6 Easy Ways to Eat More Sustainably
November 9, 2017 • 5 min read
Eating healthy and eating sustainably are two different things. The food industry, with the help of Instagram and millennial hipsters, has transformed into being all about the latest health food trend, with people blindly jumping on because “if you didn’t gram it, it didn’t happen”. While this shift has been positive in getting people aware of superfoods and the benefits of eating clean, avocados and açaí smoothie bowls don’t necessarily mean you’re helping the planet, or yourself.
Ambiguous labels like “natural” and “from plants” also don’t mean that the product or food item is anywhere near being healthy or sustainable, and unless you read the ingredients, could be just as toxic as the regular stuff. So, before you roll your eyes with the whole “well everything causes cancer now, so I’m just going to do me” bit, recognize that eating sustainably doesn’t mean you have to get all kumbaya and start throwing red paint – you can live your life, exist in this world AND lower your ecological footprint, AND it can be easy. But how?
First, recognize that eating a balanced diet shouldn’t just mean equilibrium between veggies and carbs on your plate, but that you’re ensuring you’re contributing to a balanced ecological equation. With animal agriculture leading the way in greenhouse gases and climate change, coupled with our reliance on foreign soil to grow our produce, the planet is begging us to stop. 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. The first step is becoming conscious and aware. Start asking questions like where is your food coming from, how was it grown, and how does it affect the environment? And once you’re at least interested in seeing if just maybe you could choose option B instead of your usual A, you’ll be well on your way.
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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.
Challenge: Only buy what’s in season for the next week. 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 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, be the one who helps lower your community’s carbon footprint.
Challenge: Bring home all the ugly produce this week, and notice how there’s no difference in taste.
3. Cut Back on Animal Products:
Let that sink in for a moment. Agriculture farming is the most polluting industry in the world. They can tell us to take shorter showers and not water our lawns all they want, but the fact remains that eating meat is what’s causing these severe environmental concerns. If you were to go vegan, you would cut your carbon footprint in half! Animals use an extraordinary amount of natural resources when it comes to farming them for produce. Land, water and grain to feed them, and land and water to grow their grain are hugely draining resources, not to mention the immense amount of methane gas that is produced by cows. Cutting back on the amount of meat you consume is not only good for your body (nasty hormones, what?) but it helps the world sigh a little breath of relief. Eating sustainably means healthier, more ethically, and leaner.
Challenge: Go vegan or vegetarian one day a week for the next month. Recipe ideas here.
4. Buy Fair Trade:
Eating sustainably means buying “fair trade”. Fair trade isn’t just a trendy buzz word. When you make the conscious decision to choose fair trade products, you’re supporting the working conditions of farmers who work so hard to bring you your food. You’re helping them live a decent life with a sustainable salary. You’re holding the farms accountable for abiding by environmental standards. Fair trade products don’t use GMOs, chemicals or pesticides, and the water and earth they use is sustainably source and protected. It’s as easy as switching from one type of cereal to another. While you might grumble that is costs more, recognize that you’re helping your body, the environment, and the life of a person in what’s most likely a developing nation. Additionally, every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. By choosing fair trade, you are another person sending a message to the industry that you demand stricter and fair standards. Vote wisely.
Challenge: 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 green thumbs or time. While planting a full vegetable garden would be amazing, it’s not always realistic when it comes to city life, jobs, and upkeep. Instead, 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. Plant herbs you know you’ll use often like chives, basil, mint, thyme, and some floral plants like lavender. Since a sprig or two is generally all you need in a recipe, buying a whole pack at the grocery store is 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 from seed to table is unlike any other.
Challenge: If growing something 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, and eating sustainably sourced seasonal goods.
6. Buy in Bulk:
This might seem counter-intuitive, as we’ve been telling you to cut back on everything. But buying in bulk is actually a much more environmental and sustainable food consuming option. Bulk food stores sell their products loosely, meaning you take as much as you need, rather than buying a standard size of something. Because the products are sold in open containers, the amount of packaging waste per consumer is drastically reduced. Bringing your own reusable containers like mason jars 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!
Challenge: 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, snack foods like sesame sticks, pasta, rice, and buckwheat).
Try all 6 challenges this month and see how easy it is to eat more sustainably!
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