Nutrition & Recipes

Eating for the Environment: The 3 R’s

Eating for the Environment: The 3 R’s
You can hardly watch the news without being reminded of global warming. Research provided by NASA has found that the atmospheric temperature has risen at an unprecedented rate since 1950; this increase is extremely likely to have been caused by human activities.

How? Carbon, the most basic building block of human life, traps heat. Pollution created on Earth through biological emissions, as well as gas combustion, contributes to the overall carbon content of the atmosphere. This increase in atmospheric carbon is detrimental to the environment—not only does it lead to global warming, but it also leads to more acidic ocean waters. Since approximately 1760 (the start of the Industrial Revolution), ocean water acidity has risen by 30 percent.

This means that humans are tasked with the obligation of reducing carbon emissions. The following three R’s (recycle, reduce, reuse) are recommendations you can follow today to reduce your carbon footprint—the amount of greenhouse gasses produced to directly or indirectly support human activities. One way that you can contribute to protecting the environment is by focusing on how you eat—from food selection to disposal.

1. Recycle

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling benefits the environment by reducing the amount of waste that otherwise would make its way to a landfill or incinerator. By reusing materials such as plastics and paper, you help conserve these resources and decrease the need for new, original production.

Food items come in a variety of containers, whether they are purchased from farmers markets, grocery stores, or restaurants. Take note of how your food is made available to you and adjust your selections to sustainable options. To learn if your household food packaging is recyclable, check containers for the recycle symbol. Most towns have local recycling programs that will pick up at your home. Try a quick online search for your local recycling program to become enrolled.

Extra Credit: Compost

Beyond recycling your food containers, consider recycling your food waste through composting. Composting is the process of recycling food and yard waste. The EPA reports that food scraps and yard waste account for between 20 to 30 percent of America’s waste. Rather than putting food waste into a landfill where it contributes to rising greenhouse gas levels, investigate options for composting.

Not only does composting benefit the environment, it will also benefit your plants! Compost provides excellent nutrition to plants, enhancing your garden in an organic way free of chemical fertilizer. It also naturally reduces pests and fungus. While home composting can take time and research, the EPA offers some tips to help you get started.

Limited in yard space? Many cities have a composting program, similar to a city recycling program, in which you can save food scraps for a weekly city pickup. Check with your local waste disposal program to see if a city compost program is an option for you. Sites such as also provide a tool for researching options for local composters who might offer curbside pickup or at least offer a drop-off location for you to contribute your food (and yard) waste.

2. Reduce

Another surefire way to improve your carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of waste you generate in the first place. The following strategies help to decrease your carbon footprint by reducing your food resource consumption:

Reduce Food Waste

Find ways to use whole parts of foods that you may otherwise throw away. Save vegetable scraps or animal bones for boiling into soups. Boil the skins of oranges in water for a simple citrus-infused tea. Sauté the green leaves on your beets with a bit of butter and salt. With a little creativity, you can find good uses for most portions of your food.

Shop in Bulk

Familiarize yourself with the bulk foods aisle of your local grocery stores. By buying in bulk, you not only cut down on food waste by cutting down on packaging but also often generate a cost savings. This is great for both the environment and your budget!

Avoid Single-serve Packaging

Many processed foods come in single-serve packaging and wrappers. This generates unnecessary waste. Instead, buy food in the largest volume per container that you have space to store. Practice portioning out as you need; use reusable containers to hold individual (or group) servings.

Reduce Your Animal Protein Intake

According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, eating just one vegetarian meal weekly saves the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,160 miles. When you consider the diets that focus on eating high percentages of meat and other animal products (such as ketogenic or Paleo), keep in mind how large of a carbon footprint these diets leave. These effects are not minute and should be included in your diet selection process.

Instead, choose a plant-based diet—one rich in plants such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These foods create fewer greenhouse gas emissions and also provide your body with nutrients that enable you to thrive. (Note: If you follow a medically-supervised ketogenic diet as part of therapeutic intervention for epilepsy, this recommendation does not apply. In these instances, you should follow the recommendations of your physician and registered dietitian.)

3. Reuse

Grocery Bags

The Center for Biological Diversity reports that the average American family uses 1,500 plastic shopping bags annually. Furthermore, once these bags hit the landfills, they take 500 years or longer to degrade. This toll on the environment can be avoided by using reusable grocery bags. Most grocery stores offer these reusable bags near the checkout. Look for reusable produce bags as well. By storing your own reusable bags in the car for easy access, you can virtually eliminate this needless source of pollution.

Water Bottles

The waste that Americans generate from plastic water bottles is astounding. In an article targeted towards educating children, National Geographic Kids reported that more than 17 billion barrels of crude oil are used annually in order to produce the plastic water bottles used by Americans.

For an easy way to cut waste, carry a reusable water bottle and refill as needed rather than consuming from disposable bottles.

Responsible Decisions: The Choice Is Yours

Large-scale change depends on the efforts of individuals. By implementing the concept of recycle, reduce, and reuse in your daily food and drink choices, you can help create lasting change. As the old adage goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

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