6 Easy Ways to Eat More Sustainably
November 9, 2017 • 5 min read
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Note: this post has been updated as of May 19, 2022
Eating “healthy” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. While they often go hand-in-hand, eating healthy is usually a “me-centered” approach, whereas eating sustainably is “we-centered”. We’re all about the idea of self-care being community care and vice versa, and our outlook on food deeply plays into this concept. Leaning into a relationship with your food that doesn’t just benefit yourself, but the planet and the lives of the growers and pickers as well, is a holistic way of ensuring our food systems support everyone and everything involved.
There is a lot to be said about our current food systems, and the past few years have really shown us how dependent we’ve become, and how unsustainable the way we eat (in the West) is. From food deserts in major cities, to GMOs and corporate and private farmland, to unsustainable and unhealthy “vegan” and “plant-based” options, and a lack of regenerative agriculture, to foreign-grown goods and poor labour laws – the industry is wracked with issues, and the planet is begging us to reconsider. When things are nicely packaged for us in the grocery store, it’s easy to not think about the distance that banana has traveled, or the unliveable wage the farmer who picked it is surviving on. But, when we recognize that eating a balanced diet doesn’t just mean the equilibrium between veggies and carbs on your plate, we begin to create space for conversations and actions that ensure we’re contributing to a more balanced ecological equation.
The first step is becoming conscious and aware, and really letting yourself sit with these ideas. Start asking questions like – where is your food coming from, how was it grown, what ingredients and chemicals were involved in producing it, how does it affect the environment, who picked it and how were they treated?
We acknowledge that not everyone is in a position to change their eating habits, and that especially in the West, our food systems are unjustly set up in a way that eating healthy and sustainably generally comes with a certain amount of privilege. The following ideas are good to bookmark for those who are able and have access. Here are 6 easy ways to eat more sustainably.
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Here are 6 easy ways to eat more sustainably:
1. Eat What’s in Season:
There’s a reason we can’t get certain fruits or vegetables at certain times of the year – it’s not natural for them to be grown during that time, and the places they’re coming from are really far away, meaning a lot of carbon emissions (“food mileage”) have gone into getting them to you. When you see sad-looking strawberries at the grocery store in January and get disappointed, take it as a sign from Mother Nature.
Seasonal produce has the ability to grow without too much human assistance. The sun and soil do the work, rather than the chemicals and GMOs that are often added to produce that is being grown out of season. Taking care of your seasonal needs is important as well. The foods that are available to us during particular seasons take care of us. Apples in the fall are the perfect transition food as they help our bodies rid themselves of excess heat before the winter. Spring greens help us alkalize, detox and shed that winter padding. Watery summer produce like watermelons, cucumbers, and berries help us stay hydrated. Respect your body and the earth by aligning yourself to nature’s harvest.
Intentional Food Practice: Only buy what’s in season for the next week. Find a month to month calendar of seasonal produce for the Northern Hemisphere here.
2. Pick the Losers First:
Everyone wants the best of everything, a natural human condition. When it comes to your produce though, try picking the ugly ones, instead of the perfect ones. Everyone else will be sifting through the pile to get the most attractive looking green pepper or tomato, leaving the losers behind. The ugly ones are still in perfect eating condition, but sadly between 20-40% of produce goes to waste because it’s not pretty enough to sell. Save a vegetable or fruit from landfill doom, and by eating sustainably, help lower the drastic amount of food waste that occurs globally. We love the way Europe has addressed their food wastage problem, as they help sell their less-than-perfect produce, at a significant discount.
Intentional Food Practice: Bring home all the ugly produce this week, and notice how there’s no difference in taste.
3. Reconsider How You Consume Animal Products:
Animal products and meat have definitely become quite a divisive topic in recent years. On the one hand, factory farming and animal agriculture is an incredibly unsustainable, unethical and polluting industry, where the well-being of the livestock, farmers and farmhands, and local ecosystems are generally not considered. When it comes to land clearing for animal agriculture, we know the devastating environmental effects this can have. Coupling this with toxic hormones, less than ideal feed (usually corn which does nothing to benefit the animal), and environmental stress, the animal meat produced at these types of facilities is generally far from beneficial. With that said though, instead of issuing a blanket “go vegan” campaign, we do have to consider the role animals play in balancing our ecosystems, and how raising them for consumption in the right way is needed for a healthy planet. When we take a look back through history, livestock have been bred and raised for thousands of years, without any environmental concerns. Where depleting monoculture crops exist today, previously, farms consisted of a full-circle model where animals, produce, and people co-existed in a state of harmony. Every being had its purpose, and was essential in benefiting all. Indigenous folk and our ancestors knew this, which is what kept the planet in balance for so long. The documentary The Biggest Little Farm does a wonderful job at demonstrating this concept.
Veganism in itself can be a really great way to consume, but we’re very aware of the barriers and issues that exist within this movement. We have to address the fact that not all vegan food is healthy, and often much of it is not, as fake meats and alternatives are often packed with chemicals, GMOs, and questionable ingredients. We also have to consider the fact that so much of vegan food is inaccessibly priced, creating a very real barrier for many underprivileged folks and those living in food deserts. Instead of shaming or judging those who consume animal products, I believe we should eat in a way that supports our individual beings, and the earth. For some, that may look like including meat in their diet, and for others, it might be vegetarianism or veganism. Whichever way we choose to eat, we should do so with intention, with a conscious awareness of where our food items are coming from, and in a way that feels really supportive of our needs.
Buying your meat from a local butcher or organic farm is one of the best ways to support the earth, the local economy, and your health. When we consider food waste, we can also then see how the factory farming industry is really only supported by our culture’s obsession with convenience, excess, and the expectation of immediacy. Growing, raising, nurturing and respectfully harvesting produce or meat is a reciprocal process that eliminates the need for depleting farming practices, and that connects us to our food in a much deeper way. When we respect our food and the systems involved in producing it, we are far less rash in wasting it, which in turn lets us make choices that support the earth and others, better. Taking some time to reassess how we consume our meat will go a much longer way in supporting the earth, instead of assuming that veganism is the only and best way forward.
Intentional Food Practice: If you are someone who consumes meat, consider buying from a local butcher or farm. You can also try reducing your intake of meat, if grocery store cuts are currently your only option.
4. Pay Attention to Labels:
A common greenwashing tactic in the healthy food industry are ambiguous labels, like “natural” and “plant-based”. These kinds of labels don’t always mean that the product or food item is actually healthy or sustainable, and unless you read the ingredients, could be just as toxic as the regular stuff. There is a lot of money to be made in the plant-based and organic food industry, so it’s not surprising that so many brands are jumping on the bandwagon, with many of them often spending more time on creative marketing than on impactful solutions.
When buying food products, look out for labels that go beyond the buzzwords. Check the packaging for labels such as Fair Trade, Non-GMO, USDA Organic and Direct Trade. Always read the ingredients, as the marketing labels can be misleading. The more you can buy locally-sourced products, the better! Smaller brands often are family-owned, so their brand story will be on the back, which can help in determining their legitimacy and ethics.
Intentional Food Practice: Make a list of the top 5 food items you use weekly, and choose fair trade options the next time you shop.
5. Start Your Own Garden:
This might seem daunting, especially for those who don’t have a green thumb or much time. Planting a full vegetable garden is a dream, and if you can make it work, we’re cheering you on! We do recognize though, that it’s not always realistic when it comes to city life, jobs, and upkeep. If that’s the case for you, try planting a mini garden. Even just herbs are a great place to start. On your condo balcony, your back deck, or right in your kitchen, herbs are easy to grow and care for. Eating more sustainably starts small, and taking baby steps towards a better future is how we progress! Plant herbs you know you’ll use often. Some suggestions include chives, sage, basil, rosemary, mint, and thyme. Since a sprig or two is generally all you need in a recipe, buying a whole pack at the grocery store is usually wasteful.
For those of you who want to try your hand at horticulture, see if your city offers a community garden program, and get involved in a shared space. You’ll meet some new friends, and have fresh produce that you’ve grown yourself. The satisfaction of seeing something go from seed to table is unlike any other, and not only does it benefit you, it helps our local ecosystems as well. Herbs and flowering plants create pollinator pathways, which are essential for our dwindling bee populations. Growing your own food also lessens your dependency on produce flown in from around the world, which saves you money, carbon emissions, unethical labour associations, and it helps nourish the soil and land where you live. Encouraging and advocating for city gardening programs is also a really great way to create food sovereignty, to help those in lower-income areas of your city, to provide spaces for grounding, earthing, and forest breathing, and to reclaim our lost ancestral knowledge on food growing. This practice recalibrates our senses, reconnects us to the earth, and helps us all to feel more abundant and autonomous.
Intentional Food Practice: If growing things is not in your near future, make a conscious decision to only buy local produce from farmer’s markets. You’ll be supporting small business owners, contributing to your community’s local economy, eating healthier and fresher foods, spending less money on groceries, reducing your produce’s food mileage, helping regenerate the soil, and eating sustainably sourced seasonal goods.
6. Buy in Bulk:
Buying in bulk is a much more environmental and sustainable food consuming habit. Bulk food stores sell their products loosely, meaning you take as much as you need, rather than buying a standard size of something, which can often go to waste. This is super helpful for those who cook for small families / one person or for those who don’t cook often. Because the products are sold in open containers, the amount of packaging waste per consumer is drastically reduced, helping our planet sigh a breath of relief. Bringing your own reusable containers, like mason jars or bulk produce bags, also helps reduce the use of single-use plastic bags that are often provided for you at these types of stores. If everyone opted for bulk buying, we’d save more than 26 million pounds of packaging waste from going into landfills, per month!
Intentional Food Practice: If you’re a single or two-person household, buy 10 things from your grocery list from bulk stores this week (ideas include peanut butter, popping corn, baking soda, sesame sticks, pasta, rice, and buckwheat).
Try all 6 practices this month and see how easy it can be to eat more sustainably!
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