Monday, September 23, 2013
How Healthy Is Your Diet?
The folks over at the Food Day website have devised a 14 question quiz designed to show how healthy your diet is for you, the planet, and the animals. I have a few issues with the quiz. They don't, for example, ask if you produce any of your own food or how much of your food is locally-produced, which could have a fairly significant impact on the environmental footprint of your diet. Aside from a few other quibbles with their methodology, though, I think the quiz is a great starting point for a conversation about the health consequences of our food choices.
I got a solid A when I took the quiz, but that's not too surprising since I eat an overwhelmingly vegetarian diet. I answered that I eat fish once a week, but it's really more like once a month. Given that the quiz takes the environment and animal welfare into consideration, I was almost guaranteed an A.
My vegetarian diet is mostly about the environment, not animal welfare. I do love animals and certainly became a vegetarian in high school because of my concern for animals. But when I became an outdoor educator in college, it became clear that the environmental toll of industrial meat production is a more important reason to avoid meat. Many people, from Paul McCartney to a former chief economist at the World Bank to the United Nations, have called for people to reduce meat consumption and move toward a vegetarian diet in order to mitigate against climate change. I am not militant about vegetarianism (obviously, since some fish sneak into my mouth occasionally), but I do think it's important to talk about the connection between eating meat and the environment.
I worked for a summer as the head cook at an environmental summer camp run by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. I quickly learned that my coworkers were hard-core meat-eaters who demanded meat at every meal. It was disheartening, given that most of them were environmental studies majors in college and planned to stay in environmental education as a career. It was a frustrating summer. The last straw for me was when two of them were complaining about waking up in their tent on federal (probably BLM) land out west and finding cattle surrounding their tent. Even after I pointed out that those cattle were certainly beef cattle, not dairy, they could not see the connection between their desire for meat at every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the grazing of cattle on federal lands.
There are consequences to our food choices beyond our personal health and well-being. Take the quiz and share your score (if you'd like) in our comments section. Let's start this conversation!