A Slow Food Guide to Ecohealth | Civil Eats

A Slow Food Guide to Ecohealth

The array of information available to us about our food is rapidly expanding, and even for a food professional like myself it can be hard to keep up. Our buying habits are increasingly complex and often riddled with contradiction. It’s natural to wonder, do I buy what is healthiest for me, or what is best for the planet?

The good news is that the choice between human or ecological health is an easy one. A growing body of research shows that they are one and the same – what is good for us is often also good for the earth.

A great example is the low carbon diet—an eating plan designed with global warming in mind. Our food system is responsible for over 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so a diet that minimizes these emissions is much more earth friendly. Since a low carbon diet contains high amounts of fruits, vegetables, some fish, and low amounts of meats and dairy, it also mirrors the recommendations of many doctors and nutritionists for optimum health. It’s a win-win.

With seafood, the connection between physical and planetary health goes a step further. Some of the most sustainable types of fish are small anchovies and sardines, which grow in large numbers and currently have extremely robust populations. They are also some of the healthiest fish to eat with their high omega-3 fatty acid content and very low levels of mercury and other accumulated toxins. Choosing these types of fish protects endangered species from overfishing and keeps heavy metal pollution out of our own bodies.

A third example relates to farming efficiency. Both in terms of harvest yield and energy used per acre, medium sized farms tend to be the most efficient. These medium sized farms are predominately family owned, which keeps more money in local communities. They also generally grow a more diverse crop assemblage than their larger cousins, which increases the healthy local food options for consumers. As a secondary benefit, these medium farms tend to have more natural vegetation around their edges that provide habitat for native pollinators and wildlife. Again, health and ecology go hand in hand.

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Urban gardening is also central to this issue. Studies have shown that people eat a more balanced diet and benefit from increased “secondary health benefits” from being around green plants. Urban food gardens, such as the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden in San Francisco, bring fresh vegetables directly to urban communities while serving as focal points for education. Urban gardens also help to recycle and purify the air, which is especially important in dense urban areas.

Finally, connecting these two issues has significant policy implications. We don’t have to make compromises in policy by deciding between advocating for human versus environmental health. A united front will allow a diverse collection of advocacy groups to work together for a safe, healthy food system that is equally good for us, our grandchildren, and the planet.

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Chef / Ecologist Aaron French is the Environment Editor at Civil Eats. He is the chef of The Sunny Side Cafe and is writing his first book "The Bay Area Homegrown Cookbook" (Voyageur Press, 2011). He has a Masters in Ecology and is currently working toward his MBA at UC Berkeley, with a focus on sustainable business practices. Read more >

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