Sustainable. Green. Eco-friendly. Energy efficient. These are the buzzwords of today and have become mainstays in the burgeoning culture of new eco-minded individuals. However, the views of how to best achieve carbon neutrality and what constitutes “true” green products are in constant flux. The way we view the food we eat is especially changing. Being more aware of how the foods we eat are affecting the environment is crucial to being responsible and living a green lifestyle.

A quick and striking example of how food production impacts the Earth includes a Michigan State study. This study shows eating a pound of beef is about seven times worse for the environment than chicken and 200 times worse than potatoes. To put it into context, it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef (per Dr. Georg Borgstrom, Chairman of Food Science and Human Nutrition Dept of College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University) which is about the same as a year’s worth of showers for one person.

So, you could essentially stop showering for a year or skip 4 hamburgers to save the same amount of water. I think I’ll choose a veggie burger next time. Think spicy black bean burger at the Penguin (if you’re reading this in Charlotte).

On a more positive note, sustainable food is easier than you might think to incorporate into your daily diet. It could be as close as your back yard, in a patio planter or around the corner at the farmer’s market. You can be sure you are eliminating as much transit, handling, processing, and pesticides as possible by looking in your own garden. In case you are an urbanite and don’t have a yard, there are simple questions you can ask at the farmer’s market and grocery store as well. Just simply noting where the fruit or vegetables come from (I think they require a sticker with country/state of origin now) is a good way to gauge how far they had to travel to get to you. Some farmer’s markets have imported goods as well as local, so it’s good to ask. This also helps support your local growers.

So, all you men out there responsible for eating 75% of the beef in our country, maybe opt for an alternative to your regular quarter pounder with cheese. We all have a responsibility to our environment and our bodies to be healthy and conscious of the overall impact we each make in every aspect of our lives. Especially the ones we have the most control over, like our diet.

(This article was written and published in the April 2009 issue of Charlotte Health and Fitness Magazine)