It’s now widely accepted in the scientific community that the best way we as individuals can reduce our negative impact on the environment is by avoiding meat and dairy products altogether and switching to a healthier and more sustainable plant-based diet.
What we eat is not the only decision to make though. Where it comes from and how it’s produced also contributes to how sustainable the food on our plate really is.
Here are 7 ways that you can make more sustainable choices with the food that you eat:
By simply removing animal products from your diet you’ll already be cutting your carbon footprint significantly. According to a study comparing the carbon footprint of 5 typical diets, a meat-lover diet emits around 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, whilst a vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint at just 1.5 tons of CO2e.
Aside from GHG emissions, on a vegan diet you’ll also be reducing your water footprint as meat and dairy are the biggest consumers of water. To put it in perspective, 119 litres of water are needed to produce one gram of beef protein. In comparison, the same amount of protein from beans or lentils uses just 19 litres. The added bonus is that plant-based whole foods are so much better for your health, plus you can sleep soundly at night knowing that your taste buds are not responsible for the slavery and murder of innocent sentient animals. How awesome is that!?
Read more about the main reasons people decide to go vegan here.
Support local growers
Buying fresh, recently harvested produce from local farmers not only supports your community but it also cuts down on food miles. Look out for local farmers’ markets in your area or buy regional organic produce from your supermarket. You could consider getting involved in any community farming initiatives or checking if there are any urban farms near you too. The closer to home, the fewer food miles you’ll clock up.
Industrial farming techniques rely on chemicals which artificially keep the soil productive and crop yields high. Not only are fossil fuels burnt in order to produce chemical fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides, but run-off from these chemicals also pollutes surface and groundwater. Organic farming methods focus on cultivating healthy soil which stores more carbon instead of releasing it. Additionally, by eating organic, you’ll avoid consuming GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) which have led to a massive increase in the use of pesticides globally as well as causing cancers and other health problems.
Eat in-season produce
These days we have the privilege of being able to buy any kinds of exotic and wonderful foods at any time of year we fancy it. However, when we buy out-of-season produce, the food has to be shipped or flown in for our convenience. On top of the emissions from transportation, the storage and refrigeration of foods also consumes energy. By selecting fruits and vegetables that are in-season in your region, you’ll be cutting down on these necessities. I don’t know about you, but fresh local fruit and veg always taste better anyway!
Avoid processed foods
Highly processed foods lead to higher emissions due to the additional energy use of the production and processing plants. On the health side, processed foods lack the nutritional benefits of the original ingredients as they are lost during processing, not to mention all the added sugar and salt that is also detrimental to your health. So, you and the planet are both better off if you stick to buying natural whole foods. The fun of cooking healthy dishes from scratch is also a win-win in my opinion as you’re in complete control of what you put in your body.
Avoid packaged goods
Additional energy is consumed in the packaging process, not to mention all the unnecessary packaging which tends to be made primarily out of plastic. As we’re all too familiar with, plastic has a devastating fossil fuelled impact on the environment. Wherever practical, select loose goods or, at the very least, products with minimum packaging. You may even consider going one step further and checking out a zero waste store in your area. This way you can cut packaging all together by taking your own reusable containers to fill up.
Grow your own food!
Probably the very best way to cut your carbon footprint is to dust off your gardening gloves and start your own veggie patch. It probably isn’t the most practical solution for many of us, especially those in urban areas who don’t even have a garden. However, you can start small and there are many things that you can grow in your kitchen or a warm, sunny part of your apartment such as herbs and tomatoes. There are also emerging technological solutions such as smart indoor gardens that take care of watering whatever you’re growing for you.
I hope this list inspires you to make more sustainable choices the next time you go food shopping. Let me know your experiences if you’ve already adopted any of these methods or if have any other sustainable food tips that you’d like to share in the comments below.