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10 ways to feed your family without killing the planet (Blog Action Day)

Today is Blog Action Day 2009. Last year's theme was poverty and I effortlessly wrote a long post about our Empathy Deficit and how it is preventing us from making poverty history.

This year's theme is climate change. Just a few days ago I was listening to Tim Flannery on CBC radio talking about his latest book, Now or Never,  and reminding us all how critical the situation is with climate change. We need to act now to reverse the horrible effects of human activity on the environment before it is too late. Wondering why you should bother? Whether you can make a difference? Read the Crunchy Domestic Goddess' post Climate Change - Why Bother.

Ten ways to feed your family without killing the planet

We all like to eat. We all need to eat. But we can eat better. Better for ourselves and better for the environment. There are many ways you can do this, but I thought I'd throw together a top ten list of ideas for Blog Action Day.

1. Become a vegetarian or eat less meat: Going Vegetarian or Vegan is a sustainable choice.  In fact, eating meat is a significant waste of resources and adopting a vegan diet has a greater impact on the fight against global warming than switching to a hybrid car.

2. Eat organic: Help mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change by eating more organic food. Organic agriculture eliminates the detrimental effects of pesticides on our environment, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces energy usage.  It is possible to incorporate more organics into your family's diet while on a budget.

3. Drink tap water: Don't buy bottled water. The energy used in cleaning and bottling the water and shipping it to you is ridiculous. Instead, carry around a stainless steel water bottle and drink tap water.

4. Breastfeed: Breastfeeding is not just best for your baby and best for you, it is breastfeeding is also best for the environment. The manufacturing of infant formula is an inefficient use of resources, creates toxins and waste, contaminates water, contributes to air pollution and consumes energy. The manufacturing of bottles is also detrimental. In addition to being a natural food source without those detrimental environmental effects, breastfeeding is also a natural child spacer and helps reduce overpopulation (overpopulation increases poverty and pollution).

5. Plant a garden: Find a space in your backyard and plant a garden. If you don't have the time or space for a full-fledged garden, start with a few things that are easy and that you eat a lot of. We did a variety of different types of lettuce in planters one year. Since we eat salads once or twice per day, it made a big difference.

6. Support local agriculture: Become a partner in Community Supported Agriculture, shop at your local farmers' market, and seek out local produce in your supermarket. Supporting local producers is more than just helping out your neighbours. Buying local when it comes to food also significantly cuts down on the emissions and energy use involved in transporting and storing food.

7. Pack a litter-less lunch: A lot of us pack lunches everyday for ourselves or for our kids. Andrea from a peek inside the fishbowl wrote a great post earlier this month with tips on packing a litterless lunchbox.

8. Ditch the disposables: Try to get rid of or cut back on the disposable items that you use when feeding your family, like bottles, plates, cutlery, napkins, straws, and so on. Find re-usable solutions instead.  To get more ideas read up on and participate in the Crunchy Domestic Goddess' Ditch the Disposables Challenge.

9. Cut back on processed foods: Processed foods hurt the environment in many different ways. Manufacturing processed food impacts the environment. Transporting processed food impacts the environment. Storing processed food in mega freezers and refrigerators uses tons of energy. Try to plan ahead and make double of some meals so that you will have some ready-to-go convenience foods of your own at home (e.g. make two lasagnas instead of one and then freeze one for another time, make large batches of soup and tomato sauce).

10. Look into the environmental practices of companies you buy from: Look up the corporate ethics of the companies that you buy from and see what their environmental track record is. Don't read their own corporate social responsibility stuff or if you do, read it with a grain of salt. Instead, read the reports of third party non-governmental organizations that follow corporate ethics.

We're not good at doing all of these, all of the time. But I do want to improve and check more of them off of my list. I also want to engage industry, restaurants, and governments to make more of these things a priority. To make it easier for people to make the right choices without going significantly out of their way and without having to break the bank. Humans are creatures of convenience. That is what got us into this hot mess, so we need to make it convenient to do the right thing. To link this to last year's theme, we need to take action to ensure that those hovering around or below the poverty line can afford to make sustainable food choices.
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Reader Comments (16)

Great easy to follow points of action!

We have lowered our meat intake dramatically - not that my husband realizes it :) I never knew that going vegan is better eco wise than going hybrid, that's powerful. I have a long way to go mostly my over dependence on paper towels.. but it's nice to know that I am making some good choices.

Great post.

October 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

We have begun buying much less meat & processed food. Not only is it good for the environment, it's way healthier!

October 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlex I

Thank you for these great tips; I will retweet them. I always enjoy your writing.

I try to do most of these things. Since I don't like to cook or eat a lot of meat, my husband doesn't get much at home :) I am proudly breastfeeding my almost 3-year-old, and we do drink tap water (sometimes filtered with Britta). I now have the space to plant a garden, maybe next spring?

[...] 10 ways to feed your family without killing the planet (Blog … [...]

We're slowly making these changes... and we've never really eaten that much meat. I hardly ever eat beef except for special occasions (like when we make it out to In-N-Out... ; )

As for breastfeeding, though, I will say be VERY careful about trying to use it as a "natural child spacer." I knew one woman who didn't get her period for a year past childbirth despite not breastfeeding.... but then there's also myself, who was breastfeeding around the clock when my cycles started back up again a whopping THREE MONTHS after giving birth (and I've known a few other women who had similar experiences). So, I know you probably don't mean to have people rely on breastfeeding alone for birth control, but just wanted to speak up and reiterate it's NOT that reliable and you MUST use other methods if you're serious about not getting knocked up again right away.

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy

@Marcy: Breastfeeding is certainly not a guaranteed natural child spacer. It is generally effective if you are nursing on demand around the clock, not using any pacifiers or bottles, and haven't introduced any other foods. But I would never count on it for birth control. However in terms of overall population control, especially in overpopulated areas struck by severe poverty, breastfeeding can make a dent in the overall trend of overpopulation.

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

great ideas! thanks for including the ditch the disposables challenge in there. :) hope you can have a relaxing blog-free weekend. you deserve it!

Great post, filled with lots of (seemingly easy-to-incorporate) ideas!

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZoeyjane

[...] 10 ways to feed your family without killing the planet (Blog Action Day) – PhD in Parenting [...]

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWired For Noise » Blog A

How about buying in bulk? That greatly reduces the amount of packaging consumed, not to mention the fact you will save $$$.

susie ;)

October 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersusie ;)


That is a good one too!

I am often frustrated when my favourite organic brands are available only in small packages with lots of packaging. I'm glad we at least have our CSA for vegetables.

October 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great blog - we're looking forward to sharing this one with our audience.

Something we've added to our grocery list: limiting purchases of products that *don't* come in recyclable containers. Makes you look twice - but our recycle bin is getting to be much fuller than the trash bin.

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob Wilcox

@Rob Wilcox:

Ours is too...and it is about to get worse. In the spring, summer and fall we get a CSA basket each week with little to no packaging and they take back and re-use any packaging that they do include. However, last week was the last week, so we now enter the winter season, which involves more packaging than the summer. It is especially annoying that it is harder to get organic brands without packaging than it is to get non-organic brands without packaging.

November 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

While I agree with most of these points, the one about organic foods is just completely false. Firstly, organic food has a much lower yield. Therefore, you need more land to get the same amount of product, which means you need to cut more into forests and other animal-friendly habitats.

Secondly, the "local farmers" distribution model is very inefficient. While big businesses may ship longer distances, they do so in bulk. Their model is actually quite a bit more energy efficient. The main reason for this is that the food is brought, in bulk, to a local urban centre so that individual drivers don't have to drive as far to get it. Just to give you a link to work with, here's the first I came up with from a quick google search: http://www.salon.com/mwt/food/eat_drink/2008/06/24/food_miles/

And finally, the pesticides in the environment thing is... iffy at best. Manure, for example, is as wasteful to produce as meat (for obvious reasons) and can infect the food with all sorts of nasties like e-coli. Non-organic fertilizers are generally quite safe, and part of the reason is that they are controlled and always being improved.

I think it's important to remember that "organic" and "natural" don't necessarily mean "better." There's a lot of marketing going on and these words are just tools in the corporation's arsenal. When you really get down to it, what does "organic" really mean? What does "natural" really mean? Again and again, we see that these things are just being thrown around to make money. The little farmer can't compete with the big business? All he has to do is start calling his product "organic" and suddenly he has a competitive edge - whether his product is actually better or not. It's like that whole pro-biotic fiasco we've had recently where pro-biotics were being marketed as immune system boosters and having all these health benefits. Suddenly, someone looked into it and it turns out that none of these claims could be substantiated and all the advertising had to be changed. But the "pro-biotics = good" formula was already engraved in people's brains, so it didn't really matter. They could put "pro-biotic" on the packaging and shoppers would make all the connections without them having to explicitly talk about them.

This is turning into a long comment, but I think it's very important to get this idea through. We have been sold a fantasy - that we can break free from the mega-corporations, from the immoral marketing campaigns, by "going natural." This was sold to us using the exact same strategies that any other products are sold, and it's turning organic into a multi-billion dollar industry - one that no one questions because it's already been bought as the "non-corporate option."

November 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSue


You are right that organic on its own doesn't necessarily mean better. For example, you could get an organic product with high levels of sodium, high levels of fat and few useful ingredients in it and that would not even come close to being as nutritious as fresh non-organic vegetables. However, when comparing similar products (a bag of locally grown organic carrots versus a bag of locally grown non-organic carrots), then organic is generally better.

I don't know where you got the idea that a little farmer can simply put the organic label on his produce in order to compete with big business. I don't know where you live, but in Canada http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/orgbio/orgbioe.shtml" rel="nofollow">calling your products organic requires certification if you are selling them across provincial or international borders. In terms of local products, people should look for certified organic if they want to be sure or should look into the farmer's practices themselves. In fact, non-certified organic is often a good choice because they are doing all of the things required to be organic, but haven't gone through the expensive certification process and therefore don't have to incorporate the costs of certification into their prices.

With regards to yields and local distribution, we get a weekly Community Supported Agriculture basket from May to November. Their distribution is very efficient (they distribute to 4 pick-up points weekly and people pick up their baskets there on their commute home). With the bulk international shipment that you refer to, you need to consider not only the bulk shipment, but also the fact that it needs to get to local stores once it arrives in a particular area.

Anyway...I think it is worth questioning things. But I think you are (a) too quick to assume there are no benefits at all to local/organic and (b) too quick too assume that people are duped into thinking that because something is organic or natural that it is healthy.

November 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] 10 ways to feed your family without killing the planet: My tips for being more socially concious in your food purchases and consumption. [...]

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