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Natural Perspectives: Resolve to help yourself, environment this year

Vic already leads a perfect life, so he has no need for New Year's resolutions. I, on the other hand, live the life of a slovenly lay-about, so I have a great need to renew my resolution to be a better person at the beginning of each year.

It is never too late to write up a list of resolutions for the New Year. Behavioral changes can be initiated at any time. But the start of a new year is traditionally when we do these things. I was late getting around to it this year and just made my list today. (Note to self — add "quit procrastinating" to list.)

I pretty much use the same sheet of resolutions each year, since I never seem to accomplish what I had hoped by the end of any given year. And I have so much room for improvement that my resolutions fill an entire sheet.

In many cases, they are merely major household or yard chores that I want to get done. For example, one of last year's resolutions was to replace the rotting, leaning wooden fence on the north side of the house with a new block wall. Check. Did it. I added "replace fence on south side" to this year's list.

Other resolutions are weightier, and require actual changes in behavior.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I am overweight and don't get enough exercise. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 62% of adult Americans were overweight in 2000. This is up from the 46% who were overweight in 1980. The percentage of people who were considered obese (defined as at least 30 pounds over their healthy weight) has risen to twice the percentage of people who were obese in 1960.

A healthy weight for people who are 5 feet 4 inches tall is 140 pounds or below. If they are heavier than 168 pounds, they are considered obese. A healthy weight for people who are 6 feet tall is 177 pounds, but if they are over 213 pounds they are considered obese. Scary, huh?

Like many people at this time of year, I resolved to lose weight this year. Actually, that resolution goes on my list every single year. Hey, I lost three pounds last year. Not exactly an Earth-shattering accomplishment, but it was a start. Unfortunately, those pounds that I lose keep finding me.

It is no secret that Americans are getting fatter and that obesity has reached epidemic proportions.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Americans at the beginning of the 21st century are consuming more food and several hundred more calories per person per day than did their counterparts in the late 1950s. The aggregate food supply in 2000 provided 3,800 calories per person per day, 500 calories above the 1970 level and 800 calories above the record low in 1957 and 1958."

Wow.

In its publication "Profiling Food Consumption in America," the USDA went on to point out that Americans consumed, on average, 25% more calories in the year 2000 than in 1970. For example, Americans are eating over a half-cup of sugar more per day than they did in the 1950s.

Consumption of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup rose an astonishing 10-fold in 2000 compared to the 1970s. Yikes, no wonder we're getting fatter.

Three years ago, I resolved to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from my diet, which meant giving up my beloved daily Cokes. I went from two Cokes a day down to one, and last year eliminated Coke altogether. I now drink water instead. High fructose corn syrup is a component of an amazing number of processed and packaged food products. To help avoid it, we make a lot of our own food from scratch.

You might be wondering how obesity could be an environmental topic. Well, growing, transporting and processing food requires tremendous amounts of energy, most in the form of fossil fuel. If you choose to buy locally grown produce, or to grow your own, you are helping to reduce the amount of energy that is expended in transporting that food. And thus you are helping to reduce global warming. What and how much we choose to eat profoundly affects the environment.

According to a study from the United Nations, if you choose a vegetarian meal over one with meat, you are helping reduce fossil fuel consumption. In fact, choosing an all-vegetarian diet has the same affect on fossil fuel consumption as switching from a gasoline to a hybrid automobile.

Vic and I are not vegetarians, but do strive to keep our meat consumption low by eating a lot of vegetarian meals or meals with small amounts of meat.

Many of my resolutions are habit forming. A few years ago, I resolved to carry reusable bags for my groceries. In the beginning, I forgot more times than remembered. But now the habit is ingrained, and I always carry my reusable bags into the store.

A few years ago, I resolved to compost our kitchen scraps, to buy toilet tissue and paper towels that were made from recycled paper, and to use sponges or dish towels more than disposable paper towels. Those resolutions are no longer on my list because they have all become part of our daily routine. A roll of paper towels now lasts three months in our kitchen.

Many of my resolutions this year involve growing our own food. I set goals of producing 350 pounds of produce this year, which is half the fresh produce that the average American couple consumes.

It is also a third more than I've been able to grow in either of the past two years. Since I am not adding garden space, I'm hoping to increase production by being more diligent about planting and harvesting in a timely fashion, and doing better at control of the marauding night critters.

It will all boil down to being less of a lay-about, which also fits in well with my resolution to get more exercise. Vic and I hope that you have resolved to be good to yourself, each other, and the environment in 2012.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.

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