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Everyday Environmentalist

Ask Where Your Food Comes From

"I have been doing this for the last five years, and I have never received a negative response."

Caitlyn Toropova, program coordinator for the Conservancy's Global Marine Team

By Caitlyn Toropova

One way I've made positive environmental changes in my life is to ask where my food comes from. And to keep asking.

What and how you consume has a barrage of effects on multiple environments:

  • Buying local, organic food reduces your carbon footprint. It burns less carbon to transport food from a local farm/market to your table than it does from overseas.
  • Organic foods reduce the amount of pollution runoff into the ecosystem.

So whether you're in a restaurant or grocery story, just ask: “Where does this food come from?” If your server doesn’t know, have them ask the chef. 

I have been doing this for the last five years, and I've never received a negative response; the worst outcome has been that they don’t know. And if they don’t know, I don’t order it.

In fact, there's almost always an alternative food to choose that is more sustainable, local or organic:

  • If you live on the coast, choose a local, wild fish. 
  • If you are inland, try hormone-free, free range or organic beef and poultry.
  • Even buying dishes that use local ingredients (say, local vegetables, or Wisconsin cheese when you're in Wisconsin) can create change. 

Here's one great example: I discovered that many of the shrimp in the frozen-food aisle and at my favorite restaurants came from shrimp ponds created by tearing down mangrove forests — ponds often quickly polluted and abandoned.

So now I only eat sustainably caught shrimp. If shrimp is imported, especially from developing nations, it’s often caught in an unsustainable method.

Your best bet is to buy shrimp from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico or other well-managed wild species (for example, pink shrimp from Oregon). Having a seafood guide in you purse or wallet helps with this one. Try the Seafood Watch card from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

And if sustainably caught seafood isn’t available, have the chicken. Local, organic chicken, that is.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy. 

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