Sustainable Eating

By Susan Moores, MS, RD
Sustainable Eating | Couple Growing Vegetables

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"Is it sustainable?" It's an increasingly important question to ask when it comes to agriculture and how we eat. In agriculture, the concept of sustainability is applied toward the production of food or other plant or animal products using farming techniques and practices that help to conserve natural resources and have minimal impact on the environment. Sustainable agriculture enables us to produce healthful food without compromising future generations' ability to do the same.

Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are healthful to our environment and our bodies.

Tips for Sustainable Eating

Unless you're a farmer, the best way to support the benefits of sustainable farming is to eat sustainably. Below are some tips to get you started.

Shop locally. "Shopping locally is a healthy and fun way to support your community," says Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It keeps your dollars in the community in which you live, supports the families producing your food and fosters a healthy environment of diversity. Plus, getting to know the people producing your food is like getting to know a neighbor. Through this relationship we can know exactly how the food we eat is produced."

Grow something. It could be herbs in a pot, tomatoes on a patio or a small plot in your yard. Not much gives you a greater appreciation for what it takes to create food than to grow your own. You understand the multitude of factors involved in making plants thrive, the attention needed to successfully grow food and how precarious the process can be. Those insights likely will influence how you buy, use and dispose of food.

Initiate conversations about food. Talk with the farmers at your market, personnel at your grocery store and restaurateurs, or the growing number of people who are paying attention to how foods get on their plates. You can discover new tips, learn about new resources and find more local, sustainably-minded food producers and providers.

Eat seasonally. Blueberries don't grow in Montana during January, yet you can still buy "fresh" at this time. This means they're likely coming from far, far away. When possible, focus on foods that are available in season where you live and you'll be supporting sustainability.

Tap your tap. Liquids are some of the heaviest items to ship around the country and lots of fossil fuel is needed to tote them. Instead of purchasing bottled beverages, use a refillable bottle and fill it with water from the tap or filter.

Retool your grocery list. Think bulk foods, more minimally processed foods and more plant-based meals. Doing so translates into less packaging and waste, less energy used to produce certain foods and fewer artificial ingredients — those not found in nature — and chemicals in the food system.

Vote with your wallet and your fork. There's no better way to affect the direction of our food system and what grocers, restaurateurs and food companies produce and sell than to influence their bottom line. Ask your food providers to support local farmers, local producers and sustainable agriculture. Show support through your buying decisions.

"Sustainability is about making the best possible choices for your health, the health of the community, the environment and those producing your food," Mills says. "Sustainable practices build strong communities, diverse ecosystems and healthy individuals."

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