What you choose to eat impacts not only your health, but also the environment. Eating foods that are sustainable can improve how you feel, benefit the planet and save in your wallet.
Choosing sustainability when we eat refers to consciously picking foods that are produced in ways that have a minimal impact on waste, natural resources, ecosystems and overall biodiversity. Land erosion, water use and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and species loss all affect the environment — and are often the result of processing and shipping food.
Sustainable eating isn’t hard, though! Start small and over time our individual choices — when multiplied by people around the country and the world — can lead to real differences.
Buy Local and in Season
The most straightforward way to eat for the planet is to buy your food locally — or from nearby sources — and when it’s in season. We significantly reduce carbon emissions and create less waste when produce is transported across shorter distances and uses less packaging. Seasonal fruits and vegetables often taste better and have more nutrients, as they generally come fresh from the vine to the market.
Farmers markets are a phenomenal place to start shopping and understanding the natural seasons of many of our favorite fruits and vegetables and begin planning your meals around a more sustainable schedule. While you won’t find local bananas and oranges at a market, you will find many other surprisingly unique and flavorful options. Check out the Food Trust or Farm to City for farmers markets in the Philly area.
The vendors, farmers, purveyors and mongers at your local markets are often very knowledgeable about the health benefits and environmental concerns of their products. Strike up a conversation if the line isn’t too long, and they can answer many of your budding questions. Was the seafood caught or raised on a farm? What do they feed their livestock? Do any other products go into the making of their cheese or jam? When will apples be in season? Curiosity is key when exploring sustainability!
Reduce Food Waste
Nearly one-third of food produced in the world goes to waste. Leftovers are ready-made second meals. Try tossing that remaining vegetable, chicken or fish into a soup, omelet, casserole or stir fry. Pair last night’s dinner with a new side of some pasta or rice. Repurpose stale bread into French toast or breadcrumbs. Freeze fresh fruits right away and simply use them frozen in smoothies or as a snack.
Can’t finish what you have? Check ahead before the food spoils and get creative. Invite some friends over and serve baked veggies or a platter of your extra fruits with some cheese. Put your loaf of fresh bread into the freezer and simply thaw it in the oven or toaster when you’re ready. Transform your wilting greens into some delicious pesto. Explore baking, jamming and jarring your excess produce. Swap extras with a neighbor or family member. If there is a farm nearby, perhaps they are interested in an exchange to help feed their animals.
But if it’s already turned, compost the appropriate leftovers before chucking them all away into the garbage. And simply plan smarter the next time you go shopping — you’ll save money and the planet!
Make it Yourself
The more you cook at home, the less packaging from take-out foods and plastic wrappers you need to dispose of afterwards. Preparing our own food cuts down significantly on our grocery bills, as well as global shipping costs. If you’re new to the kitchen, start easy, small and simple and work your way up — cooking can be self-taught at any age and there’s no shame in learning.
Salads are an easy start and greens can be bought at your nearby farmers market. Boil a bunch of pasta; eat half of it warm, then save the other half to add some oil, vinegar and chopped veggies, like cucumbers and carrots, for some filling, easy pasta salad the next day. Seasonal fruits and bulk granola (bought with your jars!) added to yogurt and ice cream are quick cost-saving desserts.
Whether you live in a Philly rowhouse or a suburban apartment, it’s also worthwhile to grow some edible plants. Rosemary or sage in a pot on the balcony, or basil or a tomato plant in a garden plot will not only cut down on your grocery bills, but also may give you an appreciation for what it takes to successfully grow food. Those insights may influence how you buy, use and dispose of fresh food in the future.
Alternative Food Choices
Many of our current meat production practices — mostly beef and lamb — contribute to environmental issues such as deforestation and soil degradation. The livestock industry alone generates 15% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions. This doesn’t mean, however, we all need to eliminate meat from our diet entirely.
Try a meatless day and make some favorites instead — grilled cheese and soup, veggie stir fry, lasagna and three-bean chili are all common, basic recipes that can be made without meat. Then, consider regular substitutions to beef and pork in your other weekly meals, such as fish, turkey, beans, tofu or hearty vegetables like potatoes, squash, rutabagas, peas or mushrooms for that full feeling.
Simply cut back on the amount of meat you eat in your meals by adding more vegetable and starch additions. If you eat meat for its nutritional value, remember that soybeans and soy products, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are all big sources of protein, iron and other vitamins and minerals.
Lastly, meat, dairy and eggs bought locally are a much more environmentally friendly option. These sources generally tend to cultivate their land and animal resources more sustainably. Shopping locally not only supports the welfare and jobs of farmers, who are our neighbors, but also reduces the carbon emissions caused by cross-country — or even international — transportation, processing and shipping.