4 Foods That Can Never Go Green

If you’re like me, you do what you can for the environment. While I haven’t progressed to giving up toilet paper or line-drying my laundry, I take public transportation, I compost and recycle at home, and I forego bottled water along with most disposable shopping bags. It’s the little things, right?

One of the little things I do is get most of my food from our local farmers market, because it’s hard to deny that large-scale commercial agriculture has some pretty depressing side effects, both for our health and for the environment. I’ve adjusted to eating free-range organic eggs, fruit grown without pesticides, and heirloom beans harvested by hand. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to green our food sources, there are some items that are unusually hard on the environment–and there’s not much we can do about it.

Consumed in larger quantities than apples or oranges are, bananas are the most popular fruit in America. But they’re also one of the most labor-intensive products, and they have one of the largest carbon footprints. One big problem is that in the United States, there’s almost no such thing as a local banana–the fruit grows only in tropical climates. The vast majority of bananas for sale in America come from Ecuador or Costa Rica, so they’ve been packaged, refrigerated and treated to prevent ripening, and transported thousands of miles, using up large quantities of fuel and energy.

On the plantations where they’re grown in Central America, South America, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Asia, growers use massive amounts of pesticides. The banana’s thick skin makes the pesticides only a minor threat to humans, but the runoff harms the region’s soil and wildlife. Not to mention that the growers clear rain forest away for banana cultivation, further harming the land, and that the main banana-growing companies have a long history of human-rights violations due to their inhumane treatment of their mostly poor and indigent workforce.

It’s no secret that beef consumption takes a pretty serious toll on the planet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 33.3 million cattle were slaughtered in 2009 in America, and that only accounts for a third of the total number of cows being raised on farms and feedlots all over the world. Beef production is especially resource-intensive; not only does it consume fuel and energy to raise, tend, slaughter, package, and distribute the beef, but commercial cattle also consume a staggering amount of corn, which consumes its own resources in the form of fertilizer, production energy, and water.

Cows are also costly to raise, and they generate a lot of waste. Manure from feedlots has infected groundwater in many rural communities, and the cows themselves excrete methane gas, which is about twenty-three times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that around the world, the 1.2 billion heads of cattle being prepared for market emit about eighty million metric tons of methane every year. In fact, many environmental scientists recommend restricting beef consumption as a powerful weapon against climate change.

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Orange Juice
American supermarkets often obscure the fact that oranges–all citrus fruits, really–are a delicacy. In the United States, they’re only grown in the hot climates of Florida (and to a lesser extent in California and Arizona). That means that after transporting the raw fruit to the processing plant and then getting the juice to market, the product has already traveled thousands of miles. Oranges are also very thirsty crops, often consuming hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of water per hectare, and they’re usually heavily treated with pesticides. One estimate from Treehugger.com put the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice at 3.6 times the emissions created by bottled water.

Although all commercial orange juice undergoes processing, packaging, pasteurization, and refrigeration, not-from-concentrate juices are the least environmentally damaging, since they’re spared the energy costs of the dehydrating machinery that concentrated orange juice is put through. The worst kind of all is from-concentrate juice that’s been rehydrated and packaged by a distributor (such as Minute Maid). The only truly green way to enjoy orange juice is juicing local oranges yourself.

Sorry, lovers of edamame. Despite the health benefits of eating tofu and soy products instead of animal proteins, the cultivation of soybeans isn’t very good for the environment. Soybeans are huge in Brazil, and the boom has resulted in the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest in order to make way for farmland. The Nature Conservancy estimates that since 2000, acreage of soybean fields in Brazil has increased 13.6 percent every year. They also report that one-seventh of the Amazon has already been clear-cut to make way for soybeans, along with cattle ranching. World soybean production has quintupled since 1950, and the versatile legumes are now used for just about everything–human food products, animal feed, biofuel, cosmetics, soap, and plastics. Growers moved large parts of the operations to China, India, and Brazil because of the looser environmental regulations and worker protections in place there.

The Nature Conservancy also reports that 87 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States (50 percent worldwide) are genetically modified, and that although they’ve supposedly been engineered to resist pests, they actually require more pesticides than traditional beans do. In the United States, soybeans are the second-most pesticide-intensive crop grown after corn, and the pesticide runoff infects groundwater, poisoning other plants and animals.

In an increasingly diverse and globalized world, it’s difficult to acquire everything from local, sustainable, organic, fair-trade, and cruelty-free means, but we do what we can, when we can. And for these four troublesome foods, perhaps the only positive thing we can do is eat less of them.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago


Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Ammy G.
Ammy G4 years ago

Bill is right - commercial fish farms are huge polluters of oceans and destroyers of marine habitats. Google "Norwegian salmon farms" and you'll see. The saddest part is that farmed fish may probably do you more damage than good, what with the overall poor health of the fish you're consuming, and more importantly, the tons of antibiotics and other medication that's given to them in order to prevent diseases that you also consume.

It is better to eat wild ocean-caught fish, but these days everything is about cutting cost and maximising productivity in order to feed a rapidly expanding human population, so unless you catch it yourself, chances are that fish on your plate probably came from some farm somewhere.

Bill K.
Bill K4 years ago

including soybeans is a bit misleading as most soybeans are grown to feed to livestock. eliminate meat from your diet and you eliminate this problem. also organic soy is not GMO.

fish should also be included on this list as fishing is destroying entire species of fish as well as non-targeted species and even underwater habitats. farm raised fish introduce disease and waste into near shore waters in large amounts as well as escaped GMO fish.

Leena K.
Leena K4 years ago


Syd H.
Syd H4 years ago

To finish from the Care2 cut-off of my comment just below...

So eating tofu, soy milk, edamame, etc., is actually one of the greener foods one can consume. Especially if it's organic which is not the case with what goes through the animals first.

Further, most orange juice consumed in the US is produced in Brazil, and actually sits for months at a time. A concentrate might be greener in that it's not water weight being shipped. Obviously the best way to consume it is fresh squeezed yourself (or in front of you) but big parts of the world (who read here) have orange trees lining the streets of their towns. Citrus sells = to 10-20¢ a pound (or just picked off the tree)

If eating bananas, look for organic & fair trade. But bananas in the US just do not taste good anymore. Even in Europe the flavor is better. Too much storage & gassing...?

Syd H.
Syd H4 years ago

Okay, this is just wrong.

Of the soy produced in the world, hardly any is consumed directly by humans. But, most of that is as filler in processed foods that omnivores eat including sausages, chicken nuggets and so on. Almost all the soy grown becomes animal feed which takes far more to turn into so-called edible flesh making a chicken, pig, even farmed fish much less green than eating soy directly. There is more soy put into gas tanks as "bio-fuel" than is eaten directly even in processed foods. Your pets are eating more soy than you.

“Over half of the soybeans processed for livestock feed are fed to poultry, about one-quarter is fed to swine, and the rest is used for beef cattle, dairy cattle and petfood.”

Sure enough, feeding animals raised for food is the number one use of soy worldwide, and it outweighs the other uses of soy by a long shot.

According to www.soyatech.com:

“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed. Some two percent of the soybean meal is further processed into soy flours and proteins for food use… Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.”

So eating tofu, soy milk, edamame, etc., is actually one of the greener foods one can consume. Especially if it's organic which is not the case with what goes through the

Loo Samantha
Loo sam4 years ago


John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Small actions add up.

Traci Phillips
Traci Phillips4 years ago

Too bad, I really enjoy bananas.