Sustainable Eating

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
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. According the 2019 EAT-Lancet commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, a global shift toward more plant-based foods including legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts), whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and less animal-based foods, especially red meat and processed meat, will help feed the world's growing population a nutritious and sustainable diet. Limiting refined grains and added sugars is a smart move as well.

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.

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.

Shop locally. Shopping locally is a fun way to support your community. It keeps your dollars in the community in which you live and fosters a healthy environment of diversity. When you purchase foods that were grown locally, it cuts down on the amount of fuel needed to ship the food to your market.

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 and less energy and water used to produce certain foods.

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.

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