8 healthy ways you can eat more sustainably



Last month, we brought you helpful tips on making your home sustainable. But sustainability isnt just about whats inside our four walls, its about what we put into ourselves too.

At its most basic, sustainable foods are the stuff we ate for thousands of years  before we began growing, processing, preserving, freezing and canning foods on a massive, global scale.

Digging a little deeper, sustainable foods are those that:

  • grow on the land and in the sea  animals and plants that humans have been eating for tens of thousands of years
  • dont harm the environment  they avoid, whenever possible, pesticides and chemical fertilizers that degrade the soil, pollute water supplies or consume large quantities of fossil fuels to grow
  • dont harm us  they include few if any additives and preservatives, as well as antibiotics that lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and threaten public health
  • are produced in a humane way for workers and animals
  • provide a fair wage to farmers  for instance, industrial agriculture and importing foods from other countries make it more difficult for family farms to survive
  • provide safe conditions to workers  employees on sustainable farms are paid fairly and not subjected to unnecessary dangers, like harmful gases or equipment or unreasonably long work hours
  • support your local economy  farmers that grow sustainable foods are part of your community, creating jobs and investing near you.

Most of us agree its better to eat as much food grown this way as possible. But what does sustainable eating mean in practice? What can we all do to make it a reality?

1. Start cooking again

Our parents did it but weve been doing it less and less. Start spending a little more time cooking and less time microwaving and watching cooking shows. Make cooking a weekly family activity and create a repertoire of fresh meals you can make together.

2. Eat locally

The more you buy locally, the less pollution we generate from refrigerated trucks that ship food hundreds of miles away  and the more we support jobs in and around your community, state and region. Seek out farmers markets in your area and spread the word to your family and friends.

3. Eat whats in season

If certain fruits and vegetables dont grow near where you live, buying them in off seasons means theyre being shipped  and that usually means burning of inordinate amounts of fossil fuels to get it to you. Eating whats in season is really just a subset of eating locally  buy more root vegetables and hearty greens in fall in winter and more fruits and summer vegetables when the temperature rises.

4. Eat more plants

Humans are omnivores, which means we evolved to eat both meat and plants, as well as algae and fungi. While vegans and vegetarians chose to stop eating meat and/or other animal products in varying degrees, even reducing the amount of meat we eat by a little can have a huge impact on our health and the environment. According to a 2009 report, animal and dairy production account for over half of all annual greenhouse emissions. And high meat consumption is linked to a variety of health risks. That doesnt mean giving up a tasty barbecue entirely but considering more meals rich in vegetables, rice and beans is great for the environment and us. Consider this: according to the Environmental Working Group, a family of four that skips eating steak just once a week for a year has the same effect on our environment as taking a car off the road for three months.

5. Grow your own

Growing, like cooking, feels like its become a lost art. It really isnt. Set aside a small area of your garden or, if youre in an apartment or condo, create a container garden. Then learn how simple it can be to grow tomatoes, mushrooms, herbs or even flowers to brighten up your home.

6. When in doubt, buy fair-trade

Clearly, its not always practical to buy everything locally. Thats okay. You can still take steps to ensure what you buy is hurting the environment or farmers as little as possible. Look for designations like Fair-Trade that tell you the food youre buying is acquired from farmers around the world who are paid and treated fairly.

7. Its worth it to pay a little more

Ever notice that some of the most processed, artificial foods in the supermarket are also the cheapest? Thats often because fake foods are made cheaply in massive quantities often using processes that are less environmentally responsible, while more natural products are grown or cooked in smaller amounts, which often makes them pricier. Cheap foods makes us more tempted, of course, to buy them  and theyre often much easier to prepare. But we really do get what we pay for.

8. Do some homework

Sustainable foods are better for us and usually better for the environment. This, however, doesnt mean we should simply snap up anything thats marked natural or organic. Many companies market their products by using terms that sound healthy but theyre often misleading. Its ultimately up to us to ask around and research online. Sustainable Table and The Perennial Plate, an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating, are a couple of great places to start.

How are you changing your eating habits to make them healthier for you, your family and the environment? Tell us what sustainability means to you and share your thoughts in the Shop Talk Blog community forum!

And remember to visit our Facebook page to answer this months live poll! See previous poll results.



Did you know?

Apples, celery, cherries, lettuce, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, sweet bell peppers and strawberries are the 12 fruits and vegetables the Environmental Working Group says are most often contaminated by pesticides. While buying entirely organic isnt always practical, choosing organic varieties of these fruits and vegetables is a smart way to reduce the amount of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in our diet.

(Source: National Geographic Sustainable Food Quiz)