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Sustainable Eating for Sustainable Health

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Sustainable: able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

On the topic of sustainable eating, what comes to mind?

Perhaps your immediate thought is of impact the foods you choose to eat have on the planet? Or possibly, what comes to mind is the type of eating regime that will be personally sustainable for you? Especially given your activity level, health and fitness goals, and overall lifestyle including travel and day to day schedules.

Maybe both? But, can the same eating plan that supports the health of our planet also be the plan which supports our own health?

This can feel difficult to balance when the what, where, when, and how much to eat at any given meal is often something to figure out on the fly. After all, actually taking the time to map out a thoughtfully planned schedule for the week, including what to buy, where to buy it, when to actually get to the farmer’s market or grocery store to shop and then actually carve out time in the kitchen to cook isn’t something that piques the interest of many.

In a recent New York Times article entitled A Guide to Sustainable Eating (1), asked this very question; whether we have considered the effects of what we eat on the planet, and if we have made changes that will protect not only the Earth but also our health and the well-being of generations to come?

A mere five years ago, less than half of the suppers served at home were actually cooked at home (2) and on any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% (approximately 84.8 million adults) were consuming fast food regularly. (3)

What’s the price we’re paying for convenience, both on our guts as well as on the planet?

The article cites a recent study published in the Lancet (4) in which we are asked whether we can feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries. We are then reminded of the statistics we’ve heard before:

  • “cattle consume up to eight pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and release tons of greenhouse gases in the process while their saturated fat and calories contribute heavily to our high rates of chronic diseases.”
  • “Intensive meat production is on an unstoppable trajectory comprising the single greatest contributor to climate change. Humanity’s dominant diets are not good for us, and they are not good for the planet”

The article follows these points with the recommendation that “the Lancet report does not insist that everyone become a vegetarian or vegan, but does set as a goal that people in wealthy countries limit consumption of red meat — beef and lamb in particular — to one 3-ounce serving a week, or one 6-ounce serving every two weeks.”

Agreed.

Most of us are eating too much low-quality red-meat protein. Demanding more than what we would naturally be able to access does undoubtedly lead to overproduction with unnatural means (grain), depletion of soil due to excessive overuse and an end product of a piece of meat which is no longer even a healthy option for us humans to consume anyway.

The next piece of advice the article offers is that “we can be somewhat more generous with pork, poultry and fish, which are better for your health and less damaging to the earth.” The reason being that “the grain-to-meat ratio for poultry and hogs is only about 2.5 to 1, and the fat in fish is mostly unsaturated and high in omega-3 fatty acids.”

But wait.

Why are we feeding grain to pork, poultry and fish?

Decreasing the amount of an unnaturally raised cows we consume (in other words, one which is not 100 percent grass fed and finished, but actually fed grain) and slightly lowering the amount of unnatural pig, chicken or fish, yet still continuing to eat and therefore support the industry which is responsible for the inception of this issue in the first place is not the answer.

Doing so is still supporting their ways and means.

How about the impact of relying too heavily on grains, both on the planet and on our guts?

When comparing a plant-based, nutrient dense, seasonal diet which contains small portions of mindfully sourced proteins to a diet which is solely based on “eating less animal protein overall,” how can the latter even be considered as a viable option?

Fortunately, things are looking up and today, 82 percent of the meals Americans eat are prepared at home; a much higher percentage than just a few years ago. (5) If we’re preparing food at home more, hopefully that also means we’re actually getting out more often to shop locally and naturally.

Whether we’re using a planned-in-advance list, based on interesting recipes or recommendations that suit the particular health issues you’re trying to address, or by perusing the farmer’s markets to purchase what looks good and is inherently fresh and local, the end result is the same: this is sustainable.

Once we recognize how crucially what we eat directly affects our health and then opt to create a common sense plan of what to eat, we will also no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the effects of eating even infrequent fast food meals lacking in nutrient density.

In my work with clients, sustainability from day one of a new eating regime, both from the environmental standpoint as well as the client’s ability to easily maintain it for the long haul is the top priority. And since every customized plan I create is based completely on local, organic, seasonal, fresh food prepared simply; sustainability is embodied automatically.

Let’s not get overly hyped up on scheduling a grass-fed steak to be eaten only once per month in favor of increasing the times we have a serving of a bean-based veggie burger. Put most simply, if you rely on eating foods, the bulk of which are naturally grown in the area in which you live and balance out the rest with fish that swim in your local waters and animals that run across or fly over the land you live on, you too are embodying the most sustainable manner of eating possible.

It is that simple.

References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/well/eat/a-guide-to-sustainable-eating.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/05/the-slow-death-of-the-home-cooked-meal/
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/03/health/fast-food-consumption-cdc-study/index.html
  4. https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/
  5. https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/news/2018/9/americans-are-cooking-more-meals-at-home–eating-out-less

 

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If you’re following the Paleo Diet®, your grocery list is largely made up of fresh vegetables, grass-fed or pasture-raised meat, and free-range eggs. While your body benefits from this way of eating, your wallet might be hurting – these high-quality foods can have a high price tag! It can also be a challenge to find good sources for locally-grown produce and grass-fed meat. The offerings at your local grocery store might not cut it and there may not be a convenient farmers market in your area.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) could be a great solution for making your Paleo lifestyle work. While CSA models vary, the general principle is that customers support a specific farm or group of farms by buying “shares” of their products. In exchange for paying at least part of the season’s cost up front, customers usually receive a slight discount off the equivalent retail costs, or they receive special items not available in regular retail outlets.

CSA started as a model primarily for vegetable sales, but now all kinds of farms are getting in on the action. In some areas, farms have formed cooperative CSAs that offer a wider variety of products. By joining a CSA run by a local farm or cooperative, you can ensure you’re getting the freshest produce and properly raised meat at a reasonable cost.

 

How does it work?

How it works varies with each CSA, but most will ask for some sort of commitment at the beginning of each season. You might be asked to pay for the entire CSA share up front or make a deposit. However, some CSAs will offer weekly or monthly payment options.

Your farm will tell you how to pick up your CSA share – some farms only offer onsite pickup, while others deliver to several locations in the area or even offer home delivery. Pickups will usually be on a set schedule: Just keep in mind that CSAs aren’t quite like Fresh Direct or other grocery delivery services and depends on the farm’s harvest schedule.

Your farm should give you plenty of information about what to expect in your share. Many CSAs offer little to no choice; the farmer plans out the shares based on how the harvest is going. But many farms respond to customer demand and let CSA members have some say about what they want in their shares. Meat and eggs are often available as an add-on to a vegetable share, although some meat producers have their own CSAs.

 

How can I find one?

There are a number of websites that can help you find the right CSA in your area. A few good places to start include:

Sometimes areas with a lot of farms have CSA fairs where you can meet the farmers and learn more about the CSA options available to you.

If you’re strictly following the Paleo Diet, make sure to ask the farmer how often they plan to give you items like potatoes or green beans in the vegetable share, and what your options are for swapping those out for more Paleo-friendly ingredients. Some CSAs might let you make the switch in advance, and some have a “swap box” where members can deposit produce they don’t want and select something else.

The bottom line is that if you’re committed to the Paleo lifestyle, you might want to try committing to a local farm too. Joining a CSA might introduce you to new vegetables or cuts of meat that could expand your palette, and you’ll save some money while getting high-quality local food.

If you’ve joined a CSA and are looking for some good recipes for all that fresh food, check out our collection of Paleo Diet recipes.

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