Eating more sustainably is not only good for the environment, but it can also be healthier for you and help you save money. Here are 8 tips to get started on a more sustainable eating plan.
1. Buy local produce whenever possible
Buying locally-sourced food is one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly ways to eat. That means you should prioritize fruits and vegetables that are grown within 100 miles of your home or whatever region you live in.
Local foods don’t have to travel far, so they use fewer resources in production and transport (i.e., they have fewer food miles). Additionally, eating local, seasonal food is an excellent way to reduce your environmental impact.
Eating local, seasonal food:
- Reduces transportation emissions: Eating seasonally means eating produce that is grown and harvested locally, which reduces the distance that food needs to travel to reach your plate. This reduces the carbon emissions associated with transportation and helps to support local farmers.
- Increases nutrient density: Eating produce that is in season is often more nutrient-dense because it is picked at its peak ripeness, when the nutrients are at their highest levels. Eating seasonally also allows you to take advantage of the different nutrients that different fruits and vegetables provide at different times of the year.
- Conserves water: Eating seasonally grown produce can help to conserve water, as it is grown at the most appropriate time of the year when water is most available.
- Reduces food waste: Eating seasonally can help to reduce food waste, as it is less likely to be stored for long periods of time or travel long distances, reducing the chances of spoilage.
Not sure when produce is in season? Check out this seasonal food guide.
2. Avoid pre-packaged foods
Ditching prepackaged foods is one of the best ways to start eating more sustainably for several reasons:
- Reduces packaging waste: Pre-packaged foods are frequently packaged in single-use materials such as plastic containers or bags, which generate a lot of waste. Avoiding pre-packaged foods reduces packaging waste and the amount of material that ends up in landfills.
- Increases food freshness: Pre-packaged food is often processed and may contain preservatives to extend shelf life. Avoiding pre-packaged foods increases your chances of eating food that is fresh and hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for a long time.
- Supports local farmers: Pre-packaged foods often come from large scale industrial agriculture, which can have a negative impact on the environment and local communities. By avoiding pre-packaged foods, you increase your chances of purchasing food from local farmers, which supports small-scale, sustainable agriculture.
- Increases variety: By avoiding pre-packaged foods, you are more likely to buy whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains rather than processed foods that often contain fewer nutrients and are high in salt, sugar, and preservatives.Top of Form
The big lesson here—whenever possible, try to buy fresh ingredients and prepare meals from scratch. This not only helps reduce waste but will also help you eat healthier.
3. Buy organic and non-GMO foods
Pesticides, fungicides, growth hormones, genetic engineering, and other chemicals used in conventional farming can be detrimental to the environment—glyphosate anyone? Buying organic produce helps minimize the environmental impact of large-scale agriculture while helping you avoid these potentially harmful substances.
When buying your food, look for products labeled “non-GMO” or “certified organic” (honestly, you want to forgo the drama and controversy). In some cases, these can be a bit pricier than their non-organic and GMO counterparts, but the peace of mind you get knowing that you’re going for the better option is well worth it. Plus, if you shop at your local farmers’ market, you may be able to get some wholesome, fresh organic produce at a good price.
4. Consider vegetarianism or veganism
Eating a plant-based diet is one of the most sustainable ways to eat because it requires far fewer resources than animal agriculture.
Here are a few issues with livestock agriculture:
- Greenhouse gas emissions: Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and nitrous oxide. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of meat, dairy, and eggs you consume.
- Intensive water use: Livestock agriculture is also a significant user of water resources. Producing a pound of beef requires around 1,800 gallons of water, while producing a pound of wheat requires around 132 gallons of water. You can help conserve water by opting for a vegetarian or vegan diet that reduces the amount of water needed to produce food.
- Deforestation: Animal agriculture is a major driver of deforestation, particularly in tropical regions where rainforests are cleared to create grazing land for cattle. A vegetarian or vegan diet can help to reduce deforestation by reducing the demand for beef and other animal products.
- Lower food efficiency: And lastly, livestock is a big culprit when it comes to the inefficient use of resources. It takes around six pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, while vegetarian diets directly use these resources for human consumption. Quite clearly, a vegan or vegetarian diet is a great way to increase food efficiency and help you eat more sustainably.
Not quite ready to become a vegan or vegetarian, or you simply know that meat will always be a part of your diet? No worries. You can skip meat a couple of times a week, even once a week (maybe ‘meatless Monday’).
One day may not seem like much but imagine the impact if everyone did this. Plus, veggies tend to be cheaper than meat, so you could also leave additional dollars in your wallet every week.
5. Support sustainable fishing methods
Most commercial fishing practices are incredibly damaging to the environment, wiping out entire species and ecosystems in just a few years. However, some sustainable fisheries use responsible methods and carefully manage their catches.
Sustainable fishing methods are important for several reasons:
- Biodiversity conservation: Unsustainable fishing methods can result in overfishing of certain species, causing population size declines and even extinction. Sustainable fishing methods, on the other hand, help to ensure that fish populations can recover and thrive.
- Habitat preservation: Fishing methods that are not so sustainable (take bottom trawling, for example), can have a severe impact on ocean habitats, destroying coral reefs, and other important marine ecosystems. Sustainable fishing is all about preserving habitats and maintaining the biodiversity of the ocean.
- Food security: When fishing is unsustainable, the depletion of fish populations is common, making it difficult for communities that rely on fish as a primary source of food to secure enough fish to meet their needs. Ensuring that fish populations are not overfished helps to ensure food security for local communities.
- Economic viability: Besides affecting food security, the depletion of fish populations also makes it difficult for fishing communities to maintain their livelihoods. By allowing fish populations to recover and thrive, sustainable fishing methods help ensure the economic viability of fishing communities.
- Environment protection: Some fish farmers use highly toxic chemicals to kill lice while others have poor waste management practices, which end up harming marine life. Sustainable fishing practices can help to reduce the negative impacts of fishing on the environment, which can help to mitigate the effects of climate change.
To support sustainable fishing methods and start eating more sustainably, consider buying fish from local fisheries with sustainable practices or look for those with the Marine Stewardship Council approval label.
6. Cut down food waste
Every year, about one-third of all food produced globally is thrown away, meaning we’re wasting valuable resources and creating unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing food waste, you can:
- Conserve resources: Growing, harvesting, and processing food requires significant amounts of resources, such as water, energy, and land. As such, cutting food waste means you conserve these resources by only using what you need.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Carbon emissions are generated during the production, transportation, and disposal of wasted food. What’s more, when food waste decomposes in landfills it generates methane. By reducing food waste, you can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by food production and disposal.
- Support local farmers: Buying only the food you need and using food before it goes bad can help to support sustainable, small-scale farming practices and reduce the need for large scale, industrial agriculture.
- Improve food security: Reducing food waste can help ensure that there is enough food for everyone, especially those who struggle to afford enough to eat.
- Increase food efficiency: When we waste food, we also waste all the resources that went into producing it. Minimizing or even eliminating food waste can help ensure that all the resources that were used during production are well-used, thus increasing food efficiency.
To reduce your contribution to this problem, be mindful of how much you buy and take steps to eliminate food spoilage, such as using leftovers or freezing excess produce.
7. Rely on reusable containers
So, what do containers have to do with eating more sustainably?
Turns out using reusable containers can help you to eat more sustainably for several reasons besides the obvious reduction in packaging waste. After all, eating more sustainably goes beyond the actual food you consume, but also covers how you store it and handle any waste.
- Resource conservation: Disposable packaging is often made from non-renewable resources, such as fossil fuels. Using reusable containers can help to conserve resources by reducing the need for these materials.
- Increased food freshness: Foods stored in reusable containers can help to keep food fresher for longer as they are more airtight and do not allow the food to dry out or spoil fast. This helps reduce food waste and improves your eating more sustainably.
- Circular economy promotion: Reusable containers can be washed and used multiple times, promoting a circular economy by keeping resources in use for longer, rather than being discarded after one use.
When doing your food shopping, carrying meals to work, or storing food at home, it’s important to use durable, reusable containers instead of disposable ones. Plastic bags, straws, and other single-use items are some of the most common culprits that you can get rid of right away.
8. Compost food scraps
Even with all your best efforts, there will still be some food scraps that can’t be eaten or repurposed. Fortunately, these items don’t have to end up in the garbage. Instead, they can become valuable compost material that enriches the soil and helps create nutrient-rich fertilizer—this will be great for that home garden.
Plus, composting keeps organic waste out of landfills and reduces methane emissions. Composting is an easy and effective way to do your part for the environment!
By following these tips, you can start eating more sustainably and reduce your environmental impact. Additionally, you can always support the local farmers’ markets or join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program to support sustainable agriculture and access fresh, seasonal produce.
Lastly, remember that every little bit counts; even minor adjustments in how you eat can make a difference in preserving natural resources for future generations.
Now that you know the various ways to start eating more sustainably, let’s take a deeper dive into the benefits of doing so.
Benefits of eating more sustainably
Eating sustainably goes beyond just minimizing your environmental footprint and improving the health of planet Earth. It can also have positive effects on your health and well-being. Here are some of the fantastic benefits you can gain from eating more sustainably:
- Better nutrition: Eating foods grown through sustainable practices tends to be healthier than those produced unsustainably. For example, food grown sustainably eliminates the use of chemicals and toxins that are detrimental to planet, animal, and human health. As such, sustainable farming has food with higher nutritional value, making it a great way to stay healthy and nourished.
- Reduced exposure to toxins: As already mentioned, sustainable farming practices rely on using little to no chemicals in the food production process. The fewer chemicals used in production, the less likely you are to consume them through your food. Eating sustainably reduces exposure to potentially dangerous pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other toxins, making it a key factor in preserving your health.
- Improved mental health: Eating sustainably can help promote psychological well-being by reducing stress and increasing feelings of connection to the world around you. Knowing that you are doing something positive for the environment can provide satisfaction and pride, which may lead to improved self-esteem.
- Local economy stimulation: Supporting local farmers who practice sustainable farming methods gives them more business, leading them to potentially expand their operations and hire more employees, which, in turn, provides an economic stimulus for the local community. It also incentivizes other farmers to switch to sustainable practices since they will have access to a more extensive customer base.
- Animal welfare protection: Animals raised on sustainable farms tend to be treated better and live more humanely than those raised using traditional methods. This benefits both the animals and those who consume their meat, eggs, or dairy products since they will know that the animals were treated well during their lives.
It’s clear that eating sustainably doesn’t just benefit the environment—it can also tremendously benefit your health and well-being.
The best part is that it only takes a few simple adjustments to your diet to start making a positive difference in the world while reaping the rewards of improved nutrition, reduced exposure to toxins, improved mental well-being, local economy stimulation, and animal welfare protection.
That said, it’s a good idea to keep in mind other strategies that will help you to take your food sustainability to the next level, particularly if you want to:
- improve your consumption practices;
- improve your sustainable food knowledge; and
- grow some of your food (or are considering doing this) or you know someone who wants to try their hand at sustainable food production and could use some guidance.
More strategies for improving food sustainability
In addition to eating more sustainably, one of the most effective strategies to improve food sustainability is through improving agricultural practices. This includes adjusting traditional farming methods such as utilizing crop rotation, intercropping and companion planting, using more efficient irrigation techniques, reducing soil erosion, implementing pest management programs, and adding organic matter to the soil.
These changes can help create healthier soils, which in turn will help produce better yields with fewer inputs like fertilizer or water. Considering alternative sustainable agriculture systems like permaculture can also be beneficial in creating an environment that works towards achieving a more sustainable future for food production.
Another key strategy for improving food sustainability is shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors toward more conscious purchasing habits. This involves understanding where our food comes from and how it’s produced, opting for organic or locally sourced options when possible, and reducing food waste.
By making a conscious effort to reduce your overall consumption of animal products or food produced unsustainably, you can help reduce pressure on natural resources such as water and land while still enjoying a healthy diet.
Finally, investing in technological advances and innovative solutions is another essential strategy to improve food sustainability. This includes technologies like precision agriculture, which uses data and analytics to improve efficiency in crop production, or urban agriculture initiatives that promote the growing of fresh produce right in people’s homes and cities. Research into alternative proteins, such as lab-grown meats, is also providing an exciting opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
Granted, improving food sustainability requires collaboration between farmers and consumers, governments and businesses, and scientists and engineers, but investing in solutions such as these can help accelerate the creation of more sustainable food systems that works for everyone.
With a shift towards sustainable practices in all aspects of how we grow and consume our food, it’s possible to develop a genuinely sustainable global food system that meets our current needs without compromising those of future generations. We just need to start working on making simple yet meaningful changes to agricultural methods and purchasing habits and leveraging new technologies.
Additionally, we can also rely on cooperation across stakeholders and continuous efforts toward progress to ensure that everyone has access to safe and nutritious food for years to come.
Time to start eating more sustainably!
Food sustainability is an important and pressing global issue requiring collective action across stakeholders. But let’s face it—affordability always plays a big role when it comes to consuming sustainable food.
The good news is that we’ve got you covered. Eating more sustainably doesn’t have to leave a dent in your pocket. Check out these 12 tips to eat sustainably on a budget…you’re welcome!