Do You Care About Climate Change? Three Ways to Make a Difference Through Food

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While there has been a long-term so-called debate about the potential effects (and actual existence) of climate change, a report released by NASA last week shows that the ice is melting in Antarctica and there's nothing we can do to stop it.

(Fox News still seems to be denying science.)

According to the study that was released last Monday, warm ocean currents and geographic changes have helped lead to a chain reaction at the Amundsen Sea-area glaciers, causing faster melting than previously believed, taking them "past the point of no return," NASA glacioligist Eric Rignot reported.

Quite frankly: it's pretty freaking scary.

Even so, we can all do our part to attempt to slow it down.

We spoke to registered dietician and founder of Plant Strong Nutrition Adrienne Bolten about foods to avoid and sustainable alternatives, if you care about climate change.

See Also: New USDA Study Finds Bee Populations Not Dropping as Steeply, Names Possible Causes

3. Stick to Local

We're constantly being inundate with buzz words like"organic," "local," "free-range," and whatever else. Sure, we know organic is likely to be better for our bodies, but unfortunately, it's hard to tell what is the best option for the overall environment. Here's your answer: stick to local.

"If your options are between organic from Chile or local conventional, go with the local first," says Bolten. "You can talk to the grower or farmer directly to ask what's on the food and what kind of seeds are being used."

When you compare that to organic from halfway across the world -- or even the country -- you can't have that dialogue and there's a huge environmental impact from shipping and transportation. Sure, growing your own food would be the best option. But most of us barely have time to clean the house, never mind maintain a garden. Between the growing number of farmer's markets and urban farms in the area, it's not hard to find locally grown (possibly organic) produce.

2. Avoid Processed Foods

The vast majority of foods that line the interior aisles of supermarkets (not the outskirts of the store) contain genetically modified (GMO) soy and BT-corn -- yes, even vegan products. Modified or unmodified starch, crystalline fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, lecithin, dextrose, lactic acid, maltose, MSG, polyols, caramel color xantham gun: all are made of corn.

You might be wondering why all this corn is such a problem?

Aside from issues pertaining to monoculture -- growing the same crops over and over again leaches out important minerals and fertilizers from the soil -- all of this corn is produced using heavy amounts of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides (also referred to as "Round-Up Ready").

Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma broke it down a half decade ago:

When you add together the natural gas in the fertilizer to the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest, dry, and transport the corn, you find that every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it -- or around fifty gallons of oil per acres of corn.

According to Bolten, the big items to avoid are cereals, crackers, snack cakes, and sodas. However, an easy way to at least reduce the presence of GMO corn and soy is to stick to USDA organic -- especially in vegan and vegetarian products.

"With organic you're significantly limiting the potential that you're coming into contact with those ingredients. It's a .09 percent chance," she says.

1. Avoid CAFO Raised Meat

CAFOs (short for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are one of the worst environmental offenders in the entire agricultural system. Thousands of cows, chickens, or pigs are crammed into one small space, essentially living in their excrement until they're sent off to slaughter. Sure, this process for rearing animals takes up less land than its free range alternative, but it produces massive cesspools of waste that leach into the water-table. Add in the carbon footprint from production and transportation from cow-calf operations to livestock auctions to feedlot to slaughterhouse to distribution center to store and you've got a whole lot of fossil fuels being burned. Oh, and did we mention most of these animals are being fed GMO corn and soy?

"It's really important to decipher beef and other animal products in terms of conventional (CAFOs), which is how the majority are raised," says Bolten. "What we're seeing is 50 billion food animals raised and slaughtered annually. It's massive quantities, in so many different respects the environmental impact is massive."

Bolten suggests seeking out locally reared animal products from free-range farms. Many farmer's markets, including Marando Farms and Yellow Green Market, offer free-range and grass-fed meats just one step away from the actual ranch or farm.

Other options are different sources of meat. Bolten suggests wild boar and rabbit, both of which are almost always free-range. And, in terms of nutrition, says Bolten, rabbit contains the lowest amount of cholesterol of any animal product.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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