Special Diets and their Impacts in Modern America
“Diet” has been a term that humanity has dedicated their lives to in recent years. With the supermodel body craze of the 2000’s, both women and men have devoted their daily routines to become “thin.” But the fact of the matter is that “thin” does not mean “fit.” We have seen people eliminate necessary proteins from their daily eating habits, starve themselves on a day-to-day basis, and even purge their food after eating to avoid the repercussions it can place on one’s body. What is most haunting and fascinating (based on its positive or negative impact), is the reality of environmental impact that we are manifesting as a result of these popular modern eating habits. Currently, we are displayed with such drastic measures of diet that they can sometimes hardly even be considered an eating habit alteration. I want to discuss the more “normal” diets that have emerged within humanity in the past decade, despite these diets existing since the dawn of man, and clarify the real cases of environmental harm that is accounted for in their complete harvest.
(Image #1 Source: Google Images “paleo”)
The first diet I would love to get on the agenda is the paleo way of eating; one that is very popular here in Boulder, CO. Paleo, meaning “old” or “ancient,” refers to the style of consuming meals as our ancestors did, i.e. hunter-gatherers. The guidelines for this style of life require the consumer to stick to grass-fed meat, organically grown fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood. An advantage of this diet is also increasing the body’s intake of healthy oils such as avocado, walnut, olive, flaxseed, and coconut. A benefit proposed by the influx of oils to the body is that blood sugar and insulin levels are efficiently regulated within the body. Although a big concern of this diet and many others is “What to eat,” the bigger factor that comes into play is “Where to get our food from.” The environmental impact from making one’s diet into an orthodox paleo routine would decentralize our food system. Hunter-gatherers are the best proponent of this diet because of how much it reduces the stress brought on by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), food quality of industrially-raised animals and commodities, and reduce the overall land used in these measures. The paleo diet would require total dedication to a proper, ancient hunting and gathering lifestyle, but does prove effective in reducing total environmental impact from a different diet, as compared to the modern American’s conventional agriculture diet. Now that $14 Paleo Bowl from Boulder’s The Corner really does seem to be worth the price, eh?
(Image #2 Source: Obtained from Google Images “gluten free”)
Another diet that has evolved more recently than the paleo is the Gluten-free diet. Obviously, this method of eating proposes that the best thing for the individual is to emit the protein, gluten, from the body. It can also be useful for those with an intolerance for gluten, better known as Celiac Disease. Bottom line for this diet is best-advised that the consumer stay away from wheat-based products, breads, and pasta. The only benefit for this habit that is scientifically-proven is that the user will gain a small boost to energy throughout the day, as the human digestive system takes sufficiently more effort to pass gluten through the body. As for environmental impact, gluten free diets make common substitutes for ingredients that tend to be highly unsustainable ingredients with increased environmental damage through its harvest. As a substitute for flour, many gluten-free products choose to substitute rice flour. Rice flour uses an exponentially-higher amount of water to be produced, growth of rice also contributes to rising levels of methane gas produced by a rice farmer, as well as being known for its soil erosion capabilities. Another substitute that is commonly-used is the use of palm oil instead of butter. Palm oil is what contributes Bangladesh and Indonesia as one of the top-fifteen country-producers of Greenhouse gas emissions, as well as very inefficient use of land, which is initiated by slash/burn techniques on forest (deforestation). Additionally, not many local sources can confirm themselves as “local gluten-free” industrializers. This results in many of the gluten-free products being shipped overseas, adding to the food miles and emissions generated from food transportation.
Lastly, I want to address the vegan population. This is an extremely hard task and I do applaud each individual that attempts this diet. One must avoid eating all meat from animals, as well as byproducts of animals. This includes everything from steaks, to food coloring. Interesting, right? The advantages set forth by this diet are that you will practically be taking in zero cholesterol (GO HEART!), low in saturated fats, and significant reductions in blood pressure. As for environmental advantages on this diet, they really only exist in noting that the livestock farming proportion is reduced, but this does relay a lot of sustainable food system aspects. One, is that the spaces used to house farmed-animals will be drastically reduced, due to a vegan’s lack of animal and animal by-products. This also decreases the amount of food and water allocated for these animals (water, grain, grass) and allows our supplies of these resources to be dwindled at a less-alarming rate. Finally, the GHG output is significantly reduced because livestock operations heavily rely on conventional (industrial) agriculture. Vegans, you are the future right now. Keep up the good work, and have some tofu for me.
The emergence of these diets is only noted in the past decade, despite their actual existences, which some of them seem to date as far back as the caveman-era. These diets are a crucial commitment to any individual, but can definitely help in some, maybe small, ways that will work to stabilize the entirety of our food systems that we so heavily rely on.