Celebrating Earth Month: Fueling Change through our Food Choices

By: Stefanie Heath

As Earth Day approaches, I’m encouraged by the growing number of new bike paths, easier access to recycling receptacles and communities that adopt programs like “Save the Rain,” which promotes rain water collection and use. As an environmental advocate, it’s inspiring to me to see our society take proactive steps to protect the health of our planet.

We know that cleaning up litter and choosing to bike instead of drive are great ways to celebrate Earth Day, but did you know that what you eat also has a significant impact on the planet’s health?

Factory farming is one of the leading causes of environmental destruction, according to the United Nations. The astronomical amount of our natural resources such as land, water and oil used to keep up with the demand of meat has taken its toll on the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the animal agricultural sector is, “the leading contributor to identified water quality impairments in the nation’s rivers and streams, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.” Untreated manure is flushed into the oceans creating “dead-zones” caused by a reduced level of oxygen that makes the water uninhabitable for most plants and animals.

Large-scale animal farming operations also pollute our air. As many of us strive to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s well documented that factory farms contribute a significant amount of greenhouse gases. A study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has identified global farm animal production accounting for 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Moreover, the expected demand and global population increase is projected to result in farm animal production emitting over 2/3 the amount of greenhouse gas emissions considered sustainable by 2050.

Animal agribusiness is also responsible for destroying valuable land ecosystems. According to the Climate Land Use Alliance, commercial agriculture drives 71% of tropical rainforest destruction, which is often cleared to grow animal feed.

The good news is that it’s not too late to start healing our planet. With a number of companies offering more options than ever, it’s easier than ever to fill your canvas shopping bag with plant-based foods. Even transitioning to one day a week of plant-powered meals can make a huge difference. As the Sierra Club has reported, “If Americans reduced meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be as though we all switched from a sedan to a hybrid.”

Celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres to Beyoncé have acknowledged the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, veggies, beans and legumes. In fact world-renowned NFL quarterback, Tom Brady, credits his ability to recover faster and perform better to eating a mostly plant-based. Even Bill Gates has dedicated large amounts of his own money to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of the current food system. Health care facilities, universities and school districts across the country are making the choice to go more sustainable by adding more veg-centric meals to their menus.

New York State is rich with decadent produce. Shopping at the Central NY Regional Market can help shrink your carbon footprint even more. When purchasing local products, both the supplier and the consumer are decreasing transportation emissions while also contributing to the local economy. It’s a win-win!

We are the fuel that can create change for our planet, but don’t let it stop on April 21. You can turn each day into Earth Day by committing to mindful eating. Not only will you experience delicious and wholesome food, you’ll help to rejuvenate our beautiful planet.

Asian Fusion Power Bowl

Bowls can be an easy and delicious way to get a boost of nutrients. I make bowls often and usually pick a specific ethnic cuisine. This protein packed bowl is an ode to Asian flavors. I add Kimchi as a way to boost my digestive health. Kimichi is not only loaded with vitamins A, B and C, but it contains the healthy bacteria, lactobacilli, which is great for digestion.

One serving
• 1 cup cooked quinoa
• ½ tablespoon sesame oil
• ½ cup baby spinach
• ¼ cup carrots, grated
• ¼ cup edamame, shelled
• ¼ cup kimchi (store bought is fine)
• 1 tablespoon scallions, sliced
• 1 tablespoon peanuts, chopped

Ginger Miso Dressing:
• 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
• 1 small garlic clove, minced
• 1 tablespoon white miso
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1 ½ tablespoon tahini
• ½ tablespoon agave nectar
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1/4 cup water

Instructions:

Cook quinoa according to package instructions. To make the dressing, place all of the ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

When the quinoa is cooked, place into a bowl and toss it with the sesame oil. Top the quinoa with the spinach, carrots, edamame, kimchi, scallions and peanuts. Pour the ginger miso dressing over the quinoa mixture and enjoy!