Is it organic? The arguments for eating organic are plentiful: Organic foods are free of not only pesticides, but hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and sweeteners, and preservatives as well. Organic foods are not genetically modified, when the long term health effects of GM foods are still unknown. They taste better and studies show they are more nutritious and richer in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids than non-organic food. And when it comes to the environment, organic farmers avoid the pesticides and herbicides that contaminate groundwater, erode soil, and damage local ecosystems. Now on the flip side: Who can afford to only buy organic food and are all conventional foods really so bad? Knowing which organic food is worth the extra cost can be confusing. Fortunately the Environmental Working Group offers a great resource with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides, along with a list of the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. You can print out a wallet-size list or download the iPhone app at ewg.org/foodnews.
Is it local? Purchasing from local farmers is a great way to get fresh, healthy food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Find farms and farmer's markets in your area at localharvest.org. What if the farm you like isn’t certified organic? Earning organic certification is a lengthy and costly process that not all farmers can afford. Instead you can ask your local farmer if they use organic practices or, if they’re not organic, if they use non-synthetic pesticides and/or practice minimal spraying. If they answer yes to any of these questions, then you're likely buying from a conscientious farmer who’s producing good quality, minimally-processed food.
Is it in season? Even if you don’t get to the farmers’ market, you can still make an effort to purchase local produce at the grocery store. To buy local means to buy in season. Yes you can buy pretty much any type of fruit or vegetable any time of year, but what sacrifices in quality and impact to the environment do you have to make? By purchasing local foods when they are in season, you avoid the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles and you’ll get fresher tasting fruits and vegetables. You can better plan your meals around what’s in season with the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.
How else can you green up your diet? You can cut down on your waistline and your food budget, while doing the environment a good turn, by swapping one or two meat-based meals a week with a vegetarian or seafood dish. One of your best options for fish is Wild Alaskan Salmon. Because it is wild-caught, it's purer in flavor than farm-raised salmon (which is fed pigment and antibiotics) and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Another great option is canned sardines. Unlike tuna, sardines aren't in danger of being over-fished and are low in mercury.
Finally, one cost-efficient way to eat green is to simply cook at home and pack a lunch (in reusable containers) as often as you can. By preparing your own food you'll be better able to avoid preservatives, cut down on packaging (think of all those ketchup packets and napkins in take-out bags), and save money. Now that is eating green.