ORCA Ocean Research and Conservation Association


Eating for a Healthier Marine Environment

We are pleased to introduce the ORCA Blue Diet.  We define The Blue Diet as primarily selecting foods that are grown, harvested, transported and prepared in ways that have minimal negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain.  Most people don’t realize it, but individual behaviors are the leading source of environmental pollution.  People are especially surprised to learn that some of these behaviors are culinary.  We think you will be amazed to learn the many, and varied ways your selection of what you eat and drink affect the marine environment.  Each month we will introduce you to a Blue Diet concept – and we will provide you with recipes and menus to incorporate the Blue Diet into your life.  We are eating our way to a healthier marine environment – won’t you join us?

Blue Diet Tip #8 – Meatless Monday

There are many reasons people choose to follow a vegetarian diet, but have you ever heard of environmental vegetarianism?  It is the practice of vegetarianism based on the belief that animal production is environmentally unsustainable.  The environmental concerns associated with eating animal products include pollution, and use of fossil fuels, waters, and land.  Some of our earlier Blue Diet tips address issues related to the contribution of animal farming to water pollution, however choosing vegetarian meals is a Blue Diet practice.  Keeping with our belief that small, reasonable changes have the greatest long-term impact we suggest trying to adopt a Meatless Monday habit.  Check out MeatlessMonday.com, a movement that is taking off in a big way.  You will find hundreds of recipes, along with a long list of personal and environmental health benefits of adopting a Meatless Monday habit.

Blue Diet Tip #7 – Waste Not Want Not

Would you be surprised to know that one-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted each year?  It is true.  When I first read that statistic I was shocked – then I started paying attention to how much food my family wastes.  Then I was embarrassed.   In previous Blue Diet Tips we have discussed how the production, harvest and transport of food lead to pollution of the world’s oceans.  We have presented steps to reduce this pollution, but realistically most of us must get at least some of our food from the food system that pollutes our waters.   To reduce the impact we must make better use of food that is produced by reducing waste.   Some ideas for reducing food waste include:

1. Make a shopping list and stick to it.  When you plan a menu and buy only those items needed to prepare the foods on your menu, you are less likely to buy foods that will rot, spoil or expire. 

2. Use up your leftovers.  It takes a little planning, but leftovers can be eaten for lunch the next day, incorporated into tomorrow’s dinner, or frozen for future meals.

3. Serve small amounts.  Instead of scrapping uneaten food from plates into the garbage, serve small amounts of food with the understanding that everyone can go back for more.

4. Don’t throw away produce.  Fruit that is past its prime can be made into smoothies, pies, or jams.  Vegetables that start to wilt can be made into soup.

5. Freeze.  If you buy more that you expect to eat before the food goes bad, freeze it in batches that can be defrosted as needed.

6. Compost.  Some food waste in unavoidable, so why not turn it into fertilizer for a garden.   Some cities (like Denver) have organic-recycling, where they take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers.  While you are waiting for your city to move up to that level of recycling, consider composting yourself.   If you are new to composting, checkout howtocompost.org.   If you aren’t ready to start composting on your own, ask around – you will likely find friends or neighbors who would gladly add your waste to their compost.

If you have an idea for reducing food waste, we would love to hear about it – email it to ltracy@teamorca.org and we will share it with all of our TeamORCA members.

Blue Diet Tip # 6 – Grow Your Own
ORCA's Blue Diet Tip #2 focused on the benefits of eating locally. There is no place more local than your own back yard – or front yard, or porch, or even your roof. Regardless of where you plant your fruit, vegetable and herb plants there is nothing like home grown produce. The taste and nutritional quality can't be matched by store bought alternatives. Growing your own produce is definitely a Blue Diet practice – growing them without the use of synthetic fertilizers is even better. Growing food without pesticides and herbicides spares the environment the burden of added pollution. It is much easier to grow produce without these products when it is grown on a small scale such as in a home garden. Growing produce at your home also reduces the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution that comes from transporting fresh produce. As you learned in Blue Diet Tip #2, the average fresh food travels 1,500 miles from grower to consumer. Buying locally reduces the environmental impact of long-distance transport, but growing your own eliminates it completely.

Growing your own produce may seem intimidating at first, but it is actually quite simple. You can start small – even in containers if you don't have land or would rather not till up your yard. There are endless resources available to help you get your garden started. To find out what and when to plant in your region contact your nearest Cooperative Extension office. You will get your best advice from neighbors who have a garden or from a plant nursery near your home. Once you begin harvesting from your home garden you will understand why people fall in love with gardening. Not only will you be helping the environment – but you will do great things for yourself. 

Blue Diet Tip #5: Purge The Plastic
Next time you are walking through the grocery store take a little time to notice how much plastic you see.  It is in every isle – actually it is at least part of nearly every product.   In many ways plastic makes our lives easier.  But to the ocean, it is deadly.   Plastic takes decades, or even hundreds of years to degrade, which leads to incredible accumulations of plastics floating through the oceans.   Click here to see the North Pacific Gyre (more commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch).  This example of the impact of plastic on the ocean contains over 150 million tons of plastic covering an area estimated to be twice the size of Texas.  Marine animals get entangled in plastic, which affects their ability to swim and find food.  Marine animals and birds ingest plastic – which is particularly concerning because plastic has the ability to absorb toxic chemicals.  The toxins are then passed up the food chain until they end up on our plates – or back in the grocery store. 

If we all make a commitment to reduce the amount of plastic we use, we can have a significant impact on our oceans and the animals that live in and around them.  Here’s how:

1.  Americans use about 70 million water bottles EVERY DAY.  Make a pledge to substantially reduce the number of plastic water bottles you use.  

2.  If you drink a lot of soda or sparkling water you can eliminate the need for single-use plastic bottles and save money by purchasing a Sodastream home soda maker.  

3.  Look for alternative materials and avoid excess packaging when deciding on a purchase.

4.  Shop at your local farmer’s market and be sure to bring your own reusable shopping bags.

5.  Recycle – make sure that the plastic you do use does not end up in the ocean.

6.  Educate everyone you know about the problem of plastics in our oceans.

Blue Diet Tip #4:
Limit Meat, Eggs and Dairy That Come From Factory Farms
The connection between animal farms and water pollution may not be obvious when you first think about it.  Animals are farmed on land, so why are we talking about water pollution?  Let’s start with the heart of the problem.  Anyone who has ever owned a horse, or even a dog, knows that along with many positive benefits, comes a not so pleasant issue to deal with – poop.  All animals excrete feces (or in farm lingo manure).  In traditional animal farming this wasn’t a problem.  Actually, the manure was a good thing – it was used to fertilize crops.  The problem has come in the past few decades with the dramatic growth of large-scale pork, poultry, beef and dairy facilities known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – or more commonly as factory farms.
Farmers from previous generations wouldn’t recognize CAFOs as farming at all.  A typical CAFO contains thousands of animals in a confined area. And all of these animals produce manure.  The manure is funneled into what people in the CAFO industry refer to as lagoons (Not exactly the image that is typically associated with the word lagoon).  For a review of the relationship between CAFOs and pollution click here. Here are just a couple of facts about factory farming and water pollution:

According to the Department of Agriculture and U.S. EPA, CAFO waste has polluted approximately 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states

Ammonia, a toxic form of nitrogen released during manure disposal can be carried more than 300 miles through the air before being dumped back onto the ground and into the water, where it causes algal blooms and fish kills.

The Blue Diet includes making choices to help reduce the impact of CAFOs on water pollution. Whenever possible, select foods that do not come from CAFOs.  This is much easier said than done, since the majority of the available meat, eggs, and dairy available in your local supermarket comes from factory farms.  However there are things you can do, including:

  1. Ask your local grocer to carry products that do not come from factory farms. You may be surprised by how many of these products are already available to you.
  2. Go to eatwellguide.com to find local sources of products that do not come from factory farms.
  3. Try eating a vegan diet (no meat or dairy) one day a week.  For some great recipe suggestions
    click here. 

Factory farms are the source of a wide assortment of environmental and health related concerns.  For a cartoon summary of these issues check out: The Meatrix

Blue Diet Tip #3:
Choose seafood carefully – the Seafood Watch Program can help.

When it comes to their environmental impact, all foods are not created equal.  This is particularly true when you are selecting seafood.  While choosing seafood as a protein source is a healthy move for your body, it is important that you also consider the impact of your choice on the sustainability of the species you are consuming, as well as on the environment where your seafood is caught.  Over 70% of the world’s fisheries are fished to capacity or beyond.  The seafood we choose to eat has contributed to this crisis.  By modifying our choices we can help reverse this trend.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program helps consumers and businesses make choices that are best for the oceans.  The Seafood Watch Program offers science-based recommendations  to indicate which seafood items are “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid”.    Click here to download a Seafood Watch guide for the region where you live – or for where you will be traveling.  You can also download a free Seafood Watch App to access the most up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

As you make the switch to selecting only sustainable seafood you may have to eat less of some of the seafood you have enjoyed in the past.   While you may feel deprived at first, you will quickly realize how delicious the “Best Choices” can be when incorporated into flavorful recipes.  Again, the Seafood Watch Program will help. Click here to see sustainable recipes using Seafood Watch “Best Choices” – many of which come from well-known chefs. 

Blue Diet Tip #2:  Eat Locally
It may not seem obvious, but where your food is grown has a significant impact on the health of your local water ecosystem.  Buying your food primarily from local sources decreases the amount of non-point source (NPS) pollution entering our waterways.  NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over land and through the ground.  This runoff carries with it fertilizer and pesticides from farms, golf courses and lawns as well as hydrocarbons from roadways and parking lots and heavy metals from combustion of fossil fuels.  NPS pollution is the primary cause of nutrient enrichment, oxygen ­depletion, and toxic contamination in our aquatic ecosystems and, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, is “compromising their ecological integrity, diminishing our abil­ity to fully realize their potential, costing us jobs and revenue, threatening human health and putting our future at risk.”  Simply put, controlling non-point source pollution (NPS) is the key to cleaner waters.  Since the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there you can imagine the contribution food transportation has on the volume of NPS pollution entering our waters.  Buying locally produced food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling, pollution generating transportation.

Food transportation is not the only way our current food system contributes to NPS pollution.  There are a number of agricultural activities that cause NPS pollution including use of certain pesticides and fertilizers, and grazing, planting, plowing and harvesting practices (click here for more information: EPA).   Since buying local food creates an interconnection between producers and consumers, consumers have more say into how their food is produced.  As consumers learn about how agricultural practices impact their local environment, they can express their concerns to the producers and demand that the producer employ agriculture practices that do not contribute to NPS pollution.

Most people describe eating locally as purchasing food that was produced within 100 miles of home.   Although there are people who only eat locally produced food (i.e. locavores), this would be quite difficult for most of us.  We’ll start slow.  Join us at ORCA and take the challenge to eat locally.  All you need to do is commit to eating at least one new food each week that is grown, produced or caught within 100 miles of your home. Then tell your friends about your local food experience and challenge them to join you.    To find local food sources visit www.localharvest.org – just type in your zip – we bet you will be surprised by how many wonderful sources of local food you will find!




"The ecosystem
based approach to
ORCA’s programs are
the solutions needed
to address water
quality issues at the
local, regional and
national scale."
-Admiral (retired)
James D. Watkins

A shark can detect the electric pulses of your heartbeat, so it knows whether you are relaxed or panicked.