Stop Saying Your Animals Eat Better Than You

For the record, I don’t know if everyone uses this line, but when I was a zookeeper, especially in Florida where I made minimum wage, I frequently joked with the public that the animals ate better than me. It tends to be a great way to demonstrate how well the animals are treated in zoos. Marine mammals eat restaurant quality seafood. The manatees eat fresh produce, coming from the same provider as local restaurants. Your salad is the same quality as the romaine I fed our manatees. Once a delivery person mixed up the order of blue crabs between the aquarium and the local restaurants in New Orleans.

Blue crabs destined for restaurant? Or sea otters?

Even land animals eat great food. When I first started at the zoo in Seattle, I worked in the commissary a couple days each week. I saw the wonderful foods the animals get to eat. The gorillas received a high-quality lactose-free yogurt. The bananas we delivered were fresh and enticing. The only thing not “restaurant quality” was the meat we fed our large carnivores. And even then, I’m not so sure it was that we couldn’t eat it, but that we’d likely not want to eat it (yeah, it was horse meat…).

Fresh produce, for animals at the zoo

Back in the day, I told people on a nearly daily basis that the animals eat better than me. To be fair, at that time, it was true. I sustained myself on Ramen Noodles and Pepsi because it was cheap. I ate at fast food restaurants because it was fast and easy. When I splurged, it was on still cheap products like PopTarts, Tollhouse cookies, and fried foods.

The animals definitely ate better than I did.

Over the past seven years, however, I’ve changed my tune. It started when I was still a zookeeper, and realized I couldn’t take care of the animals unless I started taking care of myself. One of the things I knew I needed to do was quit eating junk food all the time. The baked goods our volunteers sent us, the cake for a colleague’s birthday, the quick and easy lunches from the fast food joint down the street.

It took a while, but I eventually discovered my Eating Green method, eating whole, clean foods for my own health, and eating sustainably sourced foods for the planet. Coincidentally, those two ideals are actually one and the same. When I eat healthy foods for me, fresh, local produce, seafood, and unprocessed foods, I inevitably am also eating sustainably sourced products that promote healthy environments and protect endangered species.

I’ll repeat (for those in the back), I did not snap my fingers and start eating perfectly healthy and sustainably. It took lots of practice and finding my way. I’m still trying to figure things out sometimes. Actually, I’m so much still trying to figure things out, that I’ve committed to practicing a new eating healthy challenge each month for the next year, starting in October. I haven’t decided if I’ll be documenting the challenges or not, but it is important for me right now to find a way of eating that is better for me, and is aligned with my values and virtues.

But no matter what struggles I have nowadays, one thing I never say anymore is that the animals in zoos eat better than me. That is not true. I eat incredibly good foods– good for me and good for the planet. This is not saying that zoos provide crap food. It’s saying that I look at how I treat myself as a mirror for how I treat the animals in my care. When I eat well, and treat myself right, then I have the energy, focus, and positive mentality to handle whatever comes my way.

Watching otters eat is always entertaining

The same is true for all animal care professionals. I know it’s a badge of pride to say the zoo feeds the animals better quality food than we eat ourselves. But while it puts zoos in a positive light, it doesn’t do the animals any good to have you not taking care of yourself. Eating Green is an easy fix to providing you with more energy, giving you more stamina and strength to do your job well, and improve your mood, help you sleep better, and change your life.

It’s also a great way to promote conservation of all your favorite species. Asian animals? Palm oil in processed food is mostly non-sustainable. Tropical rainforest has your heart? Soybean oil, sugar, and beef industries are the top perpetrators of deforestation in the Amazon. Love the ocean? Cut out single use plastics and eat sustainably sourced seafood.

Sloths are impacted by deforestation due to the agricultural production in South America

Eating Green means investing in your health and your well-being. Is it cheap? No. But you know what also isn’t cheap? Medical bills from health issues. Diet trends that work short-term. Gym memberships and personal training sessions. I know “the animals eat better than I do” is an amusing way to remind folks that zookeepers are not in this field for the money. But your health and eating habits shouldn’t have to suffer from it. The ones who pay the most for our habits are our loved ones– the animals, our families, and the planet.

Eat like a bear…at a zoo!

So what is the Eating Green method? Well, it’s not the easiest for me to explain. No, it’s not plant-based. It’s not Paleo. It’s not even the locavore diet. Although it’s not NOT those things. Eating Green is eating as sustainably as you are able to, with foods that work best for YOU. That very well could include eating grass-fed, pasture-raised beef and poultry. It could mean a vegan or vegetarian diet.

If you are confused, I get it. Everyone wants to be told, “THIS is the best, and the only way to eat! All your problems will be solved if you eat like THIS ONE BEST WAY!” Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. But it’s also a great adventure! I mean, if you are worried because what worked wonders for your significant other isn’t working for you, then the idea that there isn’t one way to fitness is enlightening. There isn’t ONE WAY! You get to try another method! And learn a little more about yourself in the process.

Eating Green and finding YOUR path to fitness is the main reason I wrote ZooFit Safari. That’s not quite the point of this post, but I do share 5 different meal plans, exercise routines, wellness habits, and conservation connections to help you find a way towards a healthier you and a healthier planet. And it’s a way for you to start taking steps towards the best version of yourself.

So you can stop saying “The animals eat better than I do.” And start showing the world how self-care is an act of love for conservation efforts.

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