By Barbara Broggelwirth MS, RDN, CDN

April 22nd is Earth Day. Earth Day is an annual event held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first held on April 22, 1970 and led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  By the end of 1970 passage of the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act were passed. Two years later congress passed the Clean Water Act.

Our modern food system has a large impact on the environment. Agricultural systems and dietary patterns have led to an abundance of highly processed foods, more animal foods, and a decrease in plant foods. These ultra-processed foods are often derived from only a handful of crops, and it is this lack of variety in our agriculture that has led to less biodiversity in the soil. Biodiversity refers to having a variety of animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria in our soil and water supply. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems to maintain balance and support life. Healthy ecosystems (aka biodiverse) provide us with many essentials we take for granted. For example, plants convert energy from the sun making it available to other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms break down organic matter into nutrients providing plants with healthy soil to grow in. Pollinators (like bees) are essential in plant reproduction, guaranteeing our food production. In short, biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination.

Research has consistently shown that plant-based eating patterns (the more plants the better) are linked with a lower environmental impact. Research suggests converting to a plant-based Mediterranean dietary pattern reduces land use by 58%, energy consumption by 52%, and water consumption by 33%.  Plant-based means you focus primarily on foods that come from plants. This does not mean you need to eliminate meat or dairy. Plant-based foods are not just fruits and vegetables, they also include beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and oils.  This is flexible and you can make it work to best fit your lifestyle.

What can we do?

Choose greener protein options. Plant proteins leave a lower carbon footprint, are drought tolerant, and enrich the soil with nitrogen which reduces the need for biodiversity damaging fertilizer.

Eat seasonally and sustainably. Eating seasonally reduces the distance food travels. This means less fuel and fewer greenhouse gasses, supports local agriculture, and contributes to food security. Want to know what is in season now? Head to the United States Department of Agriculture SNAP education site for a full guide.

Want to know where to buy local produce? Visit Cornell Cooperative Extension at

Eat with the environment in mind. 

  • Get creative with leftovers and ways to reduce food waste.
  • Enjoy more plant-based meals and snacks.
  • Buy foods in season and from local farmers when possible.
  • Grow food at home or in a community garden.



Barbara Broggelwirth MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.