Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

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Excerpt from the Green Foodprint


Good News for the Earth
We have reason to be cautiously hopeful about our future. People in many fields are inventing or reviving ways to live lightly on the Earth, and citizens are demanding green goods and services. Thousands of non-profit organizations around the world work to restore the earth and create social justice. The socially responsible investing market is worth $3 trillion in 2010. Schoolchildren are sending money to save rain forests, architects are designing energy-efficient homes and offices, religious communities are adopting Earth-friendly causes, and manufacturers are streamlining their processes. Exciting developments are taking place all around us–including in our food world.

  • The U.S. organic market has grown 20% per year, to nearly $6 billion, and there are now over 6,000 farmers’ markets nationwide, a 16% increase in one year.
  • Conservation tilling methods reduced soil erosion by 43% between 1982 and 2003.
  • There are 1,667 land trusts nationwide that protect farmland from development.

In this book, you will find dozens more stories of environmental good news. Maybe you, too, will have a creative idea that will become part of this great moment in history.


Surprising partnerships

Cooperation is occurring between unlikely partners. For instance, the Blue Green Alliance, founded in 2006 by United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, convinces business to go green, protects workers’ rights, and shows workers that there are jobs in the green economy. With membership of labor unions and environmental organizations, Blue Green Alliance now represents 13 million members.

North Carolina has 8,000 open-air cesspools (which can contaminate watersheds) because the hog industry creates more waste than the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined. Environmental Defense partnered with Frontline Farmers, a group of pork producers, to halt construction of more cesspools and to turn the waste into fertilizer. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 100,000 acres of grazing land in California were urbanized. To protect what’s left, the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition–a partnership of ranchers and conservationists–works to preserve woodlands and grazing land.

Such partnerships can be found in many unexpected places. In Texas, small farmers, the Central Texas Cattlemen’s Association, the U.S. Army, and Environmental Defense are partnering to protect land at Fort Hood.

It’s encouraging that people are reaching across old divides to work together.


Big business gets the message

Big business and nature groups are finding common cause. U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) combines major environmental groups and major corporations to tackle climate change. USCAP includes some of the world’s largest corporations, with combined revenues of $2 trillion and 2.7 million workers in all 50 states and many other countries.

Walmart hired the former president of the Sierra Club to oversee its environmental initiatives. With more than 1.4 million employees, 127 million customer visits a week in its 4,000 stores, and $351 billion in revenue, Walmart is bigger than the economies of 160 nations. Environmental Defense is helping Walmart address global warming, alternative fuel, packaging, and sustainable seafood. Simply by turning off engines while trucks are being loaded, the company reduced emissions equivalent to taking 20,000 cars off the road.


Cities doing their share

Seattle, which already recycles 44% of its trash, has added mandatory food scrap recycling. Lafayette, California, collects all food waste, even   meat, bones, coffee grounds and filters, soiled napkins, and paper plates. In France, the city of Lille fuels its 100 buses using biogas fuel made from household food scraps, yard clippings, weeds, and flowers, expecting to convert over 100 tons of green waste a year.


The power of one and the power of many

High school biology teacher Tom Furrer was stumped when a student asked him, “Why are we losing species at such a rapid rate, things that we all love? What can we do?”

That weekend, Furrer happened to encounter a man who was saving a few endangered steelhead trout in a pond in his back yard. Furrer enlisted his students to restore the nearby trout stream and start a fish conservation project. Twenty-five years later, all seven miles of the stream have been restored and the high school’s fish project is a fully licensed hatchery. Among the graduates of the program are environmental lawyers, science teachers, a stem cell scientist, and a fish hatchery manager.

Freecycle started in Tucson as an email list by one person and now has over 4,500 local groups with millions of members in 85 countries. When you join this group (free, of course), you get emails about things your neighbors are giving away–clothing, gardening tools, books, exercise machines, food, seeds, toys, and much more. You can get free stuff and give away your unneeded things to someone who will use them. The freecycle web site claims, “We are currently keeping over 500 tons a day out of landfills. This amounts to five times the height of Mt. Everest in the past year alone, when stacked in garbage trucks.” I don’t know how they got this statistic, but I like the image.

Friends of the Earth/Middle East is an organization of Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian environmentalists who work together to clean up the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. This organization also promotes healthy food, solar energy, and eco-tourism.

This widespread support of Earth-friendly choices may come as a surprise. You may have thought people who care about the environment were just a few earnest activists holding meetings and criticizing other people’s lifestyles. Or you may be an environmentally concerned citizen worried that there aren’t enough like-minded people. In fact, researchers have found what they call a New Green Mainstream, over 50 million people who make decisions every day based on environmental concern.


Steward of the land

Nash Huber was given the Steward of the Land Award by the American Farmland Trust. Huber and his wife Patty McManus farm over 400 sustainably managed organic acres in Sequim, Washington, growing over 100 types of produce. The farm composts material from nearby dairy farms and their own vegetable fields.  Through grass-roots organizations, they have saved hundreds of acres of nearby farmland and wildlife habitat and participated in projects to help salmon, plant buffers near creeks, and improve water quality.


What’s next?

As these groups and individuals show, great strides have been made. But we’re not out of the woods. Human demands on the planet’s natural resources have tripled since 1961. World population continues to grow faster than the Earth can support. Some industries like things just the way they are and obstruct change. Others make empty gestures or engage in greenwash (claiming more environmental virtue than they have).

On the individual level, there’s a gap between what people say they are willing to do for the Earth, and what they actually do. This book will help you close that gap and join others who are saving the Earth with their food choices.