During my college years I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I am incredibly introverted, that I am not cut out for east coast winters, that yoga is a life changing practice, that I actually like running, and that my greatest passions are health, wellness, and environmental sustainability. As a business student I instantly gravitated towards classes about ethics, sustainability, and innovation. I knew that wherever my career took me, I wanted to be doing something to create a positive impact on the world. As my yoga teacher training peaked my interest in health and wellness, I started educating myself about the environmental impacts of the food and agriculture industry. I became a vegetarian, started shopping at farmers markets, stopped buying plastic water bottles, and began making a handful of other life style changes in an effort to do good for our planet.
Our current day agriculture industry contributes to 1/5 of the fossil fuels we emit into the environment. Buying mass produced meat, dairy, and produce is single handedly one of the most harmful things we can do for the environment. Consumer buying habits drive the market. The more consumers buy inorganic, non-local food and mass produced meat, the more those products will continue to be produced. Not to mention, these products contain pesticides, antibiotics, and toxins like glyphosate that all contribute to chronic inflammation and illnesses.
Accessibility is a big issue here. As someone who grew up in an affluent neighborhood in southern California, went to school in Boston, and now lives in Portland, I have never felt I don’t have access to healthy food. I acknowledge that my situation comes from privilege, and that impoverished and rural areas have a much higher percentage of fast food restaurants promoting unhealthy eating habits. Going through life skipping breakfast and eating processed foods for each and every meal not only has the potential to lead to future life long health ailments, but it also affects a persons’ mood, behavior, and capability to be productive. There are countless studies that indicate the effect of food on behavior. Schools that replace genetically modified (GM) foods with organic fruits and vegetables attest to noticing a major shift in their students’ ability to focus and apply themselves in the classroom. It’s not rocket science…
The diet industry is another big issue here. Companies promote food products that they may genuinely believe are healthy for their consumers, but in turn are actually doing more harm than good. Common diet misconceptions lead people to make food choices that may not be beneficial to their biological needs. The Keto diet might work great for some, but in others it spikes their cortisol levels and leads to weight gain and imbalanced hormones. Veganism might seem like the end all be all for many, but for others the intake of soy products that contain phytoestrogens lead to estrogen dominance. Paleo might make some people feel amazing, but for some the limited list of foods that can be eaten leads to restrictive and disordered food behaviors. People’s food choices are personal, and I urge everyone to experiment and find out what works best for them.
Lack of accurate education about this topic is one of the biggest roadblocks for making change in the food industry. An organic label on a food package is not enough to confirm that it is a healthy choice. The calorie count, carb content, sugar content, or fat content are not good indicators of whether or not a product is a healthy choice. Genetically modified foods and toxic chemical like corn, soy, canola oil, carrageenan, and sulfites make their way into a LOT of organic products. Reading the ingredient label is the first step to making clean food choices. Point blank. 1 in 2 people are chronically ill, and the biggest way to prevent this statistic from getting worse is by making educated food choices every time we pick up our forks.
Living a lifestyle that consists of a clean diet is expensive. It is a huge privilege, and that is unfair. Personally I spend around $120 per week on food/groceries just for myself. I typically spend around $30-$40 at the farmers market, around $60 at Whole Foods or New Seasons on specialty items, and $20-$30 on eating out. This budget fluctuates. Some weeks I spend more on replenishing expensive products like nut butter, collagen, and matcha. Some weeks I don’t have any specialty items I need to buy and don’t eat out at all, so I spend quite a bit less. My budget is a bit steep for one person and I am fully aware of that. However, I don’t spend money on alcohol because I don’t drink, I rarely eat out at restaurants, I don’t buy new clothes very often, and I choose to do at-home workouts and yoga flows vs. paying $30 per class at a fitness studio. As I battle Lyme disease, high quality food is my number one priority.
As far as diet goes, I personally don’t like to subscribe to any specific diet label. I currently am on a regimented Keto diet as part of my Lyme and parasite healing protocol, but I still prefer to consume mostly plant-based foods. Cutting out meat completely seems to take a toll on my hormones. I notice that when I am eating vegetarian my cycles are a bit more brutal and my hair doesn’t grow as much. I consume meat a few times a week, and do my absolute best to make sure it is from a local farm. From a sustainability standpoint, I think as long as you consume locally raised meat products then there should be no guilt. Especially if it’s what is best for your body. We can only do the best we can do. Do I struggle with the concept of animal cruelty? Yes. 100%. But again buying local means supporting a more humane way to raise livestock. The act of eating meat is not going to go away. So let’s eat meat responsibly, yes?
Shopping at farmers markets and supporting local farms is a great place to start. It’s easier to shop plastic-free at farmers markets too because nothing is prepackaged. The emissions used in the process to get the food from the farm to you are much less when you shop local, also helping you to lower your carbon footprint. Starting my Saturday off at the farmers market is always a wholesome, enlightening experience for me. Yes, the grocery story two blocks away from my apartment is more convenient. But it is far less rewarding.
I hear a lot of talk about how climate change is becoming exponentially more problematic and about how people think there needs to be a big change. WE are the change. It is up to us to make mindful decisions. Every time we sit down for dinner, grab a snack, go grocery shopping, go to brunch, etc. we have the opportunity to vote for the wellbeing of our planet.