Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts tagged Nature


You probably knew that rainforests are in deep trouble, and that our food choices are part of the problem. Palm oil is a major culprit, since in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, forests are being cut down to make room for palm oil plantations. Not only the forests, but creatures that live in them are endangered, including orangutans and rhinos.

Not to mention that the palm oil mill pollutes twice as much water as every unit of palm oil produced..

World Wildlife Fund, in its current newsletter, points out “To make noodles “instant,” manufacturers flash-fry them in palm oil to evenly dry the strands—a process that links instant noodles to environmental damage because the production of palm oil is one of the leading drivers of deforestation.”  One more reason to let go of processed foods as much as you possibly can!

There are two eco-labels that might help. WWF supports them, while RAN thinks they’re insufficient. Anyway, here they are. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ( began in 2001 when World Wildlife Fund proposed it, and was formally launched in 2003, based in Switzerland.  It’s a pretty complicated consortium of organizations from many countries that sign an agreement to support sustainability in the palm oil supply chain.

Green Palm is a subsidiary of a British oil importer and manufacturer. It has an interesting plan. Enterprises that produce certified sustainable palm oil can register their product with Green Palm. Then it seems they can sell their certificates. Is this like carbon cap and trade credits? Go here and see what you think.

Of course, by reading labels you can also avoid palm oil altogether. This may not be easy, since the stuff is everywhere. According to the Rainforest Action Network it can be found in “ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups.” Go here for more info.

Related links:
The Problem with Palm Oil
Norway Cuts Palm Oil Consumption 64% in One Year
How to Stop Buying Palm Oil and Help Save the Orangutans

Diversity in our food choices is a good thing. As I wrote in my book,

“The Earth provides an astounding variety of edible life forms. Do you know what a red daikon is? (A delicious mild radish). Have you ever heard of feijoa? (A fruit, also called pineapple guava). Not so long ago, kiwis were unknown in America, and now they are familiar fruits. Many other foods are just waiting to reach your table.  Yet we’re putting all our eggs in a few genetic baskets. Three quarters of the world’s calories consumed by humans come from seven crops (wheat, rice, corn, potato, barley, cassava, and sorghum). The genetic diversity of even these few crops is rapidly disappearing, as their native habitats are being destroyed and fewer varieties of each species are being cultivated.”


Choosing a wide variety of foods is good for you. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients we need are best consumed from food, not pills, since we evolved to eat things in the combinations that nature gives us. Science, on the other hand, operates by eliminating as many variables as possible in order to identify if factor X caused condition Y. That works in many situations (such as tracing the source of a food poisoning outbreak) but not always with regard to diet. That’s one reason we get so much conflicting health advice!

All this is to introduce today’s fun topic, food varieties. Did you know that there are over 4,000 edible varieties of potato? Most of these are found in the Andes Mountain areas of South America. The one pictured here isn’t an unusual variety, just an odd shape. If you’ve ever grown food, you’ll know that not everything is perfect in shape and color. Here’s a link to some really fun and beautiful oddball apple, eggplant, bell pepper, and other familiar fruits and vegetables. The other photos are of beautiful or unusual fruits and vegetables that I discovered while writing about food diversity. So liven up your plate and your palate by finding and buying some new foods.

Where to find them? In Berkeley, where I used to work, there’s the Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. Please add to the comments and tell us some other places you find wild and exciting foods.