Earth-Friendly Eating for Personal & Planetary Health

We are celebrating Earth Day this week and I’ve been thinking a lot about earth-friendly eating. Our food choices really do matter — to our own personal health, to the health of others (see “Tale of a North American Tomato”), and to the health of this planet we call home. We are all connected, and our thoughts and our actions make a difference, both on a personal and on a planetary level. Carrie Newcomer’s wonderful song “Room at the Table” speaks to me about this connection, providing “food for thought” while we sing (and dance) along to her music.

In the words of David Korten in his latest book Change the Story, Change the Future, “Economists debate how to accelerate economic growth. Scientists debate how long the human species can withstand an economy that is destroying Earth’s capacity to support life. Social activists debate how to reduce an intolerable and growing gap between the profligate and the desperate…Money prospers. Life withers. We cannot eat, drink, or breathe money. No matter how fat our bank accounts or advanced our technologies, we depend on Earth’s health for food, fresh water, clean air, and a stable climate.”

One thing we can do to protect our own health and the health of the planet is to eat less meat and less processed foods — to reduce our carbon footprint and also to conserve water. Michael Pollan said it so well, “Eat food (rather than ‘edible food-like substances’), not too much, mostly plants.” And way back in the 1970s, inspiring food activist and nutrition educator Joan Gussow made a similar recommendation “Eat food and not food products, because you are what you eat and you don’t want to be made out of Ding Dongs.”

Our best food choices are: fresh, whole, unprocessed; whole unprocessed; local in season; organically grown; and lower on the food chain (plant foods; smaller fish, animals). If processed, the best choices are: those with fewer ingredients (less than 5) and less packaging. It’s also a good idea to be wary of food products with very long shelf lives, and those with ingredients you cannot pronounce or that make health claims.

Preparing our own food and sharing it with family and friends is nourishing to our bodies and nurturing to our spirits. Mark Hyman, MD describes “cooking as a transformative act.” He says, “The cure for what ails us can be found in the kitchen. It is a place to rebuild community and connection, strengthen bonds with family and friends, teach life-giving skills to our children, enrich and nourish our bodies and our souls.”

In celebration of Earth Day, Cook’s Illustrated published a list of some of the best eco-friendly kitchen gadgets they had tested. From clever compost systems to reusable food storage, these well-designed tools will make it easier than ever to be earth-friendly.

And speaking of preparing nourishing food at home, try my Lemony Veggie-Rich Soup. It’s loaded with phytochemicals (“plant protectors”). These plant protectors include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds … plus this soup is rich in fiber and provides plenty of protein. The pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein and zinc, so important for tissue building and repair, as well as for a healthy immune system. And the pumpkin seeds also provide fat for satiety, as well as contributing to the satisfying, creamy consistency. The lemon “perks up” the soup adding complexity to the flavor, while also providing more protective flavonoids and soluble fiber. And maybe best of all, you can prepare this nourishing soup (a full meal in a bowl) in about 15-20 minutes – and you will even have plenty left over for other meals!

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