Food for Thought

by Clara L.

When people think about how to cut down their environmental impact, they typically think about driving less and recycling. However, what people don’t always realize is that what’s on your dinner plate can have just as big an environmental impact. From agriculture and fishing practices to transportation the current food industry is very taxing on the environment, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at a few ways you can eat more sustainably.

First, let’s look at seafood. Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices have significantly depleted our fisheries, and currently two-thirds of assessed fish populations are unhealthy. In the Puget Sound, many fish species, including the Chinook salmon, are at risk. Chinook salmon populations in the Puget Sound are estimated to be at ten percent of what they once were. Losing these fish would be a huge hit to the ecosystem because they are an important food source to many animals including our resident orca whales.

Also important is the fact that some fishing methods cause significant environmental damage even without overfishing. Certain fishing methods, such as bottom trawls and long-lines snag not only the intended fish, but a variety of other animals including sharks, sea turtles, marine mammals, and shorebirds. In addition, fishing gear that drags across the seafloor like trawls and dredges can damage fragile habitat.

Fortunately, there are plenty of seafood options that are sustainable to eat. When picking seafood, try to go for populations and species that are not at risk, and food that was harvested in a sustainable manner. But how do you know what seafood is sustainable? Luckily, Monterey Bay Aquarium has created a guide which helps you pick sustainable choices. You can download the printable guide at http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/consumer-guides or get the free app for your Android or iPhone. If you’re eating out check out Smart Catch restaurants, a group of local restaurants that have been certified to serve ninety percent or more sustainable seafood, at http://smartcatch.fish/restaurants/list.

Moving back to land, one of the quickest ways to reduce your environmental impact is to eat less meat. Why? Meat, especially red meat, takes more resources to produce than plant products because farmers must also produce food for the animals. Also, meat production emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

You should also keep in mind that in terms of the environmental impact of meat not all animals are created equal. Beef is by far the biggest culprit, and in general white meats are more sustainable than red meats. For example, a pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce, while a pound of chicken takes around 500 gallons, and a pound of soybeans takes a little over 200 gallons.

Finally, whenever possible, eat locally grown foods. Doing this reduces greenhouse-gas emissions because the food doesn’t have to travel as far, and you’ll support local businesses. Summer is a great time to buy local foods in Seattle because lots of great fruits and veggies are in season. So, head on down to a nearby farmers market (you can find out where they are and when they’re open at http://seattlefarmersmarkets.org/) or look for locally grown foods at your grocery store.

Categories Science

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