All food requires some level of energy to create, but some take more than their fair share. On top of that, there are many foods that are hazardous to your health and the environment. Avoiding certain foods may be extreme for some, but eliminating even a few of these foods is enough to make an impact. Read on to find out what you should do your best to steer clear of.
Before you take a bite, think about whether or not what you’re about to eat violates one of these rules.
- Highly packaged food: Any food that is in excessive packaging is bad, especially if it’s packaged in petroleum-based plastics.
- Highly processed food: Any food that requires a lot of work in a refinery or processing plant is bound to be a huge waste of water and resources.
- Imported food: In general, food from other countries is energy intensive. This is primarily due to the amount of travel required, but also because other countries often have weak environmental regulations.
- Frozen food: Frozen food requires a large amount of energy to create and store, both in the process of creating it and when you take it home.
- Anything you can’t eat from a real plate or cup: Avoid anything that can’t be eaten from a reusable plate.
- Charcoal grilled food: Traditional charcoal grills create approximately double the carbon output as gas ones do. You can, however, grill carbon neutral by using “chunk charcoal,” which doesn’t have any additives.
- Out of season food: That fruit you’re eating out of season isn’t a delicacy-it’s a drain on resources. The heating and cooling required to create growing conditions for out of season food is responsible for harmful carbon emissions.
- Anything prepared on Teflon: Teflon has caused injury in DuPont workers and is believed to be incredibly dangerous and damaging for consumers.
- Unhealthy food: Eating anything but healthy food is a waste of resources and calories.
- Conventional food: Conventionally grown foods use pesticides that can get into our waterways and other parts of the environment. It is also believed to have fewer nutrients than organic food.
- Organic food: While organic food tends to be cleaner for the environment, it’s often more energy intensive and inefficiently produced.
- Wasted food: Energy is used to create food, so buying or ordering food you will not eat is a waste. This waste is further perpetuated when uneaten food is sent to a landfill.
- Anything in a plastic bag: Don’t bring your food home in a wasteful plastic bag. Bring a reusable bag instead.
- Food that requires intensive storage or cooking: Any food that needs to be frozen or heated in an energy-intensive way is not environmentally friendly.
- Fast food: Nearly anything from McDonald’s and its competitors is not sustainably sourced or served.
Environmentalists should avoid these drinks that put a strain on health and natural resources.
- Slim Fast: Slim Fast’s major fault is its packaging and highly refined nature, but it’s also an offender because its #1 ingredient is sugar.
- Milk: Milk is an inefficient food source, as cows have to be fed a large amount of grain in comparison with the amount of milk that is produced. Manure from dairy cows is also a source of water pollution, as a dairy cow creates about 120 pounds of waste every day that does not go through a treatment plant.
- Soft drinks: Soft drinks are a waste of water resources, and the high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks is the second largest use of corn in North America. Additionally, the bottles and cans used for soft drinks are wasteful, and often not recycled.
- Imported wine: Pay attention to the region you’re buying your wine from-if it’s from halfway across the globe, you may want to select something closer to home.
- Imported beer: The same goes for beer-it’s an energy intensive product to make, and shipping it in heavy glass bottles is a drain on resources.
- Bottled water: Bottled water is often no more than tap water packaged in plastic bottles that contain polycarbonate, pvc or other plastics that are harmful to your health and the environment.
- Bottled drinks: Just about any drink that comes packaged in a plastic bottle is both wasteful and a possible source of vinylcyanide.
- Packaged ice: Although not technically, a liquid, this accompaniment is a wasteful expenditure, especially when you buy it from a grocery store.
- Too much water: Water is a precious resource, and although many health experts recommend consuming as much water as you can, drinking more than you need is wasteful.
- Enhanced water: Water enhanced with electrolytes or flavors is not any better than bottled water in terms of environmental destruction-and it’s often full of sugar.
- Diet soda: Even worse than regular soft drinks, diet soda is full of an exitotoxin called aspartame, which can harm nerve cells.
- Coffee: Coffee has a major impact on forests and other natural habitats, and contributes to soil degradation, pesticide use, and water pollution.
Although there are just too many to list, we’ve highlighted a few offenders that have a particularly large environmental impact from packaging.
- Food in packages you can’t recycle: Look for food in recyclable cardboard, glass, and safe plastics instead of throwaway packages.
- Single serve items: Single serve items, and the new low-calorie packs are a packaging nightmare. Buy items in bulk and put them in reusable packaging instead.
- Lunchables: This plastic tray with individual compartments of food, which may also be wrapped is a great example of terrible packaging. The food inside isn’t incredibly healthy, either.
- Prepared food: Instead of buying pre-sliced vegetables, fruit, and other food in convenience containers, just buy the items whole and slice them yourself.
- Cereal: Most cereal boxes are made up of a plastic sleeve and an outer cardboard box. Avoid this packaging by buying your cereal from bulk bins.
- Chips: Chip bags are often more full of air than food product. Even worse are snack size bags that hold only a single serving.
- Fast food sauce packets: These tiny little bits of sauce are a huge waste of resources. Learn to eat without them, or keep your own in bulk on hand.
- Popcorn: Popcorn is almost always packaged in boxes and wasteful plastic wrap, plus it can cause lung disease in those that microwave it often.
- Sugar packets: Small sugar packets are convenient, but wasteful packaging. Keep your sugar in a bowl and use it as you need it.
- Twinkies: These and pretty much any other Hostess treat (and their imitators) are wrapped within an inch of their lives.
- Veggie burgers: You may think that eating veggie burgers is a step in the right direction, but they’re usually individually wrapped, boxed, and frozen.
- Tea bags: Tea bags are a convenient vessel for brewed tea, but using a loose leaf ball is much more environmentally friendly.
- Candy bars: In addition to being nutritionally wasteful, the packaging of candy bars is generally energy intensive and not the best use of resources.
- Packaged dinners: Packaged meals like hamburger helper are often inefficient servings of food you can make yourself, and are incredibly high in sodium.
- Canned foods: Canned foods aren’t just wasteful packaging-they’re unhealthy too. They are often sterilized at a temperature that increases migration, putting dangerous chemicals into the food you eat out of them.
- Single serve: Many yogurts are packaged in strictly single-serve packages.
Carbohydrate lovers may want to skip this section, as we take a look at some of the most wasteful and dangerous comfort foods you can eat.
- Girl Scout cookies: Who doesn’t love a Girl Scout cookie? Apparently, orangutans. The Girl Scouts’ transfat alternative, palm oil, is responsible for the destruction of the orangutan’s natural rainforest habitat. The same is true for many non-Girl Scout brands as well.
- Crackers: Just like cookies, crackers often have tropical oils that cause damage to the environments that they’re taken from.
- Rice: When compared with other crops, the environmental cost of growing and eating rice is high.
- Bread: In bread, you’ll find the chemical acrylamid, which is a neurotoxin that is generally regarded as industrial waste. It’s recently been discovered that it’s created when high-carbohydrate foods are baked or fried at high temperatures.
- French fries: Even if you somehow manage to avoid transfats in french fries, you’ll more than likely be subject to palm oil or acrylamide, so it’s best to avoid this food.
A vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is more environmentally friendly than that of a person who consumes animal products, for the simple fact that animal products are often wasteful. We’ll take a look at a few offenders here.
- Any meat: It’s estimated that livestock production generates more greenhouse gases than transportation, and it comes out to about a 20% of the world’s production of the gases.
- Pork: The production of pork products like bacon and sausage is responsible for water waste that’s full of excrement and toxic substances.
- Beef: Your burger is a lot of work to make. Once cows have been raised, fed, cleaned after, and slaughtered, 2 pounds of beef has about the same impact as driving a car for 3 hours.
- Cheese: Cheese has about the same impact as beef, and it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.
- Lunch meat: The industrially grown meat is full of chemicals and put in wasteful plastic packaging.
- Eggs: The environment that egg-laying hens are kept in is often sub par, and creates a need for increased use of antibiotics, which can be passed on to those that eat the eggs. Additionally, waste from the hens is often not managed well, causing pollution in nearby waterways and our oceans.
- Poultry: Production of chicken, turkey, and other poultry is responsible for both antibiotic and manure pollution.
Fruits & Vegetables
In general, fruits and vegetables are some of the most environmentally friendly things you can eat, but when factors like pesticides and travel come into the picture, some may not be the best choice.
- Tropical fruit: Unless you live in a tropical climate, tropical fruits will need to be flown or trucked in from far away places, or growing conditions will need to be created locally. Either way, tropical fruits out of their area are wasteful.
- Apples: Conventionally grown apples have been found to have as many as 36 different damaging pesticides on them.
- Potatoes: Potatoes are a heavy user of pesticides, with a need for constant spraying.
- Strawberry: Strawberries are often grown with methyl bromide, a pesticide that causes cancer and depletes the ozone.
- Cherries: Cherries often have to be frozen or shipped in from far away. Conventional cherries are also usually riddled with pesticides, as well.
- Celery: Almost all of the celery tested by the Environmental Working Group was found to test positive for pesticides.
- Bananas: The ends of are dipped in fungicide to prevent mold, and even organic bananas are hazardous, as hazardous plastic wrapping is used to prevent mold.
- Peaches: Peaches top the Envrionmental Working Group’s list of the most pesticide-prone fruits, so unless it’s organic, steer clear.
- Bell pepper: Certain bell peppers have been found to have dangerous pesticides in excessive levels.
- Imported grapes: In an Environmental Working Group study, 86% of grapes tested had pesticides on them.
- Mexican cantaloupe: Cantaloupe from Mexico is another pesticide offender-choose in season and locally grown cantaloupe, or watermelon instead.
- Spinach: Spinach has been found to exceed pesticide levels for certain parts of the population, and can spread disease if eaten unwashed.
- Florida oranges: Many Florida oranges are dipped in a cancer-causing artificial dye to make them more orange, and thus, more visually appealing.
- Kiwi: Kiwis almost always have to be shipped in from New Zealand or even Chile, which for many people is far enough to make a major environmental impact.
- Apricots: One study found that nearly 2/3 of apricots contain pesticide residues.
- Pears: Much like apples, the skin of pears is generally riddled with pesticides.
- Red raspberries: More often than not, pesticides are found on red raspberries, so stick with organic strains.
- Corn: Eating corn and corn based products puts a strain on demand, and in turn, natural resources. The crop also causes increased nutrient pollution in waterways.
- Green beans: Green beans are often sourced from international locations, and they’re generally full of pesticides.
- Prepackaged greens: These greens are often very wasteful because of the space they take up in shipment, as well as their packaging.
Fish are often touted as an alternative to meat products, but you need to be careful about the species you’re eating. Many of them pose strong health and environmental problems.
- Orange roughy: Orange roughy mature at a slow rate, so by the time they’re ready to be caught, they have absorbed many impurities, including mercury.
- Chilean sea bass: These fish are high in mercury and in decline from overfishing. Additionally, the methods used to catch these fish often kill endangered albatross and other sea birds.
- Big fish: Don’t eat big fish like tuna, swordfish, and sharks, because they’re some of the most vulnerable populations of fish.
- Atlantic sturgeon: Many species of sturgeon are threatened or endangered, and are extremely high in mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls.
- Shark: Shark are vulnerable to overfishing and have high mercury levels. Their levels are so high, in fact, that it’s recommended for women and children to avoid eating them at all.
- Old fish: Your fish may be fresh, but the older it is, the more impurities, like mercury, it’s had a chance to pick up.
- Grouper: Many species of grouper are depleted, and this fish is high in mercury.
- Farmed salmon: Salmon farms tend to pollute their surrounding waters, and fish that escape can compete and breed with wild fish.
- Imported swordfish: The longlines used to catch swordfish often also catch seabirds, sharks, sea turtles, and other creatures. The fish also has elevated levels of mercury.
Cruel & Unusual
These foods are sure to catch the ire of environmentalists and animal groups alike.
- Frogs’ legs: Long thought of as a delicacy, frogs’ legs are incredibly cruel and wasteful. The frog’s legs are sliced off, after which the rest of the body is discarded, and may take up an hour to die. Additionally, the populations of some frog species are becoming low due to this practice.
- Ortolan: The ortolan bird is a species in decline among European countries, however, it’s a French delicacy that includes eating the bird whole after it’s been drowned alive in cognac.
- Foie gras: The practice of fattening the liver of a duck or goose to create a fat liver is a cruel practice, and a waste of food resources.
- Turtle eggs: While species of marine turtles go extinct, some people are still enjoying turtle eggs as a delicacy.
Get your sweet tooth under control and avoid these environmentally destructive food items.
- Sugar: Environmental damage from sugar crops is believed to be responsible for more biodiversity than any other.
- Yogurt: Aside from being a wasteful dairy product, yogurt contains carmine, which is otherwise known as dried, ground up red beetles, for coloring.
- Ice cream: This dairy product’s folly is both the milk required to make it, and its need for constant climate control.
- Honey: Vegans avoid eating honey because bees are often exploited for their product.
Although small, these food items add up to a big environmental impact.
- Supplements: Taking vitamins and other health supplements that could otherwise be absorbed through eating is a wasteful industry, due to manufacturing, shipment, and even entire retail stores being devoted to them.
- Olives: This Mediterranean favorite is full of the carcinogenic acrylamide.
- Nutrition bars: Nearly every nutrition bar on the market is loaded with sugar, and often, environmentally hazardous palm oil.
- Silver dragees: These little confectionary decorations are made primarily of sugar, but contain hazardous silver and are not meant to be eaten.
- Vegetable oil: Petroleum oil spills aren’t the only ones that cause environmental damage-faulty tanks that spill vegetable oil can wreak havok as well.
- Palm oil: Palm oil is responsible for widespread deforestation, and unproductive palm is burned which contributes to southeast Asia’s pollutive choking haze.
Although some food products like coffee and sugar may be hard to give up, we think you’ll find it easy to avoid these.
- Spiders: Spiders are often full of contaminants from their environment, especially mercury.
- Squirrel: In some areas, squirrel meat may be toxic due to landfills and other hazards in the community.
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