Honoring Veterans Throughout the Year: Red, White, Blue, and Green

Idling at a red light the Friday morning of Memorial Day weekend 2012, I noticed a man sitting in a 90’s American made car, wearing white painter’s clothes and a bandana.  I anticipated that the cigarette he was dangling out the window would soon be flicked. Sadly, I was correct. What’s worse is this same act is repeated by many of the more than 45 million adult American smokers.

Supporting our veterans is nearly synonymous with supporting our country. Veterans have risked and lost their lives defending our freedoms and way of life.  Isn’t trashing the very country we are trying to preserve un-American?


If asked, “Should we Keep America Beautiful”, most would likely answer in the affirmative. However, the results of a 2009 visible litter survey, sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation, found that approximately 1.1 billion items were littered annually on Texas highways; 19 percent was plastic and 43 percent was “tobacco-related litter” which included “cigarette butts, cigarette packs, cigar butts, etc.”

How much does a pack-a-day-smoker litter if they’re flicking each butt? 365 days times 20 cigarettes equals 7,300 cigarettes. If 25% of a cigarette is comprised of filter – that equals 1,825 “cigarette equivalents” (1,825 “cigarettes” made of all filter). A pack-a-day-smoker would litter 91 packs of all filter litter each year (1,825 divided by 20 cigarettes per pack). Smokers are probably able to justify littering because it’s “just one butt”. However, would that same person throw out 91 packs of all filter litter at one stoplight? “Now that would be littering”, they might think.

But, the littering smoker is not the only one who might be unconsciously acting in ways that are detrimental to the country. Of course, actions can be more or less supportive of country and individual health.

Select Food Choices that protect our resources: According to the USDA, in 2011, the average American consumed 206 pounds of red meat and poultry; 58 pounds from cows, 47 pounds from pigs, and 100 pounds of birds (chickens and turkeys). This is 68 pounds per year more than Americans consumed in the 1950’s. So, what’s the problem? Our food choices contribute to polluted water, land, and air. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, reported, “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport…. The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” It is clear, eating lower on the food chain, especially if the food is locally grown, reduces one’s impact on the environment.  In addition to the environmental and health benefits, there are many reasons – from antibiotic resistance to foodborne illness – to consider shifting towards a plant-based diet.

Exercise for the Strength of the Country: Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes (8.3% of the population); the cost of treatment is $174 billion dollars annually. We have a growing epidemic of obesity in the United States. According to the CDC, 12% of high school students are obese and, not surprisingly, “67% did not attend PE classes daily when they were in school.” Despite the lack of vision by decision-makers who have implemented policies that have reduced the amount of health and physical education students receive – individuals can literally take steps to become healthier. In doing so they will reap the health benefits, but they will also relieve the health care system and economy of a heavy burden. Diabetes and the costs of chronic conditions caused by poor food choices, lack of activity and cigarette smoking has a significant negative impact on quality and duration of life, productivity, and health care costs. Isn’t this scenario the antithesis of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Furthermore, while the appropriate level of military funding is debatable, what is not debatable is that we have a powerful military because we have had a strong economy. We have had a strong economy in large part because of cheap oil. We might be in store for a crude awakening when cheap oil is a distant memory. With the potential convergence of a health care crisis fueled by diets of affluence, obesity, and diabetes and dwindling oil supplies our nation will be at risk. Without a strong economy (and the U.S. is still the largest economy), the country, including individuals and the military will suffer.

Use less electricity: “From the mountains, to the prairies” our land is being degraded. Mountain top removal is destroying the beauty of our mountain ranges, mostly in pursuit of coal that will be used to generate electricity. Less demand for coal equals less incentive to remove mountain tops.

Wage Peace: In addition to the suggestions above, you might consider following the wisdom of a bumper sticker that reads Honor Vets, Wage Peace. War takes life and limb and in the process is environmentally destructive. As Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president and five-star general, said, “we must guard against the military industrial complex”; being patriotic also means questioning why we fight.

During the coming weeks, months, and years –honor vets by taking actions that support the long term health and vitality of citizens, including yourself, and country. In addition to raising the flag, there is a lot we can do to be patriotic; our consumptive habits, be it food or energy, can have a real impact on the health of our nation. Acting on this new paradigm might present some challenges, but the rewards are invaluable.