This might surprise you, but Harvad.edu states that agriculture is the largest cause of environmental change. Some examples of environmental change we see from agriculture is dead zones in oceans, deforestation, and global warming. Because of these environmental impacts, the food we consume is now becoming a hot topic. Many people are wanting to know how to eat ~sustainably.~ So what is a sustainable diet? FAO’s definition of a sustainable diet is this:
"sustainable diets are diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.
Basically, a sustainable diet is a diet that is generally affordable, accessible, and has less of an impact on the planet, which saves resources for future generations. SO here are some ways you can change your diet to save the planet:
Buy Naked Produce
I know this isn't a dietary choice, but it's worth stating nonetheless. Produce rots within weeks, and they're wrapped in material that lasts up to 1,000 years. The Plastic Pollution Problem is devastating our oceans and marine life, so reducing plastic where we can is vital. When you bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, go the extra mile and buy vegetables that aren't wrapped in plastic.
Reduce or Eliminate your Food Waste
Did you know that about 1/3 of the food produced goes to waste? What an alarming number. Lucky for us there's many ways to combat this problem. Some small steps I have taken to eliminate my food waste almost completely is to plan my meals before I go grocery shopping, learn to cook for 2, control my portions when going to a restaurant, and use the book More Plants Less Waste to cook healthy meals while also learning how to eliminate food waste. All of these steps have also allowed me to save a lot of money on groceries and tabs at restaurants.
I have been reading a lot about food here recently, and I can't express the importance of buying organic. For example in the book Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan explains that when he was on a potato farm in Idaho, there was a pesticide that was sprayed on the field that workers couldn't be in contact with for FIVE DAYS. That is how toxic this chemical is! And then the potatoes are harvested and put in a shed for months until the chemicals wears off so we can eat them. Sooooo yeah, that's terrifying.
What is great about organic farming is that it's thinking about the long term affects of conventional farming and is trying to be proactive about those problems. Organic farming is better for the environment because it steers clear of using synthetic materials for crops. Conventional farming has a lot of problems with groundwater and soil pollution, but since organic farmers do not use harmful pesticides, this problem is eliminated. Also, organic farming helps preserve wildlife and biodiversity (FAO).
Last semester I was eating blueberries while I was studying. I looked at the bottom of the plastic container and realized these blueberries were from Chile. It then hit me the impact I was having on the earth just by picking up blueberries from Wal-Mart. These blue berries were being grown and harvested in Chile (not organically), then were shipped all the way to another continent for me to eat.
As we discussed in the last paragraph, conventional farming has a big carbon footprint, and now we're adding the factor that some of the farms we buy from are out of the country? The environmental impacts of our diet can be overwhelming, but we can battle this carbon footprint by supporting local food! Farmers markets are so fun and while you're enjoying your experience roaming the market, pick up your fruits, vegetables, or eggs to avoid buying produce from all over the country or even the world. This way you are reducing your carbon footprint on the earth while also supporting your local economy- it's a win-win.
There are a couple of ways to find local foods. Some restaraunts are starting to support local now so look out for them! Whole Foods and Kroger have some local options, but my two favorite local options are the Farmer's Market and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Go on Google and type is CSA and your town and there are probably local farms around you that offer local produce and meat. It's a really cool option and allows you to have fresh, local food from a family farm!
Buy What is in Season
If you start to buy at your local farmers market, you will start to see what is in season. Buying seasonally helps us avoid buying vegetables and fruits from across the world. Those blueberries I was eating in Chile? That was in February. If we start to know what fruits and vegetables are in season, it will be easier to reduce our footprints with our diets.
Eat Whole Foods
Eat less processed foods. Less fast food, less canned goods, less frozen TV dinners, etc. Processed foods take a ton of energy to produce and package, and then most of this packaging ends up in a landfill. Eating foods that are free of artificial substances and additives are better for are health, and better for the planet.
I know we still live in a fast paced society!! Bare with me, I know it's hard. I still eat processed foods, but I simply consume them less.
Consume Less Red Meat
I know this sounds strange, but one of the most positive impacts you can have on the planet is by decreasing (or eliminating) your red meat intake. An article by Independent states that "Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together."
So first off, cows emit a lot of gases into the air that are really good at trapping heat. The next problem is that one of the most prominent factors to rain forest deforestation is cattle ranching. So we're eliminating a forest that is responsible for 20% of the world's oxygen and replacing that forest with a system that emits more greenhouse gases into the air.
Conventional cattle ranching is what needs to be avoided. If you still love eating beef, try finding local grass fed beef. My dad loves beef more than anything- grilling is one of his main passions. He grills any and every time my family gets together. We live in Arkansas and he has been able to find local beef from several different sources!
Consume Less Dairy
Dairy cattle are right behind Beef cattle in producing the most green house gases into the atmosphere in food production. As I said before, the two main problems with cattle is the amount of land they take up (causing deforestation) and the amount of CO2 they emit into the air (causing global warming). BUT the plus side of this is that there are so many other alternatives to dairy milk now! IN 2018, the dairy industry in the United States dropped 1 BILLION dollars due to American's new obsession with plant-based milk.
The Food Medic states that drinking plant-based milk as an alternative to dairy milk reduces land usage by 76% and greenhouse gas emissions by 49% compared to normal dairy. These milks are available at nearly every supermarket and can easily be made at home. I use to love normal lattes so much, but I switched to oat milk and honestly love the taste of oat lattes so much better, and it makes me feel better that I'm trying to do my part.
Since plant-based milks are gaining attention, there are more and more studies coming out about the environmental and health impacts of plant-based milk that question if it is truly a better alternative. For example, people are studying if plant based milk is truly more sustainable since producing the milk takes a considerable amount of water to produce. Also, it is not recommended for young children to consume plant based milk for their source of protein and calcium. More studies are being done, but as of now, plant based milk is the way to go for lowering your impact on the earth.
Adopt a Plant Based Diet
As you have probably heard before, adopting a plant based diet is the best thing you can do to combat climate change, but I understand this option is not for everybody. But there are some easy ways to reduce your meat consumption without having to give up meat completely. To me, reducing is great.
I recommend the Forks Over Knives app and the book More Plants Less Waste to learn to make some plant-based meals. Maybe try eating a vegetarian meal once a week! You can join the popular trend Meatless Mondays that way you'll learn recipes that don't require meat. The first simple step I took toward a plant based diet is I cut out beef, then months later I cut out milk, then I cut out pork, etc. Take it at a pace as slow as you need it, and learn that it's okay if you never make it to 100% plant based diet, know that your reduction of meat products is helping.
My last words:
VOTE WITH YOUR FORK
Mike Pollan says this and I'm in love with it. Vote with your fork. We eat a meal three times a day. Three times a day, we get to show the world what type of food system we want. Your grocery store, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are all trying to figure out this simple question: what does the consumer want?
and this my friend, is for you to decide.
Thanks for reading!
Impact for Good