We're living in a time of massive change in food. New technologies like 3D-printed meat and foods grown in labs are on the horizon, while issues like climate change and inequality continue to plague our planet. Consumers are being pushed towards more sustainable food choices -- but how do you know what those are? Let's explore some ways to reduce the impact on the planet while still enjoying delicious meals.
Buy local produce.
Buying local produce is one of the smartest and easiest ways to make a sustainable food choice. It's fresher, more nutritious, and has fewer miles on it. But there are other perks too. Buying local means you're supporting your community and planet.
Many farmers' markets offer discounts or deals if customers bring their own reusable bags. They may also have a rewards program that lets shoppers earn points toward free fruits and vegetables when they shop regularly at the market!
It's worth remembering that not all foods travel equally well--if you want to get your hands on something like heirloom tomatoes in January, chances are good that a truck will have to carry them from Florida or California (which means added transportation costs).
If you have access to local produce year-round, though--or even just during certain seasons--you can adjust your shopping list to buy what's in season.
- Check the calendar. Many fruits and vegetables have a specific growing season, so you can check to see when they are typically in season. For example, tomatoes are typically in season from late summer to early fall.
- Look for local produce. Local produce is often in season, so visit a farmers' market or look for locally grown produce at your grocery store to find out what's in season.
- Look for good deals. Fruits and vegetables in season are often more plentiful and less expensive than out-of-season options. Keep an eye out for good deals on produce, as this can be a good indicator that the item is in season.
If you're not sure what's in season, you can ask a farmer or produce seller for recommendations. They will likely have a good understanding of what's currently available and in season.
Choose organic when you can.
"Organic" is a term used to describe food grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic standards also prohibit the use of hormones and antibiotics in animals raised for meat.
Organic foods are often better for the environment than conventional foods because they don't contain chemical pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals can leach into groundwater and pollute nearby waterways, causing harm to wildlife, such as fish and birds who consume them unknowingly.
Conventional agriculture also uses more water than organic agriculture--which leads to depleted aquifers in many parts of the world--and produces tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change."
Eat less meat and fish.
Eating less meat and fish can save money and reduce your environmental impact. Meat and fish are expensive.
They also have a significant impact on the environment. Raising livestock takes up valuable land and water resources that could be better used for growing crops, while fishing fleets take up space in oceans. Some of which should be protected as marine reserves so they can support life.
Meat production is also associated with:
- High greenhouse gas emissions
- Methane production from cattle waste (a main source of methane)
- Pollution from fertilizers used in agriculture
- Deforestation caused by clearing land for grazing animals or growing feed crops
If you're looking to make more sustainable food choices, reduce your use of plastic as much as possible. For example, instead of buying bottled water, get a stainless-steel water bottle.
The main problem with plastic is it's made from non-renewable resources and cannot be biodegraded once disposed of in landfills or the environment. This means that when you discard plastic waste--no matter how hard you try to recycle--it ends up in another form: bigger pieces or microplastics (tiny pieces) which pollute our oceans and waterways.
There are also concerns about plastics leaching toxins into food and drinks, so much so that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned baby bottles and baby cups that contain BPA (bis-phenol-A). They did this because BPA mimics estrogen and has been linked to fertility problems and, possibly, some cancers.
Choose sustainably harvested fish.
When you're buying seafood, look for the Blue Ocean Institute's Best Choice Seafood label. This certification means the seafood was caught or farmed in ways that are good for marine habitats, workers, and future generations.
Sustainable fishing practices focus on protecting ecosystems so there will be fish for generations to come--including yours! They also ensure workers are treated fairly and paid well, so they can provide quality of life for their families.
And when a company uses sustainable fishing practices, it's good news for the climate. Less carbon dioxide emissions from boats mean fewer greenhouse gases polluting our air and water.
Buy from farmers who raise animals humanely and don't use antibiotics or hormones.
Opt for healthy farming practices and ones that consider the welfare of animals:
- Buy from farmers committed to sustainable farming.
- Buy from farmers who are committed to the humane treatment of animals.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions and get more information about how the animals were raised, what they were fed, if antibiotics or hormones were used, etc.
Use what you have first.
If you run out of something in the kitchen (e.g., olive oil), don't immediately run out to the store for more. Use what you have on hand first. For example, substitute vegetable oil for olive oil in a cake recipe. If you don't have vegetable oil, look online for other substitutions for whatever ingredient you're missing.
In addition to saving money and reducing waste, using up ingredients before buying new ones is good for your cooking skills: When you're forced to get creative with what's available at home, every meal becomes an opportunity to learn about new foods and techniques that can enhance your future culinary endeavors.
It can be hard to switch to more sustainable food options, but hopefully, these tips give you ideas for where to start. The key is to make small changes over time so that they become habits. If every mealtime starts with a question about how you can reduce your impact on the planet, then slowly but surely, you will begin eating more sustainably--one plate at a time!