Running, Diet, and the Environment

The final installment in iRunFar’s Earth Week series is a simple plea to consider what you eat. There will be […]

By on April 25, 2008 | Comments

The final installment in iRunFar’s Earth Week series is a simple plea to consider what you eat. There will be no call for you to become a raw food vegan. No preaching that you steak lovers must forsake meat of the hoof forever in favor of tofu and tempeh filled life. Nope, just read on to see ways small changes in your diet can improve the environment.

Some of the biggest things you can do reduce the environmental impact of your eating are:

  • Eat less meat or no meat at all
  • Eat locally sourced foods
  • Eat organic

Beat the Meat
It’s truly amazing how much less harm a plant-based diet can cause than a animal-based diet. Plant-based food production results in less carbon emissions, less water use, and less land used towards agricultural production. Someone correct us if we’re wrong, but the efficiency of producing calories for human consumption roughly goes like this in order from least to most efficient: red meat, fish and poultry, eggs and dairy, fruits and vegetables. Every time you move one step down the efficiency line you are likely reducing the use of land, water, and energy.

The article that may best explain why some folks (like me) are vegetarian or darn close to it is an article entitled Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler run in the New York Times a few months ago. For a more entertaining, though still very informative article check out Can Peanut Butter and Jelly Save the World?

While beyond the scope of this post, it’s necessary to briefly touch on the issue of being a vegetarian athlete. Many trail runners and athletes are concerned that eating less meat may negatively effect their performances. Here are three quick responses to those concerns. First, you might just try eating less meat rather than no meat at all. Carefully consider the amount of protein you need in a given day and go from there. Second, while some essential nutrients are less common outside the animal kingdom, you can usually find excellent alternative sources for those nutrients if you try. Third, it’s hard to ignore the fact that many top trail runners and ultramarathoners are low meat eaters, vegetarian, or even vegan.

Eat Close to Home
Try eating foods that haven’t been shipped from Israel, Spain, Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, or elsewhere. This might mean that you have to eat seasonally – gasp! Folks lived very well until the 1950s eating food that was either currently in season or that stored well. Perhaps we need to move backwards to go forwards.

Another blast from past worth considering is the kitchen garden. Why not raise a small plot of fresh veggies in your yard? Do you really need an expansive green lawn with nary a tomato plant or apple tree in sight? We don’t think so either. Kitchen gardens are great in that you know they are locally sourced and can control what chemicals, if any, are applied to the plants. There’s also the joy of raising the crops and the unbeatable taste of just picked produce! The Wall Street Journal has even picked up on kitchen gardens gone to the extreme with its recently printed article Green Acres II: When Neighbors Become Farmers.

You should also keep your eyes peeled for locally sourced foods at the grocery store. (Mmm… Jersey fresh!) However, you are much more likely to find locally sourced foods, including eggs, meat, and dairy, at your local farmers market. (Just don’t go driving too farm to get there!) Consider joining a co-op or community supported agriculture program (CSA). With a CSA, you buy a share of a local farm and weekly you either pickup or have delivered fresh fruits and vegetables for a set number of weeks.

Organic Schmorganic
Another benefit of CSAs is that they tend to either be organic farms or farms that use chemical treatments in minimal amounts for only a small number of the most pest-prone plants. We here at iRunFar aren’t completely convinced that organic produce is healthier in that it’s less toxic for the consumer (wash your produce!); however, there are plenty of other benefits to organic produce. Without writing another treatise like yesterday’s Greening of Trail Running Gear post, organic farming is healthier for the soil, results in less toxic run off, is healthier for farm workers, is better for wildlife, and might just lead to more nutrient rich produce.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma
For an excellent look into how meat-based diets, long distance supply lines, and industrial farming come together go read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. While it might not get you to change your lifestyle or eating habits overnight, it is likely to get you thinking.

The iRunFar Eat Green Challenge
We’ll close out this post and the iRunFar Earth Week series with a challenge for the iRunFar community. Once during the coming week change one aspect of one meal to make it more environmentally friendly. Try eating a grilled cheese with a vegetable-based soup instead of a burger, leave out the Israeli tomatoes from your salad, splurge for some organic produce, or finally check out the local farmers market you never seem to have time to visit. Afterwards, please stop back and let us know what you did for the iRunFar Eat Green Challenge!

Please share any ideas/thoughts you have regarding lessening the environmental impact of what we eat or steps you’ve taken to green up your eating. Anyone else out there vegetarian or eat less meat primarily due to environmental reasons?

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.