Did you know that what you choose to eat impacts not only your health and waistline, but also the environment? Eating healthy foods that are sustainable can improve how you feel and also benefit the planet and your wallet.
Eating sustainably refers to foods that are produced in ways that have a minimal impact on natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity. Land use, water use and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming all affect the environment. Some of the most unhealthy foods are produced in ways that also are bad for the planet.
For example, a 2019 report in The Lancet medical journal recommends Americans dramatically reduce the amount of beef and lamb they consume, for their own health and the health of the planet. Livestock require huge amounts of land and water and produce harmful methane. The report, issued in conjunction with EAT Forum, also called for curbing food waste, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and improving agriculture so it lessens deforestation and reduces water use.
Changing eating habits sounds difficult, but it’s been done before. In 1900 Americans derived two-thirds of their protein from plant foods; by 1985 that was reversed, with two-thirds of our protein coming from animals, mostly beef cattle.
This doesn’t mean we all need to become vegetarians or vegans. But we have choices, and over time our individual choices — when multiplied by people around the country and the world — may once again lead to a reversal that would make a real difference.
Here are some tips to help you get started down the path of more sustainable eating that benefits your health and the planet. For more helpful resources, a vegan gyro recipe and a special offer from our partner Weavers Way Co-op, visit our Small Actions Spark Big Changes webpage.
- Eat less meat, more plants.
You don’t have to eliminate meat from your diet. Take baby steps: try Meatless Mondays; sample burgers containing less or no beef; eat a better variety of foods; or eat more soybeans and soy products, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains — all big sources of protein.
Note: The livestock industry alone generates 15% of all humanmade greenhouse gas emissions.
- Plant something to eat.
Whether you live in a Philly rowhouse or a suburban apartment, it’s easy to grow an edible plant that will enhance your dinnerplate. Rosemary or sage in a pot on the balcony, basil or a cherry tomato plant in a garden plot will not only cut down on your grocery bill 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 food. Plus, it’s fresh and tastes good!
Note: Growing your own food avoids the carbon footprint of store-bought food.
- Make it yourself.
You don’t have to be a whiz in the kitchen to create something edible. Sometimes you can find the ingredients you need right in your own garden for a simple stir fry or green salad. Maybe swap veggies and herbs with a neighbor gardener. Online recipes cover every taste bud under the sun, and the more you cook at home the less packaging from take-out foods you’ll need to dispose of.
Note: You save money by not paying for the production, preparation and packaging.
- Buy local and in season.
When possible, buy produce that is grown locally and in season. Less fuel and pollution are involved if produce is transported a shorter distance. If you see strawberries in a Philadelphia grocery store in February, you know they came from far away.
Note: In buying from a local farm shop or greengrocer, you’re supporting the local economy. You may enjoy striking up a conversation and asking for cooking and gardening tips.
- Choose seafood wisely.
Ask your fish supplier where the seafood came from and whether it was caught or raised in a farm. Choose a variety of fishes from well-managed sources to help reduce pressure on the more popular fishes. Buy local and stay away from endangered, threatened and protected species. You may have to do a little homework, and the Environmental Defense Fund can help. The EDF Seafood Selector gives popular seafoods eco-ratings, mercury levels and omega-3 contents to help determine the healthfulness and environmental sustainability of each option.
Note: Billions of people around the world rely on seafood as a main protein, and overfishing is a serious problem. Fish farming is one way suppliers to keep up with the demand without overfishing the oceans.
- Reduce food waste
What’s wrong with leftovers? Why throw food away when there is so much you can do with it, and it will still taste good? Besides having a second meal you don’t have to cook from scratch, try tossing leftover vegetables, chicken and fish into soups, omelets, casseroles and stir-fries. Repurpose stale bread into French toast or breadcrumbs. Freeze leftovers and excess fresh fruits and vegetables before they go bad.
Note: Nearly one-third of food produced in the world goes to waste, contributing to land, water and air pollution.
Top image: Rambutan fruit is native to Southeast Asia and is rich in many vitamins and minerals.
By Carolyn Belardo, Director of Public Relations