10 Tips to Help You Eat More Sustainably
Changing to a sustainable lifestyle is not an overnight job. It takes time to slowly implement changes and find a way to make them fit with your needs, time and resources. We’ve shared some ideas that we’ve done or are working for being more sustainable in your bathroom/laundry and making sustainable choices in the kitchen but this post takes it a little further.
What we eat – from where and how it’s grown to how it’s prepared can have a huge effect on the environment and some of the changes are so simple. If everyone were a little more conscious about their food choices the earth would be grateful. So here’s a few ideas to get you started with eating a more sustainable diet.
This applies to all food groups and is something we are consistently working on. Try to source as much of your food as possible from as nearby as possible. The less food has to travel the lower its impact on the environment. Shop at your local farmer’s market for locally grown produce or check out farms or orchards nearby that have a shop. Even if you’re supermarket shopping, the products made in your country will have far fewer food miles than those imported from overseas.*
*This may be different in parts of the USA where other states are further away than other countries!
Eat Less Meat
#MeatlessMonday has caught on around the world and many people looking to eat more sustainably are trying to reduce their meat consumption. Cattle farming is a huge contributor to carbon emissions and pollution so reducing your beef consumption can have a huge impact on the environment. You don’t need to become vegetarian (although it’s way easier than you might think) but just cutting the amount of meat you buy on a regular basis will help. Oh, and if you are buying meat, make sure it’s free-range/hormone-free.
Eat Less Dairy
This is one step further and although we’ve never committed to a fully vegan diet we have found ways to cut our dairy consumption. Here in NZ, dairy farming accounts for nearly 25% of our carbon emissions so decreasing our dairy production or finding more sustainable ways to do it could be a huge step in sustainability. For now, we’re experimenting with milk substitutes and reducing the amount of cheese we eat. Every little counts!
Make it Yourself
Making foods yourself is a great way to eat more sustainably. Not only does it mean you know exactly what’s going into your food but it’s also fresher, tastier and eliminates a lot of emissions, packaging and waste involved in the mass production process. Start with some easy options like these five simple things to make instead of buy and then start experimenting with homemade versions of staples like crackers, muesli bars or wraps. It can save you lots of money too.
Grow Your Food
I believe everyone is capable of growing a few things in their garden even with little to no maintenance. Growing it yourself is the ultimate way to cancel out food miles and actually have a positive impact on the environment by adding some leafy plants to the atmosphere. Fruit trees and well-established vege gardens can take years of input but things like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers are easy and reasonably quick to grow. Herbs are also a good place to start and most will happily grow inside on a windowsill.
Buy Plastic Free
Reducing plastic waste is a pretty hot topic right now. To add to the complex decisions of which food to buy, think about the packaging it comes in. Bulk stores are great for getting all kinds of things packaging free and are often cheaper.
We have three bulk stores locally and often have to go to at least two to get all the items we want but combined with our weekly vege market shop it means we have very little to buy from the supermarket and most things come plastic-free. Having reusable produce bags and some jars or paper bags for bulk shopping is a great investment to cut out unnecessary plastic packaging.
But if you are shopping at the supermarket there are also bulk bins. Have a look for options that come in paper, cardboard or glass which are all easily recyclable. Plastic can be recycled but only a few times before it becomes unusable so eliminate it where you can. Remember even just one switch can make a difference.
Pesticides and sprays can harm the environment as well as insect and wildlife populations or potentially human health. Pesticides used will differ by crop and area where it was grown. Each country has different regulations surrounding pesticide use and its effect on biodiversity. The easiest way to avoid all these issues is to buy organic. Again, you’ll have to weigh this up with elements such as where it was grown and whether it comes in plastic but it’s another good indicator of a lower footprint in the production on the food.
This is something I never really considered when I was growing up and with the access to food that we have today, it’s easy to be unaware of what even grows locally at any given time of year. Only eating what’s in season in your country means it’s more likely to be grown or produced locally and not have been kept in any kind of storage. This means it’s likely fresher, has more nutrients and is, yip you guessed it, better for the environment.
This means only eating stone fruit and berries in Summer or apples and pumpkins in Autumn (depending on where you live). But it’s also a great way to be aware of growing conditions for certain foods and learning about what grows well in your area.
A great way to get around seasonal eating but still make sustainable food choices is to preserve food when it’s in season so you have access to it year-round. Grow a good crop of tomatoes and make bulk tomato sauce to have fresh tomato sauce through the winter. Or preserve fruits such as plums or peaches for a tasty dessert topping even out of season. This summer we picked our own raspberries in bulk and froze some of them to have smoothies and breakfast toppings even when raspberries go out of season.
You can preserve fruit and some veggies by canning (preserving in jars in a bath of boiling water to seal the lids), freezing either whole or chopped/pureed or by drying them out. Dried apples, tomatoes and apricots and peaches make great snacks.
Compost Your Food Waste
Eating sustainably continues even after you’ve actually eaten the food. Composting your food waste is a really effective way of reducing waste in landfill, making sure waste breaks down properly and having really great foundations for your garden.
Most food scraps can be composted and you can even add things like paper and cardboard, bamboo cotton buds, sawdust and coffee grinds. Composting is actually a fine science and you need to make sure you have a balance of the right stuff for your region so do some research before creating compost to use on your garden. A worm farm is also an excellent way to process waste and create more nutrients for your garden.
For breaking down waste it’s easy to have a food scraps bin in the kitchen which gets emptied when full to a compost container outside. If you don’t have a garden or don’t want to collect your compost at home, search in your local area for a compost collection company. Many cities have a food waste collection service run by the council or local business which ensures all your food scraps are used for good rather than heading to the landfill.
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