Assumption 1: Every home needs a big, green lawn
NASA reports that more surface area is devoted to lawns than to any other single irrigated crop in the country. In Florida, irrigating lawns accounts for fifty percent of residential water use, and maintaining their desired appearance typically involves the application of harmful chemical pesticides and fertilizers. We have been indoctrinated to see a sod grass lawn as visually appealing, but filling this greenspace with native plants or a vegetable garden promotes biodiversity and saves time, resources, and money. So economically and ecologically speaking, yards don’t make sense – the challenge is overcoming the deeply-rooted assumption that we all need a “perfect lawn” – which dates to the 17th century.
Grass as we know it first appeared in North America thanks to New England’s early settlers, who struggled to keep livestock fed with lower-nutrient native grasses, rather than the nutrient-dense pasture lands they were accustomed to in northwest Europe. Many animals were lost to starvation – leading settlers to plant better feed – mostly grass and clover – imported from Europe.
In the 18th century, landscape architects began showcasing green, expansive “lawns” at prestigious locations throughout France and England, including at the palace of Versailles. This impressed Thomas Jefferson, who replicated the idea at Monticello. George Washington followed suit, hiring English gardeners to plant a lawn at Mount Vernon and distributing photos across the nation well into the 19th century – ultimately influencing the landscaping choices of wealthier Americans.
Lawns continue to be markers of success, but awareness of lawns’ impacts on both local water supplies and the climate is changing this mindset. Replacing a lawn with Florida-friendly, drought tolerant plants and avoiding over-watering reduces water bills, protects local drinking water supplies, and helps to avoid polluted runoff. Chapter 373.185 F.S. Local Florida-friendly Landscaping Ordinances offers some regulatory guidelines to achieve “quality landscapes that conserve water, protect the environment, are adaptable to local conditions, and are drought tolerant.” Alternatively, consider planting a vegetable garden and enjoy the bounty of ultra-local food.
Assumption 2: Meat Makes the Meal
For many of us, dinner wasn’t a full meal unless it included meat– either beef, pork, chicken, or fish. A meat-based meal was an affirmation of affluence, as poor folk ate soup or porridge. But, if you want to help the planet, Forbes Magazine offers simple advice: “The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do to Reduce Your Impact on Earth: Avoid Meat and Dairy”.
Choosing to follow a plant-forward diet can mean eliminating meat entirely, or instead, reducing meat to an accompaniment or garnish. A plant-forward diet features vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, and can easily meet the Cleveland Clinic’s guidelines on protein intake, which recommend that a 150-pound adult eat about 54 grams per day.
Food production contributes approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the livestock sector alone responsible for 14.5%. Yale University reports that in California alone, over 1.8 million dairy and beef cattle emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year — as much as 2.5 million cars.
The tight link between food choices and environmental and personal health empowers individuals to make changes that yield meaningful results. Eating a plant-forward diet is also healthier, nutritious, and more sustainable than dining on low-nutrition items which are heavily processed. To further reduce climate impacts source ingredients from local farms and get creative in your home kitchen.
Assumption 3: Always Heed Expiration Dates
Contrary to popular belief, most food items remain safe to eat past the indicated “expiration date”. That’s how the “sell-by” date on milk can vary from 12 to 17 days after pasteurization, depending on the location of sale. Other than infant formula, which is federally regulated, product retailers or manufacturers establish these dates, and they simply indicate when food is of best quality. They do not reflect the safety of the product, which often confuses consumers and leads to food waste.
To counter customer confusion the U.S. Department of Agriculture called on food manufacturers and retailers to use the phrase “best by” on product labels beginning in 2016, as research showed this phrase was most easily understood as a description of product quality, not safety. The “best by” date refers to the date when a product is at its peak, after which quality is expected to decline. Many foods can be frozen to extend their shelf life, others can be cooked and then refrigerated or frozen for later use. Set the refrigerator temperature at 41 degrees F or less to minimize spoilage.
Saving a single product may seem insignificant, but the resources used, and emissions generated to produce even one item can add up quickly – think water, land, grain (for animal products) fertilizer, and fuel. For a quarter-pound burger, these factors ultimately result in about 4 pounds of harmful greenhouse gases. Overall, annual emissions generated by the production of wasted food in the United States are roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions generated by 32.6 million cars.
Minimize or avoid food waste AND harmful emissions by:
• Creating weekly meal plans and grocery lists so you buy what you need and use excess ingredients in other recipes.
• Substituting ingredients to use older items up and eat before you shop!
• Cleaning the fridge weekly and moving older food to the front of the shelves.
• Purchasing smaller amounts and being careful of BOGOs!
• Storing food efficiently – Keep root veggies in a cool dark place, set herbs in a glass of water (even better if it’s in the fridge),
• Repurposing food: Freeze overripe bananas to make banana bread, be creative by hanging herbs upside down to dry, candy leftover citrus peels, make pesto from carrot and beetroot tops, and make fruit popsicles with ripened fruit.
Though it often takes longer than indicated on labeling, food does eventually become unsafe to eat, so stay on the lookout for food spoilage. Discard cans that are severely dented, rusted, or swollen, as well as bad-smelling or moldy food.