After doing a lot of research, I have compiled a list of the top 8 ways to eat more sustainably and have created my own personal sustainable eating plan. After reading this, I hope you will make a plan to eat more sustainably too!
8 Ways to Eat More Sustainably
1. Eat less meat and animal products
Total global emissions from livestock represent about 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions with cattle being by far the largest contributor, representing about 65% of all livestock emissions (40% for beef, 21% for milk.) Pig meat and chicken meat and eggs contribute far less, about nine and eight percent, to livestock emissions, and buffalo milk and meat, small ruminant milk and meat, and other poultry species and non-edible products make up the rest of these emissions. Because of how much meat, dairy, and other animal product production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, veganism is definitely the most sustainable diet and vegetarianism a close second. However, veganism and vegetarianism are not feasible options for many people because of health, economic, and lifestyle reasons. For those who cannot or do not want to be vegan or vegetarian, limiting red meat and dairy products are a great place to start. Doing research on the meat and dairy products you buy is another way to consume animal products more sustainably. Knowing where your meat is sourced is particularly important as irresponsible cattle raising has contributed massively to tropical rainforest deforestation, toxic ocean runoff which causes damage to various ocean ecosystems like coral reefs, and the destruction of other natural habitats. Additionally, certain animal product brands and farms may use special feeds and feeding techniques for cattle to reduce methane generated during digestion and the amount of CH4 and nitrous oxide released from manure, have particular grazing management techniques to improve productivity and create carbon sinks, or have other practices to reduce their carbon footprint that make them a more sustainable option. So before buying your meat, do some research, and don’t be shy to ask questions when eating out about where the restaurant's meat is sourced!
2. Be careful with the seafood you consume
While eating fish rather than beef or pork is almost always a more environmentally friendly option because of its much lower carbon footprint, you must be careful to buy seafood from responsible sources. Irresponsible fisheries will often use careless fishing techniques like bottom trawling which can damage coral reefs and other seafloor ecosystems, cyanide fishing, and large nets called drift gill nets which often catch animals such as sea turtles and dolphins that aren't eaten and simply discarded. Additionally, if fisheries do not dispose of their gear responsibly, nets and fishing wire can end up in the sea where they will continue to ensnare and kill animals for many years. Seafood watch is a great website to reference when trying to buy seafood that is caught responsibly.
3. Shop locally
Usually shopping locally means supporting smaller farms and businesses that produce less waste, use fewer resources, and cause less environmental harm than large scale agricultural companies. Locally sourced produce and food products also have reduced carbon footprints from not being shipped from afar. In addition to its environmental benefits, buying local helps keep money and resources in your community, contributes to the diversification of agriculture, and the produce usually tastes better because it doesn’t have as many preservatives and is less bumped and bruised than produce shipped from afar. The best way to shop locally is to go to your local farmers market although some grocery stores will also carry local brands. Unfortunately, buying locally can sometimes be more expensive, but it really depends on where you live and the farmers markets and stores you shop at.
4. Eat seasonally
Buying and cooking with seasonal produce ensures that it isn’t being shipped from halfway around the globe and contributing significantly to carbon emissions.
5. Buy bulk and limit processed foods
Processed foods like chips tend to require a lot of energy, water, and waste to produce and usually come in lots of non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging. Buying loose produce and bulk items is much better for the environment and also for your health. Making your own granola, snack mixes, and other items that would usually come in lots of packaging is also a great way to simultaneously reduce food costs and reduce food waste/carbon footprint.
6. Say no to bottled beverages
Bottled and canned beverages not only produce a ton of plastic, glass, and aluminum waste, but these items are also some of the heaviest to ship and therefore often have very high carbon footprints. Tap water and reusable bottles are definitely the more sustainable, not to mention cheaper, way to go.
7. Grow your own food
Growing your own food eliminates carbon emissions from transportation and the massive amounts of food and water waste produced in large scale agriculture. Growing your own food also gives you control over the resources used in your food production such as pesticides and water so that you can use them more efficiently and responsibly than an agricultural company you would buy produce from would.
8. Avoid palm oil
Palm Oil production is responsible for massive amounts of tropical rainforest deforestation so make sure to avoid products such as peanut butter that use it.
My Personal Sustainable Eating Plan
Being 100% vegan or vegetarian is not a feasible lifestyle for me. Because I struggle with IBS and one of my main coping mechanisms has been limiting certain foods called high fodmap foods which include lentils, beans, and chickpeas as well as certain veggies and fruits, it would be too difficult for me to get enough nutrition on a 100% vegan or vegetarian diet. Additionally, meat and animal products are something I enjoy eating and a big part of my family’s diet, culture, and tradition. However, I do still want to eat more sustainably so rather than going 100% vegan or vegetarian, I have resolved to do a number of other things. First, I am going to try eating completely vegan/vegetarian two to three days a week, cook more vegetarian and vegan meals for my family, and limit my red meat consumption to about once a month on special occasions. I also plan to start going to the farmers market weekly or biweekly in an effort to buy and cook with more local and seasonal produce, and want to start buying things like nuts, seeds, and oats in bulk from Rainbow Grocery, an awesome grocery store near my house that has a ton of bulk items which you can stock up on using your own reusable containers. Lastly, I want to be more careful with the food, especially meat, I consume when eating out, asking questions about where it is sourced and how it is produced.
How are you planning to eat more sustainably?
Please let me know your thoughts, ideas, and plans for sustainable eating in the sustainable eating discussion I have posted in forums!
“Sustainable Eating,” Eat Right Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, last modified February 15, 2019, https://www.eatright.org/health/lifestyle/culture-and-traditions/sustainable-eating#:~:text=Sustainable%20agriculture%20enables%20us%20to,our%20environment%20and%20our%20bodies.
“Key Facts and Findings,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, accessed September 3, 2020, http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
“5 Tips for Sustainable Eating,” Harvard School of Public Health, accessed September 3, 2020, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/06/17/5-tips-for-sustainable-eating/
“A Guide to Sustainable Eating,” The New York Times, last modified April 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/well/eat/a-guide-to-sustainable-eating.html