What does Earth Day have to do with dairy foods? Dairy foods are the result of dairy farming, which is grounded in responsible production that incorporates best practices to manage natural resources like land, air and water to protect the planet, while also helping nourish people. Working for dairy farmers, I witness the great work the dairy community is doing to embrace sustainable agriculture. I’d like to share a bit about these commitments to health and sustainable food systems with my fellow registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) as we are all working to better understand and tell the story of how food, nutrition and agriculture are interconnected.

As a Registered Dietitian I have a first-hand understanding of how healthy eating patterns help nourish people and are linked to reduced risk of disease. It’s equally important to understand the role agriculture plays in producing nutritious foods and the best practices, checks and balances, and trade-offs that must be considered across the supply chain from farm to table to ensure food is good for people and the planet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation has developed a number of resources to help us learn more about connections among food, nutrition and agriculture.

When it comes to dairy’s environmental report card, instead of comparing dairy to other foods or food groups, it’s more important to know where we stand, so we can work to improve our impact on both the environment and public health. We learned where we stand by doing a Life Cycle Analysis, which is the assessment of the environmental, economic and social impact of a given product throughout its lifespan. The results of this 2008 assessment showed that dairy in the U.S.

contributes 2% of greenhouse gas (GHG). To put this in perspective, in 2015, total agriculture contributed 9% of GHG in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency. You can read more in the 2016 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Report, which highlights how dairy farmers and the dairy community contribute to sustainable food systems. Each year, the dairy community recognizes farmers who have helped advance our commitment to sustainability through the Sustainability Awards. The 2018 award winners will be announced on May 16, so check out this site for the awardees and their stories.

National Dairy Council has a variety of resources on health and sustainable food systems for both health and wellness professionals and the general public.

This Honor the Harvest: Nourish People infographic shares how dairy farmers are honoring the harvest through nourishing people, nourishing animals and nourishing the land. I urge you to advise your patients and clients about the importance of using food for its greatest purpose – nourishing people – and reducing food waste using simple strategies such as better portion control, improved meal planning, grocery shopping forecasting, saving leftovers and freezing or canning extra foods.

 

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JeanRagalieRD for up-to-date dairy research and insights.