By Robert Turner
Woody was about to give up. Can we eat our way out of this mess?
Kiss the Ground is a new documentary on the current state of agriculture, the importance of soil health and farming’s impact on climate change. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, the film is an entertaining and eye-opening experience that just might change your life. It’s well worth your time, and I highly recommend it. Available now on Netflix, it’s one of the best documentaries we’ve seen on food and the environment because of its broad scope and explanation of complicated but important subjects. I won’t spoil the film for you, so I’ll talk about something different but related.
The global food system is a major source of greenhouse gases, responsible for about 30 percent of total global emissions. According to recent studies at Oxford and other prominent universities, even if global emissions from energy, industry and transportation came to a screeching halt, we could still exceed the limits of the Paris Climate Accord unless we do something about food and how we produce it.
Our global industrialized food system includes deforestation; intensive tilling and chemical use that destroys the soil and its ability to sequester carbon; confined animal feed operations (CAFOs); and highly processed foods that are neither good for people nor the planet.
It is interesting to consider how the human diet and the health of the planet are closely entwined—and how a healthier human diet is so much better for the planet. The opposite is also true—what’s not good for humans is also not good for the planet. Too much red meat can lead to heart disease, but also leads to CAFOs and a mono-cropping system to produce the corn to feed the cows. Too much sugar has led us to an obesity and diabetes crisis along with the mono-cropping of more corn to produce high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.
Improving how we produce food and making slight changes in the foods that we consume can save the earth while helping us save ourselves.
Take the Mediterranean diet, for example. The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the lifestyle, cultural heritage and eating habits of Spain, Italy and Greece. The diet includes high consumption of olive oil, legumes (including beans, peas, soybeans and peanuts), unrefined cereals (grains and breads), fruits (as a dessert or snack), lots of vegetables, some fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption and low consumption of meat products (once or twice a week).
Simply eating less meat and less processed food will have significant benefits in the battle against global warming. And it could save your life. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend the Mediterranean diet as a healthy dietary pattern that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes and can help with weight loss.
But I like how UNESCO describes the Mediterranean diet as “a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking and, particularly, the sharing and consumption of food.” It’s a way of life. It’s a way to transcend the mundane approach to food that we have in this country. It’s a way to find deeper meaning, a sense of the sublime, a more profound experience with food.
And you can build your own set of beliefs, skills, habits and traditions that lead to a lifestyle change that can improve your health and the health of the planet. A healthier diet is a commitment to yourself and to the natural world.
Happiness and true fulfillment in life come from the willful choice and pursuit over time of morally praiseworthy activities, such as saving the environment. Feeling better about your health and your impact on the planet are an important part of self-respect and self-esteem, which is key to happiness.
A better diet for you and for the planet can connect you to a purpose that will guide you to a better life. It can bring fulfillment, satisfaction and a spiritual connection to nature.
So say a prayer and kiss the ground.
Robert Turner is the director of the Creekside Farm Education Center and the author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities. To learn more, visit EatYourView.com.