As we become a more food-savvy society, consumers are looking beyond the supermarket shelf and exploring how their food is produced. Where does all this food come from?
Consider that, for example, livestock production – which includes meat, milk and eggs – contributes
40 percent of global agricultural gross domestic product, and uses one-third of the world’s fresh water (1). As one article put it, “There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.” (1)
It’s clear that what we put on our plates has a big impact on the environment. Eating more healthfully and more sustainably go hand-in-hand, meaning we can develop sustainable eating practices that improve our own health while also benefiting the health of the planet.
5 tips for sustainable eating
1. Prioritize plants
The Healthy Eating Plate suggests filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits as part of an optimal diet, but planning our meals around produce benefits the planet as well. Shifting to a more plant-based way of eating will help reduce freshwater withdrawals and deforestation (2) —a win-win for both our personal health and the environment.
2. Minimize meat
The Healthy Eating Plate already suggests reducing red meat, and now there’s another reason to treat it more as a condiment than a main dish. Meat production is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – beef production especially – and the environmental burden deepens, as raising and transporting livestock also requires more food, water, land, and energy than plants (3). To eat for our own health as well as that of the planet, we should consider picking non-meat proteins such as nuts and legumes.
3. Select new seafood
Fish can be a healthy choice if part of an overall healthy dietary style, but some species are at risk of being overfished, or produced in ways that harm the marine environment. If your go-to variety of fish is on the “avoid” list, consider trying some new seafood.
4. Look local
Exploring farmers markets helps you find fresh produce grown locally, but equally important, you can meet the people who produce your food. Such relationships are opportunities for education: you can learn how your food was grown, when it was harvested, and even how to prepare it.
5. Eat mindfully
One of the simplest things you can do to eat more sustainably is to practice mindful eating. Focusing on what you’re eating allows you to reflect on where your food came from and how it is nourishing your body. Additionally, by tuning in to your hunger signals you may learn that you don’t need as much food as you thought, and resize your meals accordingly. By paying more attention to how we eat and thinking about the “bigger picture,” we may alter our food consumption and reduce food waste, as well as become encouraged to seek out more sustainable food sources.
1. Walsh, B. The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production. Time. December 16, 2013.
2. Rockström J, Willett W, Stordalen GA. An American Plate That Is Palatable for Human and Planetary Health. Huffington Post. March 26, 2015.
3. Barclay E. A Nation of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up. NPR. June 27, 2012.