As I sit here eating my vegan burrito bowl and organic fruit, sipping my organic juice, I can’t help but think, “How did I become this person?” Though I was a vegetarian for many years, I used to be the kind of person who thought any arguments against GMOs were either from worried moms or crazy hippies. Now, I buy 80% of my food organic or locally grown and constantly try to convince my family and friends to do the same, much to their annoyance. After taking a class about environmentalism last year as part of a freshman seminar program, I can’t look at food the same way, so now I’m going to share that information with you! This information may ruin your life but will also change it—and it's extremely important information to know.
First, GMOs. As I said before, I used to argue that there was nothing wrong with GMOs, as I had read studies by many scientists in which GMOs were proven to be safe. However, have you ever stopped to think modern GMOs only began to be used in the late 1980s? How are we supposed to completely trust such a new science? Even if there have been a lot of studies on their safety, the fact that we’ve only been using chemicals on our food for under thirty years just doesn’t give us enough time to truly know their consequences. And the same corporation that produces the majority of GMOs, Monsanto, is the same company that produces the highly toxic chemical weapon Agent Orange. It seems a little sketchy to me that we’re spraying our food with chemicals produced by a company responsible for a deadly product.
via: Ruth Gwily
Aside from these slightly frightening facts, we must acknowledge that Monsanto is literally evil, and I do not use that term lightly. One of my major issues with GMOs is social—basically, Monsanto has a habit of suing innocent farmers for all they’re worth. Here’s what happens: a farmer wants to grow organic crops, but their neighbor doesn’t. The neighbor’s modified seeds get carried by the wind to the farmer’s land, and gets sown. Now the farmer is growing GMO seeds he did not purchase, so he gets sued for copyright infringement and has to shut down his farm. In rural India, it gets even more unjust: farmers spend all their money on GMO seeds so they don’t have to pay for pesticides, but the seeds don’t work, so the farmers have to buy pesticides anyway—a cycle that often leads to poverty and, subsequently, suicide. In recent years, the suicide rate of Indian farmers has been through the roof, namely due to GMOs.
As much as I could talk about GMOs all day, I must move on to discussing meat. Meat uses more natural resources than many of our other daily routines, especially red meat. To produce one pound of meat takes roughly 1,800 gallons of water, 6.6 pounds of grain, and 15 pounds of CO2. One pound of beef is enough to feed a family of four, depending how much each person eats. A pound of grains, on the other hand, could feed a small community, not even including the extra 6.6 pounds of grain thereby not fed to the single cow. The majority of people today are living well beyond what the Earth will be able to support in the long run, and it is important to understand that if we exhaust all of our land, water, and atmosphere now, we have no backup plan. This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: we only have one Earth, and we simply are not taking care of it by putting ourselves and our enjoyment of burgers and steak above our future well-being. (Side note: if you do choose to eat it, make sure to buy grass-fed beef. Most cows used for beef are fed corn or other odd mixtures; this diet is bad for them, makes them taste worse, and diminishes their nutritional value.)
A lot of people’s problem with buying organic and local food is that it’s more expensive. And while it can be, there are also many ways to stay on your budget. For example, buying organic frozen produce is a great way to save money, as it is often a lot cheaper, especially when the products are out of season. This way you can also avoid waste, as the produce can stay in your freezer for a lot longer compared to buying fresh foods. If you’d rather buy fresh fruit, opt for the fruit that is currently in season and freeze it for the times they get more expensive. You can also look at lists like the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” to decide which foods to buy organically. The “Clean 15” contains produce (like sweet corn, avocado, pineapples, and eggplant) that does not particularly need to be bought organically. However, the “Dirty Dozen” features fruits and vegetables (like apples, grapes, and peaches) which often use a lot of pesticides, and buying these products organically will make a huge difference for your health and for the environment. Furthermore, if you only want to choose a few items to buy organically, choosing organic meat and dairy is ultimately much more beneficial than buying organic produce—but cutting meat out of your diet entirely (or at least reducing it) can save you a lot of money. Beans are a lean protein that have a lot of nutritional value for a very low cost, and they have a long shelf life to boot. Chickpeas, lentils, and tofu are other great plant proteins often available for extremely low costs.
A major way to save money when buying locally and organic is buying in bulk. If you take advantage of sales on items you frequently use and then store them for later, you will end up saving a lot more money in the long run. Additionally, using the “bulk buckets” at places like Whole Foods for grains and nuts and using your own packaging not only saves you money, but helps reduce waste! Finally, an easy (albeit obvious) place to get organic and local food is a farmer’s market—a lot of colleges have farmer’s markets right on campus or in town, so they’re very accessible, and browsing a farmer's market is a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends whether you end up buying food or not.
If you would like to learn more about the negative impact of meat and GMOs on the environment, I highly recommend films like Food, Inc. and Cowspiracy. It’s a hard truth to acknowledge (I’m sparing you the very gory details of the meat business in this article), but if this piqued your interest, continue to research and educate yourself. Every individual truly makes a difference when it comes to the environment: eben by skipping meat just one day a week (e.g. for a "Meatless Monday"), you are directly benefiting our Earth and making a change. My six years of being a vegetarian have kept almost 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. And that’s just for one person! When the results of all those who put in even a little bit of effort are added together, a significant change can be noticed.
This article was originally published on November 26, 2016.
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman