In his 2006 best-selling book Omnivore's Dilemma, author Michael Pollan explores where our food really comes from and documents how the big business of growing, raising and processing what we eat affects our nation's diet, health and the environment.
Skyping from his home in Berkeley, California, Michael says what you eat is integral to cutting waste and pollution. "A lot of that garbage you saw was the result of food packaging. Agriculture changes the landscape more than anything else we do. It alters the composition of species," he says. "We don't realize it when we sit down to eat, but that is our most profound engagement with the rest of nature."
Michael's first suggestion of how to use your plate to cut your carbon footprint is to eat less meat. "I'm not talking about going vegetarian," he says. "But even one meatless day a week—a meatless Monday, which is what we do in our household."
Besides helping the environment, Michael says "meatless Mondays" have a bonus benefit. "To the extent we push meat a little bit to the side and move vegetables to the center of our diet, we're also going to be a lot healthier," he says.
Shop the Supermarket Periphery
When you are shopping for food, use the way grocery stores are laid out to your advantage. Most stores put the healthiest foods—fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy—around the outer ring of the store. These healthiest foods are also the ones that rot or go bad the quickest. "Food should be alive, and therefore it should die," Michael says.
Processed food—which is less healthy for both humans and the environment—is put in the aisles in the middle of the store. "That's where the stuff that never goes bad lurks," Michael says. "That's the processed food that really gets you into trouble. That has the most waste and takes the most fossil fuel to produce."
Buy Organic When You Can
If an apple a day kept the doctor away 50 years ago, it might be time to start eating two apples a day. "Something curious has happened to a lot of our fresh produce, which is that it has less nutrients in it than it did in 1950 or 1960, and nobody knows quite why," Michael says.
One way to get those missing nutrients is to buy organic and sustainably grown food."It's still very nutritious," he says. "If you can afford it, buy organic, buy sustainable."
Don't Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn't Recognize
Besides sticking to the outside aisles of the grocery store, Michael says another thing to consider when shopping is your ancestors.
"Imagine your great-grandmother...would she recognize this as food?" he says. "If the answer is no, maybe you don't want to eat it."
Healthy Vegetable Garden
Michael says eating vegetables you grow yourself is the "single greenest thing you can do" and can save money as well. "An investment of $60 can save you $200 in fresh produce," he says.
Gardening can break your kids' love of junk food too. "You will find your kids eating vegetables from your garden that they would not eat any other way," Michael says. "How my son discovered vegetables was from growing them in the garden."