Creating sustainability today and for future generations is vital to the health of our planet.
There are many things you can do to help our planet, but today I am going to exclusively talk about sustainable eating habits, and how to choose an environmentally sustainable diet.
But before we go over the tips, let’s first go over what exactly a sustainable diet is:
According to the FAO of the United Nations, “sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations.”
In other words, a sustainable diet helps to optimize our use of natural resources by minimizing the resources required to grow our food. They usually concentrate on reducing carbon footprint and on reducing our overall environmental impact.
So let’s dive right in! Here are 11 sustainable eating tips that you can start using today to help the planet!
1. Eat Less Meat
A big goal of sustainability is reducing our carbon footprint. So what exactly is a “carbon footprint?”
According to ATimeForChange.org, our carbon footprint is defined as “the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to, directly and indirectly, support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).”
In simpler terms, your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere as a result of your personal activities and everyday habits.
When it comes to our diet choices, the biggest contribution to our carbon footprint is meat. Per calorie, meats have a much higher carbon footprint than grains or vegetables.
But, why exactly does meat have such a high carbon footprint?
The simple answer is because the farming of animals requires a lot more resources and energy than the farming of plants, because of the inefficient transfer of energy from plants to animals.
(This is also known as the inefficient transfer of energy between trophic levels in the food chain).
In fact, as you can see from the graph above, one serving of beef has a carbon footprint of 6.61 pounds of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), compared to only 0.07 pounds of CO2e for carrots!
What’s more, if you ate just 75g or 2.6oz of beef (equivalent to a fast food hamburger) once a day for a year, you would create carbon emissions equivalent to driving a gas car for 11,581 kilometres, or 7,196 miles!
On the other hand, by eating the same amount of pasta once a day for a year, you would only create carbon emissions equivalent to driving a gas car for 180 kilometres (112 miles). You can learn more about the exact carbon footprint of your food here.
The bottom line?
One way to greatly reduce the environmental impact of your diet is to reduce your meat consumption.
I’m not saying you have to vegan, but simply reducing the amount of meat you eat by a little can make a big difference.
For example, you could try having meatless Mondays, where (obviously) you eat a no-meat diet on Mondays. Or, just try reducing your meat consumption a little on any day!
2. Go Full Vegetarian Or Vegan
As I already explained in the previous point, meat has a huge negative environmental impact. For this reason, one way to eat more sustainably is to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet.
It can be difficult at first to make the change, but if you do it in stages, and not all at once, it becomes a little easier. There are so many food products that have come onto the market recently to make your transition easier.
For example, one of the most popular vegan hamburger brands, Beyond Meat, makes vegan burgers that taste shockingly similar to the real thing. They can be found in many mainstream grocery and shopping stores like Target.
Yet, one of the hardest things to do when you are transitioning is determining where to get your protein from, since you can’t eat meat.
This is always the concern of people who switch from meat in their diet to none at all. It definitely can be a challenge at first and you will go through a learning curve picking out plant-based proteins.
There are many ways you can get protein in your vegan diet, including through eating these particular foods:
- Tofu, Edamame
- Chickpeas and other beans
- Nutritional Yeast
- Sprouted Grain Bread (Ezekiel)
- Soy Milk
For a full list, you can view this article by Healthline that will also explain in more detail each ingredient.
Again, you don’t always have to go full vegan or vegetarian to make a big difference. Even if you just go vegetarian for a few days per week, you can help make a change in the world!
3. Eat More Vegetables
Eating more vegetables falls in line with eating less meat. The more vegetables you eat, the more full you will feel so that ultimately you won’t eat as much.
Not only is eating more vegetables good for the planet, but it’s also good for your body too. Chronic ailments like diabetes and obesity stay at large.
4. Reduce Food Waste
In the United States, approximately 30 to 40 percent of the total food supply is wasted (Source: USDA). While a large portion of that percentage is wasted by supermarkets and retailers, consumers like you and me play a large role in wasting food too.
When food is wasted, the resources used to grow and transport the food (like land, water, gas, etc.) is wasted as well. Instead of being productively used, the resources used to make wasted food would be, well, wasted.
By reducing food waste, you can ensure that the Earth’s resources are used more efficiently, which overall will help with long-term sustainability.
5. Compost Your Food Waste
In 2015, food waste was the largest component of landfill waste in the United States, making up 22% of total landfill material (by mass).
You might be wondering: Since food is biodegradable, what’s the big deal if it ends up in a landfill?
Well, you see, properly-built landfills are designed to prevent the biodegradation of stored waste. Otherwise, landfills would collapse as waste broke down, damaging the structural integrity of the waste pile.
For this reason, it is extremely important that you compost your food waste, either by putting it in your municipal compost bin or by composting the food waste in your garden.
By composting, you can reduce waste in landfills and also help recycle some of the resources and nutrients that were used to grow the food in the first place.
6. Shop At Sustainable-Conscious Grocery Stores
Shopping at grocery stores like Whole Foods, Lassens, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Trader Joe’s makes it super simple to maintain healthy, sustainable eating practices. These big grocery retailers have already done the hard work for you.
Yes, it can be more expensive, but you are paying for organic produce, hard to find items and ingredients grown from pure nature.
These stores work hard to source these food products for you so take advantage of them.
7. Buy Fewer Processed Foods
Heavily processed foods are likely to have been through many steps in manufacturing, travelling to and from many places in the world.
As a result, the carbon footprint of processed foods will generally be a lot higher than foods which are completely natural, due to the processes of transportation and manufacturing. This comes in addition to the carbon footprint of actually growing the ingredients!
By buying fewer processed foods, you can reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to the sustainable use of resources on Earth.
8. Shop At Your Local Farmer’s Markets
When you shop at the local farmer’s market, you are not only supporting your local community, but you are buying organic, fresh produce and vegetables that are coming straight from the field to your table.
By shopping locally, you reduce the carbon emissions of the fruits and vegetables that you buy, since there is less carbon released in the form of transporting the produce for far distances.
9. Eat Organic
Eating organic fruits and vegetables is not only good for the environment, but it’s also good for your own health and wellness of your body. The number of chemicals that are used to produce fruits and vegetables are unbelievable.
Many people believe that the chemicals used to produce our foods today are the reason for the increase in cancer rates in the United States.
I’m not going into the details of that here, but it would be safe to say that organic food is most likely safer than foods that have been treated with chemicals.
10. Grow Your Own Food
I remember when I was growing up my Italian step-grandfather, who never liked going out to eat. He and my grandmother would cook at home every night using fresh vegetables from the garden where he would grow everything!
Growing your own food is one of the most amazing, helpful, sustainable things you can do. Can you imagine never having to rely on going to the grocery store again? You’d be surprised at the types of foods that our society can live without.
Have some fun. Pick up a new hobby. Learn how to grow a few crops in your backyard if you have space, or grow plants indoors. The planet will thank you for it!
11. Buy Products with Less Packaging
When you are at the grocery store, try and find items that have little or no packaging. For example, instead of buying pre-packaged meat, buy it directly from the meat counter.
Also, look for products that are not packaged in either plastic or non-biodegradable packaging. Plastic packaging is one of the worst pollutants for the planet.
If you are unable to find the desired product without some form of plastic packaging, then try to buy in bulk, instead of in individual packs. This will minimize the amount of plastic packaging you buy and eventually throw out.
Eating sustainably, reducing our environmental footprint, and caring about the planet is something that everyone should be conscious of.
If we all were to implement just a few of the ideas and tips as mentioned above, we could make a little go a long way towards protecting our planet for future generations.
Do the Earth a favour and share this article with your friends, either using the share buttons below, or by telling them in person. Together, we can tackle environmental issues and help save the planet!
About the Author: Jenny Travens
Jenny Travens is a creative writer who has many passions and interests. Health and wellness is one area where she likes to contribute as much as she can. She is associated with SuperFoodsLiving.com, and you can find her on Twitter @jennytravens.
This article was edited and partly written by Hugh.