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5 Habits that Help Your Budget, Your Health, and the Environment

This year, the theme my employers chose for the composition course I teach is food. We ask our students to read and write about food and its impact on human health, the environment, and the economy.

I’ve noticed that my students often assume these three goals are mutually exclusive. It is true that less-processed, nutrient-rich foods are often more expensive than more-processed, low-nutrient foods, a problem created in the U.S. particularly by food subsidies and distrubution. But I’ve also been thinking about many changes I can make in my personal habits that can have positive impacts in all three areas: things that I do that help keep my expenses low, help keep me feeling healthy, and help me reduce my impact on the environment.

You can do these things too!

  1. Ride your bike to work. In my readings of late, I’ve encountered quite a few studies showing that a pretty moderate amount of daily activity can have tremendous health benefits. In other words, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or even have a gym membership to reap the health benefits of exercise. One great way to add activity to your day is to ride your bike to work, which saves both the cost of fuel and the carbon emissions created by the fuel. Plus, used bikes can be a great price–I got the frame on this guy for 60 bucks!If you don’t have a bike or a safe riding route, another great option is to take the bus, which also adds a little activity to your day in the walk to and from the bus station.
  2. Eat (more) meatless meals. Not only do plant-based protein foods like legumes and soy add a variety of nutrients to your diet, but they take much less water and energy resources to produce than meat, especially industrially-produced beef.
  3. Buy local food. To be honest, I prioritize buying local foods over organic. While a pepper or cantaloupe or head of kale is often a bit more expensive at the farmers’ market than it would be at the general supermarket, the local, in-season version of the thing will be much cheaper than the organic, out-of-season version of the thing. Because fruits and vegetables do gradually start to lose their nutrients over time, you’ll likely get more vitamins and minerals from a local tomato that was picked yesterday than a tomato that was picked a week ago and shipped halfway across the world. Not even to mention the environmental impact of shipping the thing halfway across the world.
  4. Eat peanuts. Okay, this one is random, and I get that some people are allergic to peanuts. But if you have peanuts as an option, they’re actually a lot more sustainable to produce than other nuts. Not only do they require much less water than tree nuts, but they serve as a natural fertilizer, returning nitrogen to the soil which other crops like corn and soy deplete. And we all know they’re much cheaper than other nuts: a pound of natural peanut butter is usually only a few bucks, but a pound of almond butter can be $10 or more!
  5. Buy foods in bulk. When I only need a fairly small amount of something for a recipe–like a spice, a particular kind of grains or seeds or dried fruit, etc.–I often buy it in bulk. Not only do I save money because I only buy as much as I need, but I save the environment another plastic or paper container by bringing a reusable container from home to the grocery store.

Any other suggestions? Are there any changes you’ve made in your life that benefit your health, the environment, and your budget?

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  1. Cora says:

    Great tips. One of my favorite things to talk/write about. I did not know that about peanuts!! Now I feel so much better for always “cheaping out” by getting peanut butter instead of almond etc. butter.

    I have a general thought/question that has been bugging me. We always say eat more meatless meals, because veggies/legumes etc. take much less water/energy to cultivate… but…. just because we are not eating as much meat, does that mean the industry will actually start producing less? Or are they going to continue making all the same amount and there is just going to be more waste!? Are we just like, trying to passively tell them to stop producing so much or using these practices and hoping they learn when their sales are going down? Does that even make sense for a question?

    1. Joyce says:

      That is such a great question, Cora. I’ve often wondered that, as well. I know that consumers can have a lot of power, but how much? I don’t know. I’d like to believe there’s some power in at least showing food industries that there’s interest in meatless alternatives. And I am not, as you know, a vegetarian. It’s a conundrum.

  2. Kat says:

    Now that I live in farm country I am ALL about supporting local farmers. We literally have fruit stands on every corner, which makes weeding out the good ones a bit hard, however I have SO much variety and so many different options around me! I cant wait for the summer months – I swear I’m going to be at a different stand every day lol

    1. Joyce says:

      That sounds amazing, Kat! I’m kinda jealous.

  3. Great ideas! I commute via public transit which allows my husband and I to own one car instead of two which I think is more environmentally friendly! I did not know that about peanuts–I don’t need an excuse to eat more of those though–I love them!
    I’m looking forward to outdoor farmers markets with lots of fresh local produce this Spring and Summer..if we could only fast forward through this ice and snow 🙁

    1. Joyce says:

      I hear ya! So looking forward to hitting up the Ft. Collins farmers’ market.

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