There has been significant growth in people’s interest in a more sustainable lifestyle. Many people over the last couple of years have started to prioritize food choices that help to reduce their use of Earth’s natural resources as a way of living.
With the right motivation and planning, it can be initiated individually, which is exactly what the world needs more of. It requires people to come together to do their bit. All we need is individual efforts for a combined result.
Let’s look at the steps you can take to make sustainable eating a way of life. You may already be unknowingly practicing a few of these, which makes it easier, to begin with. But hopefully, with the breakdown of planning and consumption, you’ll be all set to live greener and happier.
Table of Contents
What Is Sustainable Eating?
Before you put your mind to it, it’s important to know exactly what it means. So the big question is “What is sustainable eating, or how can we eat sustainably?” You need to factor in the seriousness of the impact of it all on the environment. In today’s world, the act of processing food is liable for 25 percent of greenhouse emissions.
Fact—did you know that food we eat impacts our land and water system? The main source of food—agriculture—takes up 70 percent of fresh water from lakes and rivers. Let’s now talk about how it’s damaging our land. The entire industry of agriculture generates 60 percent of deforestation, using up the land with the purpose of farming.
So this brings us back to the big question—how is it possible for us to eat sustainably?
If you are considering a sustainable diet, everything that you consume should be produced in a way that does not harm the environment. It has to have a low impact on ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources. Did you know that emissions caused by food production are doing more harm to our environment than transportation emissions?
To understand the whole process of sustainable food production, researchers assess factors like water use and land use as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s take you further into how it all contributes to global warming. All the greenhouse gas emissions released in the atmosphere get trapped, damaging the ozone layer directly, and this is the prime contributing reason for global warming.
The idea of a sustainable lifestyle or eating in agriculture means producing plants and animal products using certain farming methods to preserve our natural resources, reducing our impact on the environment.
Having said that, it is equally essential for us to have a diet that makes sense. If you consider yourself to be a Picky Eater, you don’t have to be concerned about having an imbalanced diet – as there are a variety of sustainable eating options for you and everyone else. A sustainable diet should be safe, nutritious, and healthy. It should also ensure that what we are eating is economically affordable and socially acceptable for us to carry it forward to our future generations.
Food and Our Environment
Simply put, having a healthy diet is good for us and our planet. We have to globally shift toward a plant-based approach that can help feed the world’s increasing population. A plant-based eating style includes ingredients like whole grains, green vegetables, fruits, and legumes including beans, peas, and nuts. It can also include all types of nuts. A plant-based diet means eliminating animal-based products, like processed meat and red meat. Sustainable food also includes canceling out any refined products like grains and added sugars.
Choosing to eat sustainably is your way of returning the favor to the environment. It means you are contributing goodness to the world by reducing food-related diseases and increasing people’s longevity.
You should also be well informed that this change can create a domino effect in the nationwide supply and demand of food production. The break in the entire system of crop production and food processing can bring about a shift in global agronomics. As people move away from regular and traditional foods that follow unsustainable techniques, the entire system creates avenues to implement environmentally friendly strategies.
Globally forests and wildlife have been struggling to function. Feeding livestock and cattle rearing has all been impacted by the food production system. Our oceans have become desolated due to overfishing and over-searching. Sadly, all these are drivers of climate change, resulting in massive greenhouse gas emissions.
Other than environmental concerns, the overall global consumption of current food items is doing us more damage physically and mentally than we know. Our eating habits are directly related to a decrease in life expectancy. Many of the chronic diseases that were rare hundreds of years ago have now become more common all across the world. This falls back on the food and lifestyles we have chosen, damaging our bodies and the environment in the long run.
Let’s jump right into ten ways of how you can incorporate a balanced diet by choosing to eat sustainably.
1. EAT MORE PLANTS
Farming animals as a source of food (meat and dairy) takes up a large amount of space, water and feeding systems. Fifteen percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions occur due to the livestock industry. From 1992 to 2016, global meat consumption has shot up to 500 percent.
The animal-based food system is extremely inefficient, as it requires 70 percent of agricultural land for them to graze, causing premature deforestation. Animal agriculture causes significantly more greenhouse gas emissions than plant agriculture. To be more clear, emissions solely from animal feed, which is only a part of the animal agriculture system, are relatively higher than plant-based proteins. Lastly, the meat produced from these animals is only half the amount of food they consume.
This clearly shows that we need to reassess our sources of food and the impact we are leaving on the natural resources of our planet. It’s high time for us to reevaluate conventional ways of food production and own up to a sustainable diet.
A plant-based diet, on the other hand, requires less space in terms of land, water, etc. It is also known to be more efficient as the use of fertilizer and energy is more economical. Precisely, plant-protein based production needs 100 times less water than animal-based agriculture.
Overall meat consumption replaced with plant-based proteins will positively minimize the use of water, land, and harmful emissions. For example, just lessening the production of beef hamburgers with 30 percent mushrooms/70 percent beef patties will result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that is the same as removing all the cars in San Diego. Can you now imagine the seriousness of food choices and their impacts on the environment?
2. EAT MORE VARIETY
Fact—Only five species of animals and 12 types of plants are the sources of 75 percent of the world’s food supply. This is another reason why we need more diverse ways of agriculture. This clearly states that we are heading toward food scarcity for ourselves and future generations.
3. USE YOUR VOICE
Currently, forests all around the globe are burning, including the Amazon. This is due to our consumption choices that enable this massive devastation. There is no need to destroy a single tree anymore; rather focus on the land we have to use to feed nine billion people, as estimated by the year 2050. Therefore, we need to practice alternative and efficient ways to save the planet by looking into deforestation-free food. Remember, your voice matters.
4. MAKE RESPONSIBLE SEAFOOD CHOICES
If you look at the numbers on aquaculture you will surely gain more perspective. Aquaculture means the production system in all types of water that includes breeding, rearing, and harvesting all types of fish for consumption, even shellfish, plants, algae, etc. Approximately 94 percent of these fish stocks are known to be over-harvested by 34 percent. But if we focus on producing them responsibly and sustainably, we can highly benefit from them.
For example, the consumption of seafood has its advantages when it comes to our health, environment, and planet. Therefore, we should collectively make an effort to source our food from better-managed avenues and choose minimum carbon emission seafood.
5. CUT THE WASTE
Wasting food is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. Food waste is equivalent to wasting money. Wasting food is a waste of money. Businesses all around the globe take a hit of $74 billion loss on food waste annually. This is a big number.
America alone spends $218 billion on the production of food that is thrown away. This is 30 percent of the food grown that is never eaten. But you can only be responsible for your doings, so we must start by controlling food waste in your household. It is simple: freeze items that remain uneaten (provided it is fresh, otherwise this again becomes a health hazard). Best if you can buy the amount you need to feed your family so you can minimize food waste.
6. GROW YOUR FOOD
Fresh produce is the new way to establish a healthy way of living. Home-grown produce from your backyard is even better. You will surely be guilt-free about leaving carbon footprints, unlike store-bought food.
7. LOOK FOR PRODUCTS CONTAINING RSPO CERTIFIED PALM OIL
It is important to take a deep dive into ingredients like the kind of oil being used in the food you consume. For example, palm oil is highly responsible for damaging forests, putting wildlife in danger. It is known to be one of the most unsustainable items on the shelf. It is also a contributing source of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to rapid climate change. Eliminating the use of palm oil is also not a safe choice, as alternatives can be more damaging to the environment. Therefore, look for products that contain the following “RSPO Certified sustainable palm oil,” instead of unsustainable, regular palm oil.
8. GET GIKI
This is a free mobile app to help with your sustainable lifestyle choices. They have a list of more than 250,000 products with adequate information that can guide you to choose wisely in terms of sustainability. You can easily read up about the sources of the food items, how it impacts the environment with their packaging, etc. This will surely make your shift toward a sustainable diet much easier.
9. PASS ON PLASTIC
Take a pass on plastic, it’s as simple as that. It has invaded our natural resources, hampering our environment drastically. Instead, choose a reusable or recyclable bag. For shopping, pick items that are on the loose without the plastic wrap, and use your recyclable bag to take it home. The use of plastic bottles can be eliminated by replacing them with glass bottles.
10. EAT WHAT’S IN SEASON
Different seasons bring seasonal produce, which is a wonderful way to keep your diet interesting and sustainable. Try to include seasonal products as much as you can when you shop. With fruits and vegetables, there are many options, so try to mix and match them for your family as well by introducing new menus at home. When buying local and seasonal items, you are also supporting your local producers.
It’s common to be concerned about replacing your protein consumption. By cutting out on meat, you may feel you are depriving yourself of protein intake. Soybeans and other such products like legumes, whole grains, tofu, nuts, and seeds are great sources of protein.
Many cultures around the world are known to be vegetarians and vegans who have successfully shifted by replacing protein intake adequately. You can find some really interesting substitute recipes online with tofu, soybeans, etc.
It’s also okay if you are not willing to say goodbye to meat. You can still have it in moderation. Just mindfully make the shift to ensure that your consumption does not aggressively damage the environment.
A smarter way to consume meat is to choose animal proteins with fewer carbon emissions like eggs, chickens, farmed fish, and pork. For your information, beef and lamb are the main culprits when it comes to unsustainability. Maybe have it once a week, instead of completely cutting it off.
Overall, incorporating more plants, greens, legumes and nuts into your recipes and minimizing portions of animal proteins is more realistic. This is known as a plant-forward diet. This emphasizes choosing more plants and less meat to make dishes. You don’t have to do a lot of research to adapt to a new way of eating, just make small changes in your diet and stick to it. Win-win!
Before You Go – Compost!
We cannot force ourselves to finish every single food item, and honestly, it’s impossible to consume every piece of food you buy—for example, banana and orange peels, eggshells, leftovers, or spoiled food. It’s human to have food in the fridge sometimes and still choose to eat out at a restaurant. Hence, compost and stay guilt-free.
Composting is a great solution to the leftover and waste items in your kitchen or fridge. Any item that you have bought but don’t eat can be composted. It is also an easy way to stay true to your sustainable eating habits. It turns organic waste into fertilizers that can help to grow nutritious food, which is a wonderful option. They are also nutrient-rich and add more goodness to your homegrown produce. Get yourself an anti-odor composting bucket and place it next to your kitchen. Remember to use it wisely.
We hope you are now feeling positive about adapting to a more sustainable way of living with our ideas. Start by making little changes, as every effort counts. You can even become a flag bearer of sustainable eating—talk to your friends, share your concerns. Ask them to tag along. The more, the merrier. You might also grab a partner to begin your journey into saving the environment. Happy environmentally-friendly eating!