9 effective tips to help you eat more sustainably

A family of three: mother, father and child having breakfast

A lot of people are trying to eat more sustainably, but it can be tough. The food system—which is a major indicator of sustainability—is still far from sustainable. The food system is one of the biggest contributors to climate change today. The majority of our land, water and energy is devoted to growing food that is then wasted. Needless to say, these impacts are not sustainable for humans or the planet. 

In fact, recent data suggests that we are eating more meat and fewer vegetables than previous generations. In the United States alone, this has created a problem with food waste because of surfeit production. To be sure, education will be needed to help shape attitudes toward sustainability and the food supply. With that in mind, here are 10 ways we can make the food system more sustainable:

And while large agri-businesses and feedlots are largely responsible for this global issue, let’s not overlook the role that each of us has in mitigating this problem. We all have an impact on our environment, be it as a consumer or as a producer. We all have the potential to create a more sustainable food system, but we need to work together as a community to do so. To make sustainable eating easier for everyone, Below are ten ways we can make the food system more sustainable.

A platter of colorful vegetables
Photo: Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

1. Say no to plastic bottles and containers

Let’s begin from the packaging itself. Choose from a wide range of reusable replacements from stainless steel to glass to say no to plastic bottles. Plus, plastic contains phthalates (to make them flexible). This chemical has been linked to a variety of conditions such as asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, autism, infertility, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reproductive issues, and more. So make the switch – for your health, as well as the planet. 

2. Optimize your grocery list based on food waste

For most of us, when we go to the grocery store, we write a list. And when we come home with the groceries, we put the stuff in the cupboards and freezer. And then what happens? We don’t use some of it, or more. So it sits unused until it goes bad, or you throw it away.

One way to change that is to do a simple exercise: Keep a track of what you throw away at the end of the week. The next time you go shopping, avoid those items or make a mindful mental checklist of what you’d use it for. It’s helpful for budgeting as well to avoid food waste.

3. Educate yourself on what food waste actually is

A lot of thing we may consider ‘food waste’ is actually perfectly good for eating. From vegetables with brown spots to fruits with soft spots; unless something is obviously stale, it is good to be eaten. Our interview with Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren of food-saving app Karma is has some helpful insights into what is and isn’t food waste

4. Work to lower meat consumption with family and friends

There is a lot said about this one already; a plant-based diet is so better for the planet. And the fact that demand for plant-based meat has increased even more during the pandemic shows the rising interest in this

If you are a hardcore carnivore, don’t worry! Take smaller steps with your friends, family or a community like Meatless Mondays where you quit meat once a week. Gradually cut down meat, you can even use apps like Ailuna to help you find a wonderful community & consistently move towards better eating habits.

Photo: Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

5. Optimize your grocery list based on how far your food travels before you eat it

The trick to eating sustainably is simple: don’t buy or eat things that come from far away. If the food doesn’t have to be shipped very far, it doesn’t emit much greenhouse gas. The farther it comes, the more it emits. I know that sounds daunting, but a simple look at the packaging can tell you how far it has travelled. 

Plus, local food is fresher, and tastes better. Freshness matters because the more time goes by between picking and eating, the less flavor the fruit or vegetable has. Buy whole fruits, vegetables and grains when they are in-season. Eating local also reduces food miles which saves energy – fuel-burned during transportation – and minimizes your carbon footprint. 

6. Make sure farmers get paid fairly

In connection with the earlier point, consuming more local food also supports your community’s economy more directly than purchasing food imported from elsewhere. As a result of buying locally produced foods, you are supporting the people who live nearby you as well as your community’s small businesses. 

At the same time, you can rally for farmer’s rights – online or in person, and try to buy from farmer’s markets or eat at farm to plate restaurants. You can even volunteer with a local farm and really deep dive into the food process.  

7. Plan your meals – and share these plans with friends

If you eat a lot of processed food, you’ll have a lot of packaging to recycle. And if you eat a lot of meat, you’ll be eating food that is resource-heavy for the planet. If you want to eat sustainably, the most important thing you can do is plan your meals.

Once you know what you’re having for dinner, it’s easy to avoid buying anything that’s not very sustainable. It takes surprisingly little time and effort to cook a sustainable and delicious meal if you’ve got a menu in hand; it takes much more time and effort if you’re wandering around the supermarket or ordering food last-minute trying to figure out what to eat (or buy) for dinner.

Photo: Discover Serbia on Unsplash

8. Pack a lunch or carry your reusable cultery to reduce your carbon footprint and cut costs

It’s a little thing, but it can make a big difference: just bring your lunch to work/ outing. Bringing lunch will eliminate one of your biggest sources of unnecessary spending and of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

After a few months of brown-bagging it, you’ll probably find yourself not even thinking about what you’re eating for lunch. Your taste buds will adjust; the menu options will expand; and you’ll feel good knowing that you’re doing something important and easy that will also save an average of $150 a month depending on where you live.

Most restaurants are still majorly offer plastic-filled packaging options, so if you must eat out, once thing you can do is carry your own cutlery. 

9. Get involved in a community garden 

If you are lucky enough to have a small yard, you can also grow food there. But if you don’t have enough space for a garden, you can still eat sustainably by joining a community garden. These gardens are sprouting up in many cities across the world. It’s social, it’s fun, and it’s great exercise. One study even found that people who grow their own food eat more fruits and vegetables than others do.

For the next few months, Eco-Spotlight will cover all things food, and the sustainable solutions gaining roots across the world to produce and consume better. We will be intersecting food with equality, people & planetary justice, the future of consumption, veganism, technology and more. For this, we will talk to experts in the field, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists and more. We will also be dipping into practical ideas like growing your own food and better ways of eating chocolate.

Each week, we will post a new story on the future of food. Let us know your thoughts on all things food and send us a message if there is a specific topic, organisation or person related to the issue that you want us to take a closer look at.

I'm Ayushi Shah and I co-founded Eco-Spotlight to tell stories of green innovation and remind the world (and myself) that there is hope for humanity and the planet. Reach out to me at ayushi (at) eco-spotlight (dot) com

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