Beginning on the journey of conscious eating can be quite intimidating. There is a myriad of factors to consider when making a purchase, and often limited information on the product to help you make a decision.
To start, the health implications of the product is an important factor that influences your purchasing behavior. Additionally, you may be considering some other factors such as food miles, water usage, and emissions made during production. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by various factors that contribute to the health of the planet and yourself. Sometimes eating the weeds in the garden seems like the most logical choice.
The products people purchase typically have health associated with each product purchased, the cost is always a factor that influences purchasing decisions, and then the tactics of greenwashing can be lurking within the packaging or product. While health is always a priority in determining what you will eat, the factors contributing to sustainability should also be top of mind.
With this in mind, here is a list of four things you can do on your journey to have a more sustainable diet.
1. Buy local
Buying local is one of the best ways to decrease your amount of food miles. A few ways you can buy locally year-round include, joining a Co-Op. A Co-Op is a grocery store that is owned by neighbors and designed to build community. Most Co-ops pair with local farms to get fresh produce you can learn more about co-ops here.
Another way to buy local is to shop at your local farmers market or join a CSA. Many towns have adopted farmers markets where farmers come from local farms and set up shop for a few hours for locals to come to buy produce. It’s a great opportunity to get to know your farmers and buy what’s in season. If you’re not near a farmers market, you may want to look into a CSA or a community-supported agriculture. I tend to gravitate towards farmer’s markets to pick my preferred selection, however, it can sometimes be a gamble.
On the nights you don’t feel like cooking, support your local restaurants and businesses. You may not realize it, but many of the franchises in your area such as Wendy’s are owned and operated as independent businesses by people in your neighborhood. With a franchise, business owners need to pay some type of royalty regularly determined by their agreement to stay within the operation and under the brand names of the corporation. You can learn more about these types of franchises here. Independent small businesses tend to offer more variety and personalization to your food whereas franchises can be a bit more rigid. Ultimately, it’s your discretion where you wish to purchase from; however, it’s important to note that small businesses may be hiding in plain sight.
2. Be Conscious of your Food Waste
It is widely established that food waste significantly contributes to carbon emissions. As food decomposes in landfills, it does not decompose. Not to mention the wasted resources that went into making the product. You can read more about food waste here.
Planning your meals can be a great time and money saver. This way you can ensure your food is accounted for and you can commit to a sustainable meal plan. This also allows you to be creative in the kitchen and try new recipes. When you’re preparing food in the kitchen, you can set aside your food scraps for vegetable stock or compost.
Compositing is one of the best methods available to handle food scraps and food waste, however, this topic merits a separate article for its breadth. We will post more about methods of composting in future articles.
3. Expect to pay a little bit more
Food that is produced on a large scale often has a team of procurement specialists bargaining with suppliers to lower their prices to increase the growth margin. From experience working on the supplier side, procurement managers can be quite aggressive and sometimes almost insulting. With cost in mind, there is little room for farmers to earn a living wage for their efforts. In fact, over half the small farmers in the US bring in less than $10,000 annually, meaning they need to supplement their income. Livable wages are essential for our economy and to keep our farmers above the poverty line so they can continue to grow our food.
Food that uses sustainable practices can sometimes cost more as well. For example, upcycling food is a newer trend that has come to light recently, which is the practice of taking a bi-product of food, turning it into a side stream for another use. Some may think that this side stream should attribute to a lower price, however, the repurposing of materials to be again food-grade takes technological advancements and additional time to process. This means the cost will be higher.
Companies, products, and businesses that have great sustainability stories and practices often pay workers fair wages throughout their supply chain. The costs also increase from increased costs of more sustainable packaging, operation, and distribution. These increased costs are then passed onto the consumer, leading to a more expensive product.
Understandably, not everyone will be able to utilize this approach. Farmers’ markets can present more affordable options, and if there is time in your schedule, some co-ops offer discounts for those who volunteer time to the establishment.
One of the greatest impacts we can make is with our wallets. If you’re able to, choose to financially support companies whose values align with yours.
4. Expect to put in some more work in the kitchen
Processed foods gained their popularity from their ease and convenience. The great thing about processed foods is that they cut the amount of time needed to spend in the kitchen. Much of the selection expedites preparing your food to the time you can eat it, sometimes in under a minute. Even some of our produce is prepared to create an instant mise en place or even eliminates the need for one at all.
Convenience is a great thing, however, it can oftentimes lead to excess packaging and heavily processed foods. The further your food is processed, the less nutrition is available. This is not a sustainable way to achieve nutritionally balanced meals throughout your diet. Buying produce from the farmers market is a great way to eat more sustainability, however, most times it requires a little extra preparation, but ultimately is worth it in the long run.
While convenience is everything some days, there are things you can do to help you save time in the kitchen such as meal prepping, chopping vegetables ahead of time, and making large batches of food, and freezing some. Made to Sustain brings you new tips and advice every other week to help you along with this process.
We hope you enjoyed this article on how to eat more sustainably and make more sustainable food choices for you and the planet. Follow Made to Sustain to stay up to date on our latest content.