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Our grocery carts carry what’s called a “food print.” This term acknowledges that everything we purchase, cook, and consume has an ecological impact. When we understand our personal food print, we can work to make our groceries more green and reduce our contributions to climate change.
First, get a sense of where your food print ranks by taking this short quiz. Next, let’s consider some easy food swaps that can make your groceries more green.
Swap beef for pork or chicken
According to the World Economic Forum, beef production is the heftiest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It is the most emission-intensive food because of the released methane gas in the beef’s digestive process.
You can drastically decrease your meal’s ecological impact by swapping beef for basically any other protein besides lamb (which is the second most emission-intensive animal raised for consumption).
Swap imported vegetables for locally-grown options
Reducing the distance your food travels from farm to table means decreasing its total carbon load. It also means enjoying fresher foods and supporting your local economy. You can find local options at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or even in your backyard if you start your own food garden.
Swap dairy-based milks for plant-based alternatives
When it comes to reducing to our food print, we can work wonders with a simple switch away from dairy and toward plant-based alternatives. A new study confirms choosing plant-based proteins and milks is better than choosing even sustainably-raised animal products.
Choosing which plant-based milk you like can take a little trial and error, but in my experience, the easiest swaps to stick with are almond, coconut, and hemp milks.
Swap frozen veggies for fresh
Choosing grocery items with lower levels of processing decreases the total energy consumed. One study found that frozen carrots, for example, carried three times the associated global warming pollution when compared to buying a fresh bunch. Again, you could further reduce the impact on your food (and your grocery bill) by growing your own food.
5. Swap conventionally-grown fruits and veggies for organic options
The National Resources Defense Council suggests going green by switching to organic options. According to their research, organic agriculture contributes less to global warming and is safer for our families, farmers, and communities.
If going 100% organic isn’t possible in your city, you can still reduce your impact by choosing the Clean 15 and avoiding the Dirty Dozen.
Swap big fish for those further down the food chain like mussels and squid
As a general rule of thumb, the lower you can go on the food chain, the better. When it comes to seafood, this means swapping varieties like salmon and tuna for lower-impact options like mussels, squid, and clams. As always, check the packaging for the sustainable seafood label to ensure your choice is as eco-friendly as possible.
Swap highly-processed junk foods for less energy-intensive and healthier options
This really is a win-win situation. Removing highly-processed foods reduces the ecological impact of your grocery cart and boosts nutrition. Try this trick: Check your labels before purchasing. If something has over 10 ingredients, skip it and grab something with less. Now, don’t worry, this doesn’t mean I’m suggesting swapping crackers for apples—I’m simply saying there are better cracker options on the shelves and a simple label check will point you in the green direction.