What's on Your Plate Affects the Planet

The tradition of Meatless Mondays started during World War I, and was revived again during World War II, as a way to conserve resources for our troops. Recognizing the impacts of a meat-based diet is by no means a new and radical notion--but the USDA has been taking some flak for its latest proposed dietary guidelines, which say that a diet higher in plant-based foods is healthier, and has less environmental impacts, than a diet high in meats.

As I explain here on MSNBC's Greenhouse, this is a common-sense, science-based recommendation. We all know that what we eat affects our health. It makes perfect sense to be thoughtful about what we put into our bodies. What the USDA has done, for the first time, is recognized that our food choices also affect the world around us. Food production has a huge impact on our soil, our air, and our water--and that affects our health, too.

Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water in this country, and one of the biggest sources of water pollution as well. Chemical fertilizers, animal waste and pesticides wash off farms and fields when it rains, getting into streams, lakes, and rivers, even getting carried into the ocean. Excess fertilizer turns into a potent greenhouse gas. Conventionally raised beef produces climate pollution not only from cows' methane emissions, but from the large amount of energy and chemicals that go into producing the grains that cattle eat.

Eating less meat--and if we do choose to eat it, buying meat that's produced with less harm to the environment--is a healthy choice for ourselves and the environment we live in. NRDC estimates that eliminating just a single quarter-pound serving of beef a week, nationwide, would have the pollution-cutting power of converting 4 to 6 million cars into zero-emission vehicles.

Since food production has such a major impact on land, air and water, it's not just our bodies that are what we eat--our home is what we eat too. We make food choices at least three times a day. If we load up our plates with healthier foods that use less water, less energy, and fewer chemicals--then we're helping create a healthier home for everyone.

The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services are accepting public comments on the new proposed dietary guidelines until May 8. Show your support for keeping health and environment recommendations in the final version of the guidelines at MyPlateMyPlanet.org.