Looking to go a little more green with your food choices in the kitchen? Explore these sustainable eating tips, and learn how it can have a profound impact on both your health and the environment.
BY: KASEY GOINS, PA-C
Sustainability is not something I thought much about in my younger years. Recycling was just something our family did here and there, and I thought my best friend’s mom was a little crazy for composting everything.
You may have heard the terms “sustainability”, “sustainable diet”, and “sustainable living”, but have you really asked yourself what they mean to you?
First, let’s answer the question: what is sustainability?
Sustainability is defined as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting its natural resources, and therefore supporting long-term ecological balance.”
A sustainable way of eating is defined as “those diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutritional security and to healthy lives for present and future generations.
Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, are nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, and optimize natural and human resources.”
With that said, sustainable eating looks different for every person.
To one, it may mean eliminating all animal products, choosing only seasonal and local produce, composting everything, and reducing food waste. To another, it may mean consuming meat that has been purchased from a local farmer, consuming food grown organically and locally, and using less plastic.
It might mean shopping with a grocery list instead of making impulse purchases, or choosing to buy in bulk rather than grabbing boxes, bags, or packages of food. It may mean simply just choosing to recycle.
On a planet filled with billions of people, it can feel like your choices don’t make an impact at all. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day either:
Your choices, though small, will make a big impact over time.
Within the last decade, there has been a growing interest in sustainable living and eating…and with good reason. The data shows that our food waste and food choices are having a direct, negative impact on our environment and other living organisms that keep our food supply in balance.
“Unsustainable” practices are gaining more attention in the media, such as:
- Genetically modified foods and farming practices
- Excessive food waste
- Pesticide use
- Antibiotic use in animals
And as much as we like to blame mega corporations, it’s important to remember that the consumer plays the most important role in sustainability.
Why? The foods that are available to us are a result of demand.
As a collective whole, we all have the ability to change the earth and our health, little by little. As consumers, it’s our shopping habits that determines what’s on the shelves at the store. We demanded fresh fruit year-round even when it’s not in season, which led to the creation of genetically modified seeds to meet our high demands.
You, as the consumer, have the power to change the food system simply by choosing what you spend your money on. And it all starts with us in the kitchen by choosing to purchase sustainable food, supporting local farmers, and making healthy choices every single day – not only for us, but also for our environment.
Here are a few tips for sustainable eating with some simple, yet impactful, shifts.
1. Eat real, whole food.
Healthy eating can look differently for everyone, but those that focus on a balance of real, whole natural foods has been shown to be effective against chronic disease. The emphasis placed on grass-fed meat, and plenty of plant-based foods including vegetables and leafy greens, starchy tubers like potatoes and squash, nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats can help make your choices more sustainable in the long-term.
2. Eat more plants.
Get more plants on your plate! Eating a ton of veggies (organic if it’s in your budget) is the second tip for sustainable eating. Even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, aim for half your plate with veggies for your meals. Or make it a point to cook more meatless meals throughout the week.
3. If you’re an omnivore, choose locally-sourced, organic meat.
Even though it’s more expensive, consider purchasing chicken, turkey, and beef from either local farmers or smaller grocery stores that carry quality meat. Look for grass-fed, free-range, and cage-free if you can, or opt for more fish or seafood in your weekly meals.
4. Make meal plans and a grocery list.
Often times, if you go to the grocery store hungry without a list, you’ll likely grab everything in sight or sounds good at the moment. In a hurried effort to throw something together for dinner throughout the week, some of that food may never get eaten.
Rather, take 20-30 minutes to plan meals out for the week and jot down a grocery list. There are many resources online for meal planning, or simply look up your favorite recipes to plan your grocery list for a few meals you plan to make. While it doesn’t always work out every time, you can still make an effort to either serve that meal on a different night or re-purpose the veggies you bought in another dish.
And by cooking at home, you’ll save money, feel healthier, and know you’re doing something good for your family and the earth!
5. Shop the bulk bins.
Grab your own containers and head to your local health foods store for bulk dry goods. Instead of purchasing dry goods like flour, oats, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and grains in plastic bags, bring your own containers and dispense them yourself. This will reduce your plastic consumption, keep things from piling up in your cupboards, and assures that you only buy what you need.
6. Shop locally & in-season.
Produce that isn’t in-season has to be shipped in from somewhere. Keep in mind that because we as consumers demand year-round produce, grocery stores have to bring it in from other states or other countries where it’s grown. By shopping seasonally and locally (think your local farmer’s market), you’re not only saving money since in-season produce is cheaper; you’re telling the grocery store that you can wait until late summer for fresh peaches.
7. Purchase (and use) reusable containers and grocery bags.
Invest in tare weight reusable produce bags, reusable grocery bags, and bringing your own containers with you when you make bulk purchases. You can also eliminate plastic bags by purchasing reusable silicone ones and ditch the plastic wrap in favor of beeswax wrap.
The bottom line here is that we can each do our part to eat more sustainably and live greener.
Ultimately, sustainable eating is about finding your own way of living and adopting a greener kitchen. Even the smallest changes can impact our environment and our health in a huge way.
All the planet is asking of you is to start somewhere.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ELLA OLSSON
Kasey Goins, PA-C is a Physician Assistant and Functional Medicine Practitioner Student based in Kalamazoo, MI, with a passion for helping individuals recover from chronic digestive issues and fatigue through real food and holistic medicine. She loves baking and is constantly making messes in the kitchen. To get started on your own health journey, visit her at Well-Fed Soul and grab the free 3 Day Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan.