As Mad Men showed us, there was a time when a person could feel good about their consumption if it included only a minimal number of cigarettes, cocktails and calories. Yes, it was a simpler time…Today our greater awareness leads us to consider not only the healthfulness, but the carbon footprint, environmental impact, and sustainability of what we consume. This article is not meant to send you on a guilt trip. I know sometimes one must succumb to the craving for a perfect Peruvian mango in the dead of winter. I’ve been there. What I hope it will do is give you the information to make better choices most of the time. Striving to do so (in any area of life) is a noble pursuit and far more rewarding than striving for perfection.
1. Remember this quote from sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe:
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want”
I find if I keep this in mind when shopping I am automatically more conscious of the impact of production of whatever I’m buying. It also makes me feel better when making a responsible food choice either costs a little more or takes extra effort.
2.Buy Organics: It’s a well-known fact that eating organics will limit your exposure to potentially harmful pesticides, however the benefits don’t stop there. Organic food production follows certain standards that promote biodiversity, sustainability, natural plant fertilization, natural pest management and soil integrity. USDA-certified organic foods cannot contain synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or antibiotics and production cannot involve genetic engineering. Organically produced animals must eat 100% organic feed, no growth hormones, and have access to the outdoors. Many organic foods do cost more than their conventionally grown counterparts so check out the EWG’s Shoppers guide to Pesticides in Produce to find out which produce has the most pesticide residue and which is least contaminated. Also remember even small changes in consumer buying behavior can collectively have a huge impact…
3.Buy Local, Eat Seasonally: Buying food produced locally and in season will greatly reduce the carbon footprint of your diet. You’ll also be supporting your local economy. Farmers markets are a great place to meet farmers and learn about their practices. Many farms even allow visitors so you can see exactly where and how your produce and meat (if you eat it) is raised. Joining a CSA is another great way to support local farms and ensures you’ll have a steady supply of fresh produce. Some CSA programs even offer eggs, meat, dairy, flowers or other farm products. Check out localharvest.org to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area.
4.Eat Less Meat and Dairy and Choose Wisely: Meat production accounts for about 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. This is due to feed production, and the, ahem, “digestive process” and manure of livestock. If you are a meat-lover try making one meal a day meat-free, join the Meatless Monday campaign by giving up meat one day a week, and/or make more vegetable and legume based dishes using meat as an accent rather than the focus the meal. These choices are not only good for planet but recommended by many health experts. Click here for Meatless Recipes. When you do buy meat or dairy look for free-range, grass fed, organic products and remember even meat is seasonal. There’s a reason we have turkey at Thanksgiving — the birds mature in the fall. Look for lamb in spring and goose around Christmas.
5.Eat Sustainable Seafood: Many species are overfished or farmed in a way which is damaging to the environment. Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website for better alternatives. There you download a regional pocket guide to ocean friendly seafood and sushi or get the Seafood Watch app for your Android or iPhone. For on-the-spot ratings, text the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone — 30644 — with the message “fish” and the kind you’re planning to buy.
6.Grow Your Own: Starting an edible garden means you’ll know exactly how your fruits, veggies and/or herbs are grown. Not only is homegrown produce delicious but you’ll save on your grocery bill. As food activist Ron Finley says “Growing your own food is like printing your own money”.
But what if you don’t have a backyard? Container gardening is a great option for apartment dwellers and many areas have community gardens that are open to all.
7.Make Things from Scratch: Not only does homemade food taste better but you’ll consume many less preservatives and chemicals when you cook at home. Homemade meals generates less waste from packaging and you can ensure that you use parts of your ingredients that might otherwise get thrown away. For example use beet, radish and carrot tops in recipes or juices or make broth with your chicken carcass etc. If you are short on time, try cooking or doing food prep in bulk one day a week and…
8.Learn how to Freeze and Preserve: This will help make sustainable eating more, well…sustainable. You’ll be able to save produce for when it is out of season, prevent waste and buy in bulk when you find good deals. Check out resources like SBcanning and National Center For Home Preservation for all the how-tos. Now I’m sure some dedicated souls will not agree with this step because of the energy required for it, but I’m a realist and there is a good chance you’ll want to eat tomato sauce at some point during the winter. Isn’t it better if it comes from organic tomatoes canned by you in a reusable jar?
9.Buy Fewer Bottled Drinks: Here is another way to save money- drink filtered water. Carry it with you in a stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic bottle throughout the day. Americans spend billions of dollars buying billions of bottles of water every year and up to 80% of those containers end up in Landfills. It’s also easy to make your own juice. If you like sparkling water or drinks buy a soda maker and make it at home or the office. Try adding juice, homemade syrups, or muddled fruit for flavor. Yes, these work fabulously in cocktails as well. Oh, and have you tried homemade bitters or hard apple cider? The possibilities are endless.
10.Be Package and Ingredient Aware: When shopping at the grocery store opt for products with the smallest amount of recyclable or biodegradable packaging. Recycle or reuse whatever you can. Check labels to avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives in the ingredients list. Bring your reusable bags to the store instead of using plastic bags. An increasing number of cities (including Beverly Hills) have made it against the law for stores to give away plastic bags so the sooner you get in this habit the better.
As demand for sustainable foods grows so will the number of responsible producers. For more ideas and information on sustainable eating go to SustainableTable.org. xJacq