Friday, January 4, 2008

It?s not easy being green

Food for Thought

Express Staff Writer

So, it's that time of year again, when many of us muse over flutes of fine bubbly, dreaming up plans to overhaul our diets and improve our health. Like the bubbles in our crystal, resolutions rise up and demand recognition.

Yet, when the inevitable New Year's fog clears, we all accept the fact that most resolutions share the same fate as those fleeting bubbles—they have a moment in the sun, provide for some short-term excitement, but eventually dissipate, never to be seen again.

With that in mind, this year I thought long and hard about crafting the perfect resolution for eating well in '08, one that might help me and the world. In short, I resolved to "eat green." No, not simply to eat more kale, zucchini and leafy lettuce, but to adopt a diet that might—in its own small way—help curb global warming, environmental pollution and energy consumption.

Without haste, I started researching ways to make some meaningful changes. I quickly came upon a Web site geared for the green-minded, operated by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. A news release on the site says the organization "led the efforts to win passage of laws requiring Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods, including trans fat labeling, and for the laws defining 'organic' foods and requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages."

The site,, lists lots of numbers intended to prompt readers to adopt resolutions like the one I made on New Year's Day (just after I concocted a tasty Provençal beef stew with plenty of organic vegetables). Some of the figures are staggering, even if they are put forth as part of an agenda. The site says:

· An estimated 19 percent of all methane—a potent greenhouse gas—"is emitted by cattle and other livestock."

· About 14 trillion gallons of water is needed each year to produce feed for livestock in the United States.

· Meat from a grain-fed steer is 100 percent fattier than meat from a grass-fed steer.

Next up was taking the site's "Score Your Diet" test, offered to help people determine how their diet scores in relation to nutrition, the environment and animal welfare. The test asks how much of specific foods—such as beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and vegetables—you eat in a typical week. Foods that have a negative impact on health, the environment or animal welfare get low scores. Foods that promote good health or do not harm the environment or animals get high scores. Bonus points are given for eating free-range eggs, low-fat cheese and organic produce.

After taking the test twice—once quite quickly and once in a more thoughtful manner—I settled on what I believed to be a fair score. I got a 26, which falls in the lower range of the "good" category, and well off the 60 points needed to reach "excellent" status. (A score of 15 or less gets you this: "Uh-oh, you need help.")

The next step was obvious: I had to either buy the organization's book on the subject, called "Six Arguments for a Greener Diet," or take the test a few more times to see what I need to do to be "excellent." After all, if I'm going to stay true to my three-day-old resolution, I can't just settle for "good."

So, I cut back my weekly servings of beef, chicken, eggs, chocolate and cheese, and bumped up my consumption of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. I stopped to wonder if the Center for Science in the Public Interest had weighed in the fact that while eating fish might be a healthy choice, several species of food fish are in collapse and harvesting them is in no way sustainable.

So be it. I must be "excellent."

Then, reality struck. Potatoes don't count as vegetables, and if I only eat grass-fed beef—albeit only once a week—my checking account would likely suffer. Would the Provençal beef stew be a thing of the past? Am I really going to put low-fat Parmesan cheese on my pasta? Can I even eat pasta?

For now, I am certain of only one thing: I like the diet score card, but it needs a few tweaks. The first one I resolve to make is that if I eat locally grown produce, I get to bump up the number in that "candy, pastries and ice cream" category.

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