Sustainability. The Ultimate Buzzword.
Sustainable living. Sustainable transportation. Sustainable fashion. Sustainable energy. It’s everywhere. And it can feel overwhelming— just how many things we’re doing unsustainably on a daily basis. Yet we wonder, how the heck can we individually—one tiny little fleck of human life on planet earth—do anything to make an impact? It seems like our individual choices couldn’t possibly make a difference.
But they do.
Fret not. You don’t have to change everything at once. There are a few major segments of your life in which you can slowly make (generally painless) changes that will inevitably add up to a greater impact:
- – The energy you use
- – The home you live in
- – The form of transportation you utilize
- – The clothes you wear
- – The food you eat
To keep things snackable (see what I did there?) we’re just going to cover food today.
But first things first: why should we even be concerned about food production, consumption, and disposal?
- Because we don’t have a choice. By 2050 the world population will exceed 9 billion people, which when combined with shifting diets means we will need to produce nearly 70% more food calories than we do now. Note that we don’t have anywhere near enough arable land left on earth to support that population through conventional agriculture as we know it. This means that eating sustainably will become a necessity, not a choice.
- Because “Big Farma” practices harm ecosystems, which harms us. The industrial farm’s practice of monocropping (growing only one type of crop on a large area of land) has negative environmental implications: it diminishes biodiversity, degrades the soil, and makes plants more susceptible to disease, which leads to heavy pesticide use. When ecosystems stop functioning as they naturally should, they cease to provide ecosystem services—this means we as humans can no longer benefit from them, because the ecosystems can no longer provide clean drinking water, decompose waste, purify the air, sequester carbon, naturally control pests, regulate flooding, etc.
- Because agricultural emissions drive climate change. About 1/3 of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Food miles are not as important as people might think in contributing to emissions, rather it’s the actual production process that is to blame. Either way, the choices you make related to food have HUGE impacts on emissions.
- Because family farms and small farming communities are endangered. The growing number of industrial farms causes significant socio-economic harm to local communities and makes it increasingly difficult for family farms to survive; in some instances large factory farms hinder economic wellbeing in small towns. Additionally, growth in the agricultural sector can reduce poverty more effectively than growth in other sectors, so that’s another reason to support small-medium scale agriculture.
- Because we simply can’t afford to waste any more food. Roughly one third of all food goes to waste. That’s crazy talk. This results in severe environmental consequences as well as huge missed opportunities for supplying food to the growing world population.
Alright so you get the picture. It’s time to start caring. Scratch that— it’s time to start taking action. So here are 10 easy tactics for eating more sustainably.
1. Eat seasonally.
People make a big hooplah about eating locally, and I believed it for a long time. But it turns out that eating seasonally is WAY more impactful than eating locally. Of course it’s still ideal to support your local farmers, but instead of preaching the locavore movement, shift your focus to the eat seasonal movement. Check out these seasonality charts to start eating seasonally.
2. Use reusable bags/minimal packaging.
My personal favorite are the Trader Joe’s bags, but really any reusable bag will work for carrying your groceries home. Also if possible, avoid using the plastic produce bags at grocery stores if possible—9 times out of 10 you really don’t need them. If you’re getting a bunch of brussels sprouts, sure, you need a bag. But picking up 3 sweet potatoes? Go bagless.
3. Bulk cook.
If you’re going to have the oven on, you might as well fill it up and make the most of the energy you’re using! Same goes for things like grilling meats—if you’re turning the grill on, make enough burgers or grilled chicken to last you a few days instead of just for that night. Bulk cooking will end up saving (literal) energy and time.
Like I mentioned earlier, 30-40% of all food goes to waste, and the vast majority of that can be composted. You don’t even have to start your own compost bin at home, you just have to find a place to drop off your compostable goods! Do a little research and you’ll find a local place to drop it off, or you might even find a compost pick-up service like Compost Wheels in Atlanta! Pro-tip: keep a bag in your freezer with all of your food scraps to prevent it from stinking up your kitchen.
5. Regrow vegetables from scraps! All you need is water.
This is an awesome way to make your lettuce and spring onions last longer. Super easy, no upkeep, and no green thumb required! See the basic how to here.
6. Find other uses for your overripe fruit.
Admittedly I have let a number of bananas, peaches and avocados get too ripe, and I’m sure you have too. But don’t be so quick to toss them out! There are tons of ways to salvage them and make something delicious. It’s also a good idea to wash, cut, and freeze them for future use in smoothies or other recipes.
7. Cook with every part of the vegetable/animal.
This goes hand in hand with my points about composting and finding uses for overripe fruit. Buying beets with the stems attached? Cook the greens and stems too! Buying a whole chicken to roast? Use the carcass to make bone broth! Afraid of organ meats? Don’t be a sissy. There are so many amazing ways to enjoy animals from nose to tail. If you’re new to organ meats, try this Bangin’ Liver recipe or this Chicken Liver Pâté recipe.
8. Buy aqua/hydroponic vegetables.
Hydroponic and aquaponic gardening/farming require significantly fewer resources (less land, water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels) than conventional farming. This is extremely beneficial to the environment for obvious reasons. Plus, at least according to my humble taste buds, hydroponic lettuces and herbs taste better.
9. Preserve the harvest.
While produce is in season, stock up, can it, dehydrate it, freeze it, ferment it, you get the picture! This way you won’t pay a fortune for strawberries when you get a craving in the middle of winter, AND you won’t be supporting the unsustainable farms that use inordinate amounts of resources just to squeak out a few mediocre strawberries when they’re out of season.
10. Research what grows well in your region and eat more of that.
Different climates and ecologies are conducive to different types of agriculture and livestock production. It’s extremely context dependent, so do your research! For instance, this study at Cornell showed that in New York state a diet that included some meat and dairy was more sustainable than a vegetarian diet. So say NO to generalized claims about the most sustainable style of eating, and start doing your own research.
As you can see, eating organic does not a sustainable eater make. Rather, it’s a lot of little choices that add up to constitute your food footprint on the Earth. Start small by implementing a few of these tactics, and over time introduce more incremental changes.
And remember— these things add up. Never doubt the power of your choices.