, Green Living, and the follow-up The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget.
The Green Plate caught up with Josh and to get his thoughts on greening your diet:
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is diet in greening one’s lifestyle? Why?
A: First, we make food consumption choices everyday. So diet provides us with the most opportunities to make personal decisions that are healthier for the planet. Second, choosing a green diet almost always equates to making healthier choices for ourselves. We forget that we’re mammals, which is to say that we’re part of nature. Nature doesn’t just exist “out there” where the trees grow, the snow falls, and the rivers run. The choices we make about what we put in our bodies have huge implications for our health and the health of the planet. We cannot be stewards of the planet to the greatest extent of our capabilities if we’re not simultaneously stewards of our own bodies and personal health.
Q: Cooking fresh foods is greener than eating packaged processed foods or takeout, but many people are too lazy (or busy) to cook. Do you have any time-saving, streamlining tips for home cooks?
A: I’m ridiculously lazy in the kitchen. Sad as it may seem, my advice is to have someone else do the cooking. That will save you a lot of time.
Q: Studies have shown that animal agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change. What’s your personal position on meat? Are you vegan, vegetarian, conscious omnivore or something else?
A: I like meat, and I eat meat. However, I’ve made a conscious decision to eat meat less often in order to reduce my environmental impact and lead a healthier lifestyle. I also prefer to consume meat that comes from local farms where healthier agricultural and livestock practices are in place. I’m wary of labels like vegan or vegetarian, etc. because I think those words are so charged with ideological and political meaning that they alienate more than they attract. I talk about a lot about Meatless Monday, which in essence is saying that we could all commit to eating less meat, say, one day per week. That’s not really a life altering, difficult change to implement. It’s just a simple step that probably will save you some money and make you healthier. MeatlessMonday.org is a great organization that supports this agenda.
Q: Given the choice between organic food shipped from far away or local, conventional food, which is best?
A: I think you’re asking the wrong question. I have no idea which is best, nor do I care. Both choices are better than the typical choice most of us make most often, which is to buy non-organic food shipped from far away. My philosophy is to just focus on making a better choice than you typically make and move on with your life. Getting hung up on the best choice is frequently counterproductive and emotionally draining. We are so far away from living in a perfect world, so it’s not time yet to worry about making perfect decisions. It’s really a time to focus on making progress. Both local and organic are about making progress, so both are good.
Q: You’re big on going green on a budget. Can you tell readers how a green diet can also be a cheapskate diet?
A: It depends on your goals. I want to eat a healthy diet that’s also a green diet. So I’m committed to drinking more water and cutting down on sugary drinks. That saves me money. I’m spokesperson for Brita’s FilterForGood campaign to reduce bottled waste. I take my FilterForGood reusable water bottle with me most everywhere. I stay hydrated, save money, and eliminate the waste created from one-use, disposable plastic water bottles. In general, I think it would be misleading to assert that choosing a green diet can be done a tighter budget than choosing a conventional diet. By definition, green foods are usually better, higher quality foods. Naturally, a better, higher quality product is going to cost more than an inferior, less nutritional, more chemically laden, conventional product.
Q: What are the five greenest things in your fridge?
- 1. Organic lemons. I squeeze them into my water, which I find boosts my energy level throughout the day.
- Organic milk. I eat a lot of cereal, so this is a big one for me.
- Organic vegetables. They’re definitely expensive, but I prefer to keep pesticides and insecticides out of my body and out of the environment.
- Organic peanut butter & organic strawberry preserves. I still love a good PB & J, just like when I was a kid.
- Locally baked, all-natural multigrain bread. We’ve got some great bakeries here in Asheville, N.C., and I love to support them because their breads are delicious. This is key because if their breads weren’t delicious, I wouldn’t buy them just to support the local economy. Quality and taste matter.
Q: I know you understand the importance of buying local foods. What are your non-negotiable imported foods?
A: Chinese food. No wait, that’s cooked here. Honestly, I’m not so committed to any one particular food that I have non-negotiables. Except for smoked salmon. I just love it.
Q: You’re throwing a dinner party for some of your most admired environmental heroes (past or present). Who do you invite and what do you cook for them?
A: I’d invite Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Jack Johnson. We’d go into the woods and have a cookout. We’d eat grilled skewers of local, organically grown vegetables like red, green, and yellow peppers mixed with spiced chicken and turkey sausage sourced locally from farms that grass-feed their animals and avoid pumping them with hormones. I’d pack along a couple of boxes of Newman’s Own organic fig newtons for dessert. So delicious. We’d talk at length about humanity’s relationship with nature. We talk about strategies for cultivating greater consciousness and connectedness to all that is. We talk about the paradigm shift that lies ahead in which humans come to understand on an experiential level what science is already discovering, which is that at the deepest levels of existence we are all one energy field, we are all one with nature. Then we’d sing along while Jack played some kick-ass music late into the night.
This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.