Principles of Eating Green: Eat Whole, Unprocessed Foods

When we are eating green, we aren’t just eating for our own health, we are eating for the planet. The principles I have been working on developing are key to eating green because they meld the idea of healthy nutrition with conservation. 

Principle #3 is Eat Whole, Unprocessed Foods.

This is a big one for me, and I may be sitting here for a while to find the right concise words to explain the idea completely. Because, to be frank, I could go on and on about this principle and its implications for the environment and our fitness.

Even though it’s number 3 on this list, this idea was the first one I incorporated when I started ZooFit. It was also the idea which started ZooFit in the first place.

Okay, forget concise, let me tell you all a story.

Bamboo was a very special elephant. At 45 years of age (when I worked with her, she’s almost 50 years old now), she was the oldest elephant in our herd. Bamboo was also, in my opinion, the smartest.

If we had an idea for the elephant herd, our first objective was to ensure it was Bamboo-proof. New toy? Make sure Bamboo can’t destroy it. New feeding mechanism? Make sure Bamboo can’t dismantle it. New device to enrich the elephants? Make sure anything dangerous is completely and totally out of Bamboo’s reach. Bamboo was the best product tester the zoo could ever find. If she couldn’t break, dismantle, or destroy something, it was definitely safe for any animal.

We were all very excited to be getting a new Wobble Tree for the elephant yard. A wobble tree is a long pole stuck in the ground in such a way that it leans and tilts side to side without falling over. In order to install this new enrichment for our eight thousand pound darlings, the maintenance and scenic shop crew worked tirelessly on it for two weeks. Two weeks of digging a large enough hole to bury three huge Boeing plane tires and wire them together to attach to the four-foot diameter tree trunk. All the elephant keepers thought it was well worth the effort. It would be fun to watch the girls rub against it, bat around toys, sneak treats from the hidey-holes we were installing. We were excited.

After two weeks of being banned from the yard where the tree was installed, the elephants were all eager to see what the hubbub was about, too. On the first day, we let Bamboo in the yard and she beelined to the wobble tree.

Only, Bamboo didn’t rub against the tree, or investigate the tree trunk. No, no. Bamboo immediately started digging around the tree trunk until she got a hold of the wire which attached the tree to the tires. Once she had the wire, she cinched it so hard the tree jerked and got stuck at an angle. Pleased with her accomplishment, Bamboo turned towards the keepers who were standing around helpless to stop her. The look on her face was clear as day exclaiming “Look what I did!”

Look what you did, Bamboo, I remember thinking. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What took two weeks for humans to set up was completely dismantled by the mischievous girl in fifteen minutes. For the next two years, the elephants had a cock-eyed wobble tree which didn’t wobble anymore. Bamboo took care of that.

Now, what does this story have to do with eating green and the third principle? Nothing. I told you I said screw you to being concise. But the story does hopefully give you a small appreciation for how smart, strong, and amazing elephants are. And after meeting Bamboo in person, and hearing stories about her escapades, many zoo visitors found it difficult not to fall in love with the golden girl.

Bamboo, a 47-year-old Asian elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo, greets visitors to the zoo Wednesday afternoon.

When my audience was head over heels with Bamboo, it was easier to convey conservation messages. My big message for zoo visitors for protecting elephants was about palm oil.

Palm oil is an export from tropical Asia found in many products we use on a daily basis. The plant itself is harmless, and in certain cases, it may even be somewhat healthy. But unfortunately, humans have found a way to make a great thing go horribly, horribly wrong.

The palm oil industry is wreaking havoc on Asian wildlife, and if something isn’t done to curtail the destruction, we will likely be saying good-bye forever to orangutans, Asian elephants, hornbills, and countless other species.  Plantations are being developed all over southeast Asia to produce the palm, but the method for clearing land and protecting it from wildlife are far from sustainable, or ethical.

The most destructive, and unfortunately, common way to clear land is through a method called slash and burn. This is where bulldozers come in and clear the land of all the trees, leaving nothing but dense brush. Then the brush is set ablaze and burned to a charred crisp. Besides displacing hundreds of endangered animals from their homes, this procedure of clearing land is very harmful to the environment. About 17% of the carbon released into the atmosphere comes from the slash and burn clearing method, due to the rich peatland in Indonesian tropical rainforests.

On top of all that, once a palm oil plantation is established, the farmers must ward off potential thieves in the form of elephants who can devastate an entire crop in one sitting. While many farmers try to maintain sustainable options, such as moats, beehives, and even chili peppers, some farmers opt for lethal measures. Elephants and orangutans are poisoned, electrocuted, and shot.

I’m sorry if I painted a horrific picture for you. What is happening to elephants is horrific.  But there is something you can do about it. And it just so happens to involve taking care of yourself.

How would you all like to help save elephants by eating right and taking care of yourself?

Doesn’t that sound a little too good to be true? Wait! You mean, if I eat healthy foods, I will help save elephants from the palm oil industry.


Here’s how: There is one thing nearly 85% of all processed food has in common. Nope, it’s not sugar (although there’s that too, which we will discuss later down the line). That ingredient would actually be palm oil.

Next time you go to the grocery store, take a look at some of your favorite foods, and even random processed foods. Palm oil is in cakes, cookies, pies, muffins, ice cream, chocolate, fruit snacks, peanut butters, candy bars. It’s in supposedly healthy foods like granola, protein bars, yogurt covered pretzels. It’s in freaking oyster crackers (just found this out, I was flabbergasted).

Now, if you were to ask an nutritionist their best recommendation for losing weight, or any other fitness goal, their answer would be “eliminate processed foods”.

Isn’t that interesting?

The one common ingredient in the most hated product by health experts is not just wreaking havoc on our bodies, but negatively impacting endangered species as well.

So, if we eliminated palm oil from our diets, we would be making a HUGE statement to, well, the world. We are living by example to eat nutritious foods. Stick it to the big food companies (I’m looking at YOU Nestle, Pepsi, and Kraft). They don’t have your health and best interest in mind. They only care about making the big bucks. And palm oil is a cheap preservative to their food. It doesn’t even matter to them that their food is killing Asian wildlife.

Stick it to the big food companies by refusing to eat their garbage. It’s not even food. It’s what Michael Pollan refers to as “food like substance”. We don’t want it. Put it back.

By refusing to have palm oil in the food we eat, we make it easier to choose healthier options over the tempting junk. I don’t use Eating Green principles to guilt myself into eating better, I use it to EMPOWER me to eat better. I feel good about myself when I see palm oil in an item and put the container back on the shelf. I might have been tempted for a brief moment, but not after I saw there is palm oil in it.

I refer to this principle as “calling upon my willpower animal”. I have a finite amount of willpower. If I have already pushed myself to workout hard, to get up without hitting the snooze button, and to drink my full 8 glasses of water today, I may not have much willpower left to resist donuts at the office. But then I think of Bamboo, our beautiful Asian elephant, and I remember why I don’t want anything to do with that stupid donut in the first place. And I smile knowing by taking care of myself I have helped Bamboo’s kind a little for future generations to come.

I will leave this post unfinished for the evening, and pick back up tomorrow. This is one of the biggest topics of Eating Green, and it deserves the full attention I’m giving it.

I’ll continue by sharing what are whole foods, where to get them, and then even share what to do with them in our diets.

Until then, eat clean, live green, and train positive.


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