The definition of sustainability is based on the principle that everything we need for our survival and well-being depends, directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and preserve the conditions under which humans and nature can live in effective harmony to support present and future generations.
Agriculture is the largest cause of global environmental change today. It’s responsible for deforestation, desertification, damage to coastal reefs and marine ecosystems and climate change.
According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, food production accounts for the following:
- Contributes approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the livestock sector alone represents almost half (14.5%) of these emissions
- Occupies about 40% of global land
- Uses 70% of freshwater
- Is the largest factor threatening species with extinction
- Causes eutrophication (nutrient overload) and dead zones in lakes and coastal areas
- Has led to a majority (~60%) of the world fish stocks to be fully fished or overfished (33%) – only 7% are under-fished
Those are staggering numbers and makes you realize that our current food system is unsustainable for long-term survival. Especially if you consider that by 2050 the world population is estimated to reach close to 10 billion people. We are currently at circa 7 billion inhabitants. Many of them eat diets low in quality.
With all that in mind, it seems obvious that we have to adjust to a more sustainable diet with lower environmental impacts and ensure a future for this expanded population that has both enough food available to eat and access to high quality, nutritious foods.
When it comes to nutritional value in our food, I wrote another blog post on regenerative agriculture if you want to freshen up on the topic.
What Is A Sustainable Diet?
The FAO’s definition of sustainable diets:
“Sustainable Diets are those diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.“
Developing sustainable eating practices improves your own health and benefits the health of the planet. They go hand-in-hand.
Here’s What You Can Do
1. Eat Primarily Plant-Based
Fill the larger center of your plate with vegetables and fruit. Shifting to a more plant-based way of eating will help reduce freshwater withdrawals and deforestation.
Or go fully vegan, but you must find the right plant-based diet that works for you. Following a plant-based diet is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease amongst other health benefits.
2. Minimize Meat Consumption
Americans are obsessed with protein. According to a federal estimate many eat too much protein every day, especially animal protein in the form of red meat. That’s very bad news, not only for an environmental impact but also for health. There are associations between diets heavy in red and processed meats and chronic diseases, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer research has found. If you buy animal protein look for Animal Welfare Approved meat and eggs.
Switching to protein-rich plants like beans, nuts and peas not only benefit your health but also the planet says a report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) from January 2019.
3. Shop Sustainable Seafood
Overfishing has damaged the marine environment, polluted our waters and depleted the oceans of popular species. For that reason fish farming has become a popular alternative to wild fishing to reduce this decline and replenish fish stocks.
If you are purchasing farmed fish, try to pick a fish that was raised in a closed system (a “recirculating farm”). It reduces pollution concerns and keep the farmed fish from escaping into the wild. Also make sure that it was not fed a diet containing fish meal.
If farmed fish is not for you and your go-to choice of fish is on the “avoid list”, consider trying some new seafood.
4. Shop Local
Shop at the local Farmer’s markets and eat seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s fresher, tastier and more nutritious than food consumed out of season. Farmers markets help you find fresh produce grown locally, but also, you can meet the people who produce your food and ask them about the farming practices they use to raise and harvest the crops. Buy USDA Organic, Regenerative Organic Certified, and Non-GMO Project Verified when buying produce.
Or sign up for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is a partnership between eaters and farmers and get your fruits and veggies straight delivered from the farm to your door.
5. Reduce Food Packaging
Only a minimum of food packaging (clam shells, single-use cups, cereal boxes, etc.) is actually recycled. Instead they end up in landfills. Choose minimally processed whole foods with as little packaging as possible. After all you don’t need to buy bell peppers packaged in plastic or a banana in a produce bag.
6. Eat Mindfully
Practice mindful eating. Reflect on where your food is coming from and how it nourishes your body. This naturally will encourage you to seek out more healthy and sustainable food sources. It will also help you to tune into your hunger signals and you might learn that you don’t need as much food as you thought and it will make you adjust the size of your meals, which in turn reduces food waste. The average household wastes around 30% of the food it buys.
Changing what you eat reduces your environmental footprint immensely and can make a major contribution to the environmental performance of the food system. It’s one of the most sustainable things you can do!