Is Vegetarianism Necessary for Green Living?

woman chopping vegetablesOne of the most common questions that I get from clients is, “Do I have to become a vegetarian in order to adopt a GREEN lifestyle?”.  Well, to be honest, the answer to this question is not clearly black and white.  Some will argue, adamantly, a clear “Yes!” and others will say “No!”.   I will answer the question by saying, “It depends on your dietary lifestyle.”  I believe we can all contribute to sustaining the planet through our dietary habits.  Let me explain…

I’ll start by saying that calorie for calorie, growing plants for food is more energy efficient than raising animals for food.  Removing beef and dairy from your plate, which depends highly on oil as a source of energy for production, will create immediate savings for you and the planet.  This is because growing produce requires about 2 fossil fuel calories to create 1 calorie of food, while growing animal protein requires 20-80 fossil fuel calories to create 1 food calorie.  Therefore, eating more vegetarian meals throughout your week would allow you to lessen your carbon footprint on the earth, and also create a calorie deficit in your daily diet.  If you would like to lose a few pounds, this way of eating is good for you and the planet, hand in hand.

But if you’re having a difficult time letting go of eating meat, whether it be beef, chicken, pork, or fish, then let’s examine another angle.  I understand that not everyone can do a 360 degree change into a full vegetarian lifestyle, and not everyone will want to.  That’s okay, because for those of you who still want to “have your meat, and eat it too”, here’s how you can do it and still maintain a “greener” diet.

  • Start by cutting back on the amount of animal protein in your diet.  Ever heard of “Meatless Mondays”?  Start by having 1-2 meatless meals per week.  You can also cut back on your portion sizes of meat on your plate when you do have beef, chicken, fish or poultry for a meal.  And when you cut back on your meat, increase your portion of vegetables.  Make it fun- try out a new vegetarian recipe every now and then!
  • Purchase sustainable meat, fish, and poultry as often as possible.  Yes, I know this can turn out to be a little more expensive, but if you’re eating 1-2 vegetarian meals a week AND cutting back on your protein portion sizes, the higher cost of organic meat should fit into your food budget without a substantial strain.

So, there you have it.  I’m a realist; although it would be nice if the majority of people would adopt a vegetarian lifestyle because the many benefits are obvious and well-proven, I know that’s not going to happen for everyone.  But I DO believe every single one of us can contribute to a healthier dietary lifestyle that will have a  positive impact on not only our own health, but the sustainability of our planet!

To Salt, or Not To Salt: What Should You Really Do?

Most authorities, and many dietitians/nutritionists, recommend people not use salt at the table or the stove. I have found that this is precisely the wrong approach. Most of the sodium we eat (77%) is in the food as we buy it—mostly processed/packaged and restaurant foods. The remaining 23% is about evenly split between naturally occurring sodium and that which we add at the stove/table.

So when it is recommended that people stop using salt at the stove/table, how much does that affect your sodium intake? Very little (about 10%). All the while, you as the consumer, are left believing that you’re doing something good for yourself and that you have complete control over your sodium intake, when actually you do not. If you’re buying mostly processed/packaged foods (out of convenience and ease) from food industry giants like Campbells, Kraft, Prego, Stouffers (this includes LEAN CUISINE) to control your sodium intake, you’re not doing much at all. Even if you don’t salt your food at the table, you’re getting more salt in your diet than you should.

Let’s return the control back to YOU, the consumer. I recommend that you buy as much unprocessed, whole, and/or reduced sodium foods as possible and salt those foods YOURSELF. Even if you buy a bland, low-sodium soup or pasta sauce, you can add your own salt (along with other herbs and spices to further cut back on the use of salt). Then, over time, slowly reduce the salt you add to those unprocessed, whole foods, allowing time for the tastebuds to adjust. Who’s in control now? That’s right it’s YOU, not the food industry giants that have absolutely no concern about your health and welfare.

And as for the GREEN and COMPASSIONATE living moral to this story: Buying unprocessed, whole foods will, in turn, mean that you’re buying foods with less packaging (good for the environment), and you’re most likely buying more fruits and vegetables and eating a more plant-based diet (good for you AND the environment).