Many of the foods we consume are environmentally taxing to provide and play a heavy hand in degrading the planet. Some of the worst foods for the environment are ones we consume on a daily basis and, our demand for them, contributes to many of the food distribution issues we face today. It’s hard to comprehend the impact our eating habits have on the planet but by becoming more aware of what we consume and by constantly educating ourselves it is possible to eat sustainably.
The number one worst food for the environment is one we know all too well- one that keeps most of the world sane in the earliest of hours: the coffee bean. Half a trillion cups of coffee are consumed annually and it is one of the most sought commodities in the world, second to crude oil. Imagine the impact keeping up with that kind of demand has. Ideal conditions to grow the bean entail shade, and having enough shade to produce that many tons of coffee is impossible. To artificially replicate those conditions toxic amounts of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and fungicides are used. The quantity of chemicals injected into our soil globally and the acres of rainforest bulldozed to create useable farmland have a devastating impact. This news might be hard to swallow for those looking to change to a eco-friendly diet but there are sustainable options. When buying coffee, look for shade grown and fair trade where you bypass all the chemicals and encourage ethical growth. This process will be made all the easier, as companies like McDonald’s are aware of these issues and achieved their ESG coffee goal of 2020 by sustainably sourcing 98.1% of their ground and whole bean coffee.
The boom in the sushi economy has resulted in the overfishing of Blue Fin Tuna, the second worst food for the environment. Overfishing has led to a massive population decline and a heavily disrupted oceanic food chain. In the Pacific Ocean numbers have dropped 96 percent, and Blue Fin Tuna are now so highly prized that one recently sold for $3 million US in Tokyo, Japan to a wealthy Japanese restaurant owner. This demand has led to an abundance of illegal fishing as well as oceanic highways waterlogged with fishing boats, giant nets, and fishing lines. This destroys natural eco-systems and creates carbon-saturated waters. Analysis of the most recently caught fish shows that they were too young to have reproduced, meaning they may be the last generation. If current trends continue, Blue Fin Tuna will be quickly become extinct.
With McDonalds in over 119 countries and having sold 1 trillion burgers as of 20 years ago (they stopped updating their signs in 1994), is it really a surprise that factory-farmed beef is the fourth worst food for the environment? To keep up with demand, acres of tropical forests are constantly clear-cut to create corn and soy farms to feed cows. A variety of pesticides are used in the crops, and the quantities of waste produced by the millions of cows are disposed of in waterways. The majority of this merchandise needs to be kept cool or frozen and the heavy refrigeration utilized emits harmful gases into the ozone.
Palm Oil: found in everything from margarine and chocolate to biodiesel and soaps. Ancient rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia are destroyed in attempt to grow enough to meet demand and is leading orangutang's to extinction. Help save Harambe’s brothers and sisters by becoming aware of what products contain palm oil and avoiding their use.
Last, but certainly not least, most are familiar with the infamous genetically modified corn. GMO corn was developed to resist herbicides and it produces its own insecticides, putting the threatened honeybee population further at risk. The toxin this corn produces ravages everything- it destroys habitats, pollutes air and water, reduces biodiversity, and has led to the extinction of certain fruits and vegetables.
It can be difficult to maintain ethical eating habits but minor changes to our daily diet can reduce environmental impact. By questioning where our food comes from, vocalizing our preference for sustainable sources, and by eating seasonally and locally, we encourage the growth of local farms and their eco friendly production. Eating seasonal is different in every region but local sources and farmers markets can offer a baseline. Introducing long-term adjustments in your diet or eating habits, such as a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, encourages sustainable eating and are less draining on the environment as they predominantly revolve around low impact foods. Becoming more aware of what we eat today will set a higher standard for eco-friendly food production and create a greener tomorrow.
Updated- May 30, 2022