Eating sustainably is one of the leading ways you can be kinder to the planet. If you are in a position to be able to eat more mindfully, then it is a fantastic thing to do.
What is the definition of eating sustainably?
It is a way of eating that can be maintained indefinitely. It is not harmful to the environment and does not deplete natural resources.
There are limitations on eating sustainably for everyone
We do not live in a perfect world and so not everyone has the same access to sustainable food, or the means to afford and time to prepare it. You can only do what is within your means and that is absolutely fine. We do not live in a world that is built to be sustainable.
Personally, through trial and error we have slowly learnt how to be kinder to the planet by eating sustainably. We have been incorporating everything we have discovered into our daily lives. We are not perfect, but we hope we can give you some new ideas and help you on your journey.
1. By buying whole foods and cooking from scratch
Eating whole foods and cooking from scratch is a great way to not only eat healthier but be kinder to the planet as well. Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and include items such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. A lot less energy is required for whole foods as they are not processed. They are also much more easily available unpackaged or in recyclable materials such as cardboard, glass jars or tins. Whereas processed foods will usually come packaged in plastic that cannot usually be recycled.
Cooking from scratch also means you know exactly what is in your food. This means you can avoid unfavourable ingredients such as excessive salt, sugar and preservatives. We also like to keep a selection of dry, long-lasting staples in our cupboard such as lentils, tinned tomatoes, pasta, beans and spices. We can easily cook a wholesome meal even if we have no fresh produce at the time. This stops the need of running to the shops for a convenience meal or ordering a takeaway.
2. By eating organic
There are so many benefits to organic food. It’s much better for the wildlife and environment as it reduces pollution, soil erosion, conserves water and biodiversity as well as increases soil fertility. It also uses less energy overall, not only due to the processes involved with growing the food but also how it is distributed. Most organic food is sold locally meaning less carbon emissions for transportation. As organic food has been grown without pesticides, it is much healthier for us. It is also often fresher as it does not contain preservatives that make it last unnaturally longer. Although currently the organic food system is not perfect, we do believe it is still the best way to grow food.
3. By buying fair trade
By purchasing fair trade certified foods you are helping encourage eco-friendly production methods as well as reduce poverty and protect humane working conditions. Some common items that you should look to buy fair trade are coffee, bananas, chocolate, nuts, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar and tea.
4. By buying local produce from the farmer’s market
Eating local produce is one of the best ways you can eat more sustainably. If the food has been grown nearby then it has not taken a lot of energy (transportation and storage) to reach you. Therefore the carbon footprint of your food will be much lower. We always prioritise buying our fresh produce from the farmer’s market. You can do a Google search to find one near you to visit.
At the market there will be lots of local farmers selling what they have grown themselves as well as people selling produce that has been flown in. Just because it’s being sold at the market does not necessarily mean it is local. Often the stallholders will have labels as to where their food has come from so you will be able to see whether it is local or not. There will also be a range of people selling both organic and non-organic. If it is unclear what someone is selling, just ask!
5. By buying local produce from your community
We love to buy fresh produce from our local community. We have found that there are a large number of people who love to grow their own fruit and vegetables in their gardens simply for the pure joy of it. They often grow more than they can eat or have fruiting trees with far more fruit than they know what to do with. Instead of letting it spoil and waste they sell to the public at a low price, or sometimes even give it away. As well as it being local and packaging free, it will often also be organic. You can simply ask them to check.
If you live in the countryside you will have more luck finding these people but we have found great fruit and vegetables available in bigger towns too. We tend to find these people by searching online on Facebook, both on the marketplace and in local groups. We also find them when visiting our local boot fair/flea market/yard sale; anywhere regular people are selling their second hand belongings we find they are often selling their surplus fruit and vegetables as well.
6. By buying local produce from the supermarket
Sometimes it is not always possible to go to a local food market; there might not be one near you, you might not be available when it’s on, or you might not be able to get there. However we have found locally grown food in our area in the supermarkets. From our experience in the supermarkets fresh produce always has a label telling you where it has come from so you can decide whether you would like to buy it or not.
7. By eating in season produce
Eating in season produce is closely linked to eating locally, but they are definitely not the same thing. Something may be grown locally to you but not be in season. For example, you could live in the UK and have bought strawberries that were grown in Kent in December. While they are locally grown, strawberries don’t naturally grow in the winter therefore they would have been grown in very specific, artificial conditions which creates a large carbon footprint.
Another common example is apples: most apples are in season in the autumn but you can buy them year round. Buying apples in April often means they would have been treated and stored in cold storage warehouses which yet again gives them a large carbon footprint. There have been studies shown that growing tomatoes in the winter to sell to the local community in that area has a worse carbon footprint than flying over tomatoes from a country where they are currently in season.
It is definitely something to keep in mind. You can find out what is in season in your area by doing a simple Google search. This is a great resource for anyone living in the UK. It is difficult to eat in season all of the time, but definitely choosing more in season produce is a great step forward.
8. By buying the lonely or ugly fresh produce
Deformed or lonely produce is most likely to end up getting wasted; sometimes it doesn’t even end up on the shelves in supermarkets as consumers only like to buy the perfect fruit and vegetables. But by buying the lone bananas or super curvy cucumber is such a simple way to show demand for these products, so less food is wasted. If you don’t see any misshaped or lonely fruit or vegetables on display, just ask and they may have some out the back of the shop.
9. By getting a fruit and vegetable box
With a simple search you can find companies who will deliver a regular box of seasonal, locally grown organic fresh produce. It is a great alternative if you are not able to go out to shop, or want to save time. If you are in the UK we recommend Riverford.
10. By limiting the number of times you go out to buy food
We only go out to buy food once a week. We go to the farmer’s market every week, and as the supermarket and bulk store is only around the corner, we go to them all in the same trip. If you tie in all your food shopping into one outing, it saves you travelling out multiple times and so you reduce your carbon footprint leading to eating sustainably.
11. By foraging for some of your own food
Another great way of eating in season produce is to forage locally to you. It is amazing what can be found this way! Some of our favourite and easy to forage items are blackberries, sweet chestnuts, dandelions, wild garlic, elder, nettles and rosehips. A plethora of different things can be made with these items and it’s fun to experiment in the kitchen. Just remember when you forage to only take what you need and leave behind plenty for others and the wildlife.
12. By drinking more tap water
Buying a bottle of water, juice, or fizzy drink creates not only waste but also has a higher carbon footprint as well. This is due to the weight of these products meaning transportation emissions are high. Instead drink more tap water (use a water filter if you need to) to reduce your footprint even further.
13. By eating a variety of food
If you eat a variety of food it is not only good for you but good for the planet as well. It has been reported that the average American eats more fats, oils, added sugars, proteins and grains than recommended, and not enough fruit and vegetables. By eating too much of these types of foods, it can put a strain on the planet due to the increased amount of energy and water that is required for them to grow compared to fruits and vegetables. So make your plate colourful whilst eating sustainably!
14. By not over-eating
Only eat what you know you need, instead of eating more just because it tastes good! We love good food too, but overconsumption of food is a serious problem so learning what quantity of food you need and being more mindful is definitely encouraged.
15. By growing your own food
There is no better feeling than eating something you have grown yourself.
Even if you’re not an avid gardener, or you don’t even have a garden, it can be fairly straightforward to grow some of your own food. Growing your own helps the planet as the food hasn’t had to travel to get to you, and therefore there is no carbon emissions from transportation.. Windowsills can be great for herbs, micro greens, salad greens and spring onions. Take it up a notch and try planting some vegetables in your garden!
16. Reducing or eliminating your animal product consumption
A huge 51% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are a result of livestock and their by-products. If everyone reduced their meat consumption by 15%, it would have the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as taking 240 million cars off the road each year (Source: Meatless Mondays). Those are some crazy numbers! There is a wealth of research out there that shows that eating a plant-based (or vegan) diet is one of the biggest single ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.
17. By buying food without packaging waste
If you walk into any supermarket, you will see aisles upon aisles of food wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Plastic takes hundred of years to break down, so when we eat the food and throw the plastic wrapper away, it doesn’t really ‘go away’. It either ends up in landfill, incinerated, or pollutes our planet (typically in the ocean). When it comes to food packaging plastic is the main offender. Although there are other types of packaging waste such as cardboard, glass and metal, these are easily and widely recycled or composted.
If you have access to somewhere that does unpackaged food, whether it’s fresh produce or food in bulk, it is easy to be able to reduce your waste. Simply take your own bags and containers to eliminate the need for disposable items such as plastic bags. We bought a collection of cotton produce bags that we absolutely love and use all the time. You can also re-purpose old jars as well. We also buy bread from our local bakery unpackaged. Living in France we have our local boulangerie which we feel very fortunate to have! If you don’t have a bakery near you, a lot of supermarkets will have a bakery section so you can buy your bread unpackaged there. Just remember to take your own bag.
18. If you don’t have access to unpackaged food, buy recyclable materials instead
A simple solution if you do not have access to a bulk store is to buy your dried goods in cardboard. For example pasta, rice and oats. You can also buy sauces in jars, and tins of beans/lentils/tomatoes. It is not a perfect solution but, it is good to know that everything you are buying can be recycled. You are massively reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfill or worse, our oceans.
19. Reduce your food waste
A whopping 1/3 of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. That is about 1.3 billion tonnes per year (Source: Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology). There are so many little ways to reduce your food waste, from meal planning, to storing food correctly, to composting. When food waste ends up in landfill and starts to break down, it releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is up to 30 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. (Although it should be noted that although methane is better at trapping heat, it does break down out of the atmosphere quicker than carbon dioxide).
20. Eating sustainably by preserving foods to eat out of their season
We love to prepare and preserve all sorts of different foods when they are in abundance to use when they are out of season. A great way is canning, and there are lots of easy things to can: tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and carrots to name just a few. We love making jams with our summer fruits as well that we can enjoy throughout the winter! It’s one of our favourite ways of eating sustainably.
21. Take your own food and drink in reusable containers when you go out
A great way of reducing your impact on the go is to take your own food and drink with you. This firstly ensures you know where your food has come from. But also by using your own containers you also are not creating waste. We take our reusable water bottles with us absolutely everywhere we go.
22. Take your own coffee cup and cutlery when you go out
Instead of getting a disposable coffee cup or single-use plastic cutlery when you are out, take your reusable with you. A reusable coffee cup, water bottle and cutlery, even a container to take leftovers home in. You will help stop so much waste being produced from single-use plastics that end up polluting our environment.
There are so many little changes you can make to eat more sustainably. There will also be limitations and challenges due to your personal situation, but do not feel discouraged. You cannot change overnight, it will take time to figure out and fit into your lifestyle. Do not try and do everything at once but be mindful and take each day as it comes. Bookmark this resource and refer to it down the line to see where you can improve in the future. Do your absolute best and know we are with you, cheering you on!