For the most part, we try our best to eat healthy on a regular basis, but eating tasty, nutritious food doesn’t necessarily mean we’re also eating sustainably. It’s just as important these days to ask about the sustainability of our eating habits as it is to wonder whether we’re maintaining a balanced diet. Our planet is suffering from the inflated animal agriculture industry, and we’re becoming more dependent on foreign soil for produce than ever before.
We need to all take a time-out and ask ourselves how we can do our part to cook and eat in a way that will slow down the deterioration of the planet, rather than speed it up.
You’ll be happy to know you don’t have to do anything extremely life-changing to eat more sustainably in general. There’s no need to empty out your entire kitchen in a huff or take a year-long vow of silence. All it takes is a few little adjustments in your diet to leave a smaller carbon footprint on the planet. More than anything else, it just takes a little more awareness. Start to ask some questions about where your food is coming from, how it was grown, how it affects the environment, etc. When in doubt, ask the Internet or pay a visit to your local library.
For starters, here are eight little ways to eat more sustainably.
1. Buy as much seasonal produce as you can
If you’re craving a mango but you’re having a hard time finding any ripe ones at the supermarket (or the few you find are ridiculously priced), take it as a sign from Mother Earth herself that mangoes aren’t meant to be in your near future. Go with the delicious produce that’s in season instead, because that’s the best way to support local farmers and businesses.
Seasonal produce doesn’t require as much artificial help in growing, so you’ll find less pesticides and chemicals, and less human assistance in general. Eating seasonally also means you can avoid eating foods that have been shipped in from abroad, which significantly cuts down on food mileage and thus reduces our carbon footprint. If you’re not sure what’s in season at the moment, take some time to go to your local farmer’s market. There you’ll see firsthand what’s seasonal, and you’ll also support local businesses at the same time.
2. Eat less animal products
Eating vegan just one day a week does way more for the planet than eating locally sourced foods seven days a week. Going vegan means you cut your carbon footprint in half, since it takes an immense amount of natural resources to mass produce animal products. Even if you don’t commit to living the vegan life 100 percent of the time, though, you could make a big difference by eating only plant-based foods a couple days each week.
By cutting down on your consumption of animal products, you leave more fresh water available to the planet, you reduce the amount of methane pumped into the atmosphere, and you save precious land from being taken over for animal agriculture. If we all made some minor adjustments to our diet, we could make a pretty big difference. Haven’t the slightest idea how to cook vegetarian or vegan food? You’re far from alone, and there are plenty of resources out there on how to make the most delicious plant-based food you’ve ever tasted.
3. Buy fair trade
When you buy fair trade foods, you’re supporting a cause that’s invested in improving the working conditions of farmers and holding farms accountable for the environmental standards they must comply with. Whether it’s a small chocolate bar or a box of cereal, buying fair trade means you’re purchasing products that were made with no GMOs, and with sustainably sourced soil and water. Bonus: Most fair trade products are also organic.
4. Compost your food waste
We were taught not to waste food at a young age, so rather than tossing out food scraps into the same bins that hold household garbage, we could all start composting. Even if you don’t have a home garden where the compost could be put to use, there are plenty of places that will benefit from your compost. You’ll reduce civic costs for waste collection, decrease your carbon footprint, and keep your leftovers out of landfills. If you don’t know the first thing about composting, visit this site to learn what a simple process it truly is.
5. Start a little garden of your own
You wouldn’t believe how little land it takes to create a garden. All you need is a small patch of earth (or even a window box) to grow a few things, like tomatoes, greens, and herbs. Growing your own grub reduces how much food mileage you imprint on the earth, as well as how many resources are used to get the food to your table. If you live in an oversaturated city, look for community garden spaces where you can participate. You could have your own produce ready to bring into your kitchen in just a few weeks.
6. Shop for bulk items
Get a membership to Costco and start buying in bulk more often. You’ll waste less packaging and the food you get will have required less transportation to get to you. Research conducted by the Bulk is Green Council and Portland State University shows that if all Americans purchased bulk items once a week, we would save 26 million pounds of waste going into a landfill in one month alone. Plus, you’d save some money, too.
7. Ask for the “ugly” fruits and vegetables
Okay, it sounds weird, but the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick out the least attractive fruits and vegetables. Research shows that anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of produce in America goes to waste because it’s not good looking enough for American shoppers. That’s a pretty big waste of resources, time, money, and, well, food.
If you don’t see any of the “ugly” produce on display at your supermarket (which is a common occurrence), ask one of the employees if they have any “ugly” fruits and veggies in the back that didn’t make the cut. You’ll save perfectly healthy and nutritious food from going to waste. Unfortunately, there are many grocery stores that reject the “ugly” produce altogether and therefore don’t stock them, but there are some chains out there, like Whole Foods and Walmart, who have promised to waste less and sell these fruits and veggies.
Additionally, pay attention to companies like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce, which take second tier, rejected produce and find it a home. Follow along with their work and you might find that they deliver “ugly” fruits and veggies right to your doorstep.
8. Eat less processed and packaged foods
Surprisingly enough, fruits, vegetables, and nuts only take up two percent of America’s crop acreage at the moment, while 60 percent of it is devoted to cereal grains that are harvested for packaged foods and edible oils, both of which have very low nutritional value. The result is that we’re unknowingly eating a lot of food that’s made mostly from soy and corn, both of which waste a lot of resources to make and take over land that could instead be used for fresh produce.
The less processed and packaged foods we all eat, the less demand there will be for such products, and hopefully we’ll start to see a lot more land set aside for growing fresh produce that’s going to improve our health.