The food supply chain squanders a lot of the worlds precious resources, including mind-blowing amounts of water and land. Food production also produces large amounts of greenhouse gases, causes deforestation and a myriad of other environmental issues.
The food we choose to eat has a dramatic effect on the planet. It is well documented that a meat-free diet is better for the environment. But it isn’t always as simple as that – livestock waste provides fertilizer, avoiding the need for excess chemical fertilizer. Also, their diet contains items such as spent grain, a by-product that may not have been otherwise used – ultimately introducing extra calories and nutrition into the human food chain which would not have existed otherwise. Its not all bad!
Although a fixed definition does not exist, sustainable foods are – in general – those that limit the environmental impact. How far does it travel? What resources were used during production? Food sustainability is more complex, however – it means much more than that. The social and health implications are also key factors at play in food sustainability.
Lentils and beans
These wonderfully cheap and nutritious legumes are some of the most sustainable food sources that could incorporated into your diet. They can be widely used in recipes from simple soups to more adventurous curries. As well as having high levels of protein and fiber, they also have extremely low carbon footprints and use very little water compared to other foodstuffs. Cheap, nutritious and good for the environment – what’s not to like?!
Kale and spinach are a particularly eco-friendly addition to your dinner plate. As well as being highly nutritious, they also grow very fast in almost any climate. Spinach can produce several crops in one season – their leaves are ready in a little as a month! This speedy growth makes them a great choice to include in a sustainable diet.
Organic fruit and veg
Choosing organic fruit and veg is a great way to eat sustainably. Organic farming is incredibly beneficial for the environment – and your health. Organic farming avoids pitfalls of chemical pesticides such as the pollution impact on soils and waterways.
If cutting out meat from your diet is a step too far, why not opt for a more sustainable meat instead? Although red meat rearing is particularly bad for the environment – it requires a lot of land and uses vast amounts of water – bison is a much more sustainable option then beef. It is even helping restore the soils with its “mob-grazing” and natural fertilization.
Clams, mussels, oysters and scallops – all bivalves – are a great sustainable choice. They obtain all their nutrients from the water so they don’t need any special farming conditions or feeds. They also don’t produce waste into their environment – like fish do – so they leave the water as fresh as it was before they lived in it!
Skipjack tuna is another great choice. These grow more rapidly than other types of tuna – meaning that they have been able to reproduce before they are caught.
Limiting the air miles that your food travels is great way to eat more sustainably – and it could be safer too. Imported fruit and veg can be picked unripe and artificially ripened on arrival into this country. This can be done using a variety of ripening agents – some of which can have significantly nasty health implications. Calcium Carbide, for example, is still used despite being banned. It has numerous short and long-term effects on human health.
As well as sustainable, it can also be more nutritious – another great reason to stay local. Researchers at Montclair State University found that broccoli imported out of season contained half the amount vitamin C than that of in-season broccoli. Quite a difference!
Eating locally reared meat bought from farmers market is a great way to support local business – although meat has a greater impact on the environment, less travelled meat has a lower carbon footprint than its imported counterpart. Meeting the grower at a local market also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about, for example, what (if any) pesticides they use – something not possible at the supermarket!
Support innovative producers!
More and more producers are finding ways to incorporate sustainable practices. The brewing industry is particularly innovative with lots of eco-friendly practices being designed and implemented. Small Beer, a UK brewer, has devised a production method that uses only 1.5 pints of water to brew one pint of beer. Their bottle size/shape and packaging also mean that they can fit more on a single pallet and as a result, decrease their carbon footprint for deliveries. But they don’t stop there – go check them out.
The bottom line
Although a meat-free diet is generally better in terms of sustainability, you don’t need to go all-in. You can gradually reduce your meat consumption over a period of time. After all, as noted, livestock does have environmental benefits too!
Although, there are some foods such as legumes that are particularly sustainable, the general rule is to stick to local, organic (if possible) produce and you will be heading in the right direction – farmers markets are a great place to start. Ask questions, find out the origins of your food. It will be tastier, healthier and better for the environment too.