Making the switch to more environmentally friendly foods

Would you love to eat in a more environmentally friendly way, but can’t stand the taste of healthy foods? Perhaps you’re a green eater, but having trouble getting your family to switch? Here’s some tips.

I’m writing this from the viewpoint of someone who was once referred to as the Toxic Avenger. I’ve played all sorts of junk food experiments on myself that make the guy from Supersize Me look like a health nut. The reason? Working too hard, didn’t really care about my health, hadn’t really given much thought to the environmental impact of my diet and well, I liked junk food.

Up until just a few years ago my dietary habits didn’t really seem to affect my weight (I was around 61kg or 130lbs) or my health. There was just nothing on my radar to spur me to change. I definitely thought vegans and vegetarians were a little odd and over the top.

Then things started changing – I whacked on about 20 lbs over several years, but more importantly, I started thinking more about how some aspects of my diet was affecting the environment through snippets I was reading. Initially I just glossed over these articles as they were full of information that I really didn’t want to accept, but the messages slowly started working on my subconscious.

Added to that, my family are pretty healthy eaters – for the most part, they’d be quite happy on a vegetarian diet. I thought they were nuts. As for me at the time, deep fried fat was fine :).

Whenever most things healthy were put in front of me, I’d have to totally drown them in a rich sauce of some type to kill the taste. So here’s the first fact about the effect of healthy food on people like me..

.. to a person who is used to heavily processed foods, most healthy and unprocessed foods taste terrible! I’m serious, the taste is disgusting. It’s not just a figment of the imagination, it’s down to simple conditioning of our taste mechanisms.

When trying to switch from heavily processed to rawer foods, treat it like some addiction treatments – through gradual reduction and replacement instead of the more hard core “cold turkey” approach (for want of a better term). For many people a total switch within a short space of time can turn them off attempting to eat greener for years afterwards.

Take for example trying to switch someone to wholemeal bread when they’ve eaten white bread all their lives. I couldn’t stand the stuff as it tasted like sawdust. Now it’s basically all I eat. The successful transition was due to light rye – it’s white/brown mix. After a few months of that, wholemeal started to taste pretty good – my tastes were changing.

I firmly believe it was that first step with bread that started to allow my tastebuds to stop rejecting rawer and more natural foods. Bread features very heavily in western diets, so it makes sense that it can be a make or break issue when trying to alter diet overall.

Tofu was pretty much the same – I hated it; but when it was heavily spiced, I started to enjoy it – now I can eat it as a meat replacement for some meals.

It was the same with brown rice; over time I needed less of the sauces to mask the taste, to the point that now I could quite happily eat a bowl of brown rice with nothing else – without gagging. In fact, I now find it far more tastier than rice.

Red meat was a different strategy. To get off red meat, it wasn’t the health benefits that pushed me towards that decision, nor the videos of some of the cruel slaughter practices as my mind just blocked those out – it was environmental. I discovered just how many resources go into making a pound of beef for my dinner. I rarely eat red meat now, favoring chicken and fish as I found that fewer resources went into generating those meats. It’s a compromise.

OK, so I hear the vegans screaming; “that’s not good enough!!” Give me time :)

.. and that’s another important factor related to the above.

Food can become a point of rebellion; the more you try to ram greener, healthy foods down someone’s throat who isn’t used to them, the more likely they are to reject it and perhaps continue rejecting it just on principle.

Introduce these foods and the associated information gently and sneakily. Mask the healthy food if need be and gradually reduce the masking.

If a particular food is rejected, move onto something else equally as healthy instead of continually trying to present it – come back to that food item later when progress has been made in other areas of diet. It may be that just a few months is needed to allow the person’s tastes to catch up and suddenly they’ll start enjoying it.

When we look at the way western society feeds; it’s quite alarming not only the waste, but the massive amounts of natural resources and energy we put into creating our toxic foods, associated storage and packaging.

I have finally started to discover the joy of eating a little more naturally knowing that in some small way I am lessening my impact on the environment. I’ve also found that when I do indulge in junk food, I eat less of it, otherwise I feel unwell.

Eating healthy and greener is an acquired taste – be patient; take small steps.

I hope with these simple tips and concepts, you can help yourself and others eat in a more environmentally friendly way too!