Too many of us have become Eco-Zombies… careless about the relationship between the health of the Earth and the health of our own bodies and minds. From farm to fork, the way food is grown, processed, and distributed affects not only its quality and variety, but also personal health and the sustainability of Mother Earth. That’s why a lot of people who are concerned about both the size of their waist and climate change are making Earth-friendly diet and health choices.
A useful starting point for understanding the relationship between the environment and your health is “planetary boundaries,” or tipping points in our planet’s natural air, land, and water systems. A team of 28 internationally renowned scientists identified how breaches to these boundaries could likely lead to rapid, irreversible changes that threaten the conditions under which humanity can thrive on Earth. According to the scientists, 3 of the 9 planetary boundaries have already been crossed: climate change, biodiversity, and the global nitrogen cycle.
Planetary Shifts and Effects on Earth & Human Health
What are the effects of these breeches?
- loss of biodiversity
- soil, air and water pollution
- polar ice melting
- rising sea levels and ocean acidification
- species endangerment and alterations in habitats
- inadequate development of water and land resources to meet food and energy needs.
What’s this all mean for personal and planetary health?
- increases in food and waterborne disease (e.g., food recalls)
- increase in disease carried by wildlife (e.g., Lyme, West Nile, Ebola)
- more widespread cases of malnutrition
- rising rates of cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, and diabetes.
Farming, Feeding, and the Health of the Planet
One of the biggest contributors to the environmental rift and degrading human health is our reliance on factory farms—a.k.a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. Most meat, poultry, eggs and dairy sold in the U.S. come from CAFOs, a major driver of deforestation, habitat destruction, and climate change. To prevent disease and promote faster growth, these animals are given hormones and antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance, a serious public health problem. The use of subsidized Genetically Modified (GMO) grains (often grown with toxic pesticides and fertilizer) end up in the water supply and on our produce. Even the most humane farming practices, including “grass fed” can create havoc on ecosystems. We have to feed billions of people, too many of whom consume too much of any kind of meat.
Fish aren’t off the hook, either. Overfishing has depleted many marine species and degraded marine ecosystems. Fish farms face similar problems to CFAOs. When it comes to reducing the negative impact food production on the planet, reducing seafood consumption is part of the equation.
Earth-friendly Diet Resolutions
Every day, you have three chances to choose a healthy, Earth-friendly diet. Try these diet resolutions for the New Year and you’ll create a healthier future for yourself and Mother Earth.
Grow Your Food. Growing food helps save money, reduce the environmental cost of factory farming, and give the whole family an “agri-education.” Use organic soil, compost, and practice conservation-friendly watering to help your garden grow.
Eat Organic, Seasonal & Local. Choose organic and in-season foods from local farms (Community Supported Agriculture-CSA) to support your local economy.
Go Meatless on Mondays. Just 1 day a week, try replacing meat-based recipes with savory vegetarian options.
Fish with Care. Farm raised fish contains chemicals that affect our health and the environment. Choose locally caught, sustainably raised fish like tilapia, catfish or carp or “lower food chain” seafood including squid, clams or mussels.
Support GMO Labeling. The only way to know if a food has been genetically manipulated is for labels to indicate products are GMO-free. When it comes to your inbox, sign the petition for GMO labeling laws.
Resources to help you Reduce Your “Food Print”
Neff, Roni. “Food Matters: How What We Eat Affects Our Health and the Health of the Planet.” Imagine. (Jan/Feb 2009), 18-21.
How Eating Meat Hurts Wildlife and the Planet. Take Extinction Off Your Plate.
Safe Seafood Guide. Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Freudberg, David & Buck, Tony. Climate-friendly Food Guide. HumanKindMedia.org.
Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health. Environmental Working Group (2011):
Brooks, C. “New report reveals the environmental and social impact of the ‘livestock revolution’.” Stanford University. (2010) Accessed on November 12, 2015. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/march/livestock-revolution-environment-031610.html
Patz, J., Corvalan, C. et al., “Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future. Discussion Paper on Human health and the Rio Conventions: biological diversity, climate change and desertification.” (date not listed). World Health Organization. Accessed November 13, 2015. http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/reports/health_rioconventions.pdf?ua=1
Rockefeller Foundation. Planetary Health: Improving Human Health by Healing the Planet. Planetary Health Summit Report. (2014). Accessed on November 13, 2015.
Bridgewater, Peter, Régnier, M. & Wang, Z. Healthy Planet, Healthy People ‐ A Guide To Human Health And Biodiversity. (2012). Secretariat Of The Convention On Biological Diversity, Montreal.
Berger, John J. Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis. (2014) Northbrae Books.
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