Food is a huge component of the world's economy, and the way we eat can have a tremendous impact on the earth's biodiversity. Land conversion for agriculture; topsoil erosion; fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide runoff; reliance on meat-rich diets; and wasteful packaging all damage ecosystems and reduce our ability to provide for future generations. Our everyday purchasing decisions at the supermarket can either help or hurt biodiversity. Here are a few things that you can do to help:
Eat foods that are lower on the food chain Choose organic foods Buy produce that is grown locally Buy fewer processed foods Buy produce that is in season Buy foods with less packaging or no packaging at all Avoid eating overexploited species Broaden your diet to include a greater diversity of food items Bring your own reusable cloth bag to the market instead of using disposable bags Minimize your food waste
Sources: American Museum of Natural History. 1998. Biodiversity and Your Food: A Guide for Green Consumers. New York: Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. For more information, visit: http://research.amnh.org; Riebel, Linda, and Ken Jacobsen. 2002. Eating to Save the Earth. Berkeley, CA: CelestialArts.
a farmer in North America probably did not use much more energy than his counterpart in Asia or Africa. Today, however, the average citizen of North America uses almost thirty times the energy of the average African.
Heavily consumptive habits are engrained in our daily lives. Often they are almost imperceptible to us, but cumulatively they wreak havoc on the natural world. Urban sprawl, for example, chews up 1 million acres of open space in the United States each year, fragmenting wildlife habitat and isolating populations of species (Sierra Club, 2002). This dispersed pattern of settlement also requires residents to use more energy to get to work, shopping, and school (it further requires increased energy use for garbage pickup, mail delivery, and the provision of goods and services), which contributes to reduced air quality and global climate change.
The way that we eat reflects the increasing amount of resources we use in our daily lives, as well as the large disparity in the resources it takes to feed a single person in different societies. For example, the Audubon Society recently reported that the earth could feed 10 billion people eating as the citizens of India do, 5 billion who eat as the Italians do, but just 2.5 billion eating as do the citizens of the United States (remember that there are already 6.1 billion people). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world's meat consumption. As economies grow and populaces become more affluent, meat consumption tends to increase. In 1900, 10 percent of the world's grain went to feed animals. By the 1990s that proportion had risen to 45 percent (Riebel and Jaconsen, 2002, p. 14). As we transition to meat-heavy diets, it takes almost four times more calories to feed each person, with most of those calories cycled through animals (ibid., p. 25). Rather than consume local produce, we eat food that is transported huge distances before it arrives on our tables—a ham-
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