By Ivette Fematt Dietetic Intern Bronx VA Medical Center
Whether you’re planning a meal, grocery shopping or dining out, have you ever thought about how your food choices impact the environment? We can have a positive impact on our environment by simply asking simple questions such as, where does my food come from? Is it organic and/or local? How was it grown or raised? How much energy went into producing it? How was it transported? How far did it travel to reach my plate? In other words, is it sustainable?
Eating sustainability is about making a conscious decision to choose foods that are beneficial not just to our health, but also to the environment. Research shows that modern agricultural farming practices are highly damaging to the environment. The inputs alone in food production such as water usage, transportation, storage and preparation methods contribute to “30-40% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) globally”1,3. It has become clear that the supply and value chains created to service our dietary choices are full of inefficiency and waste. Rather than despair, consumers should feel empowered that their decisions can contribute to making positive changes. Here are some helpful tips to practice sustainable eating:
1. Source local ingredients by exploring farmer’s markets. Purchasing seasonal local produce, fish, eggs, dairy and meat is a major step in reducing our carbon footprint by reducing the food mileage. Not only are you helping the environment but you can learn about how your food was grown/raised from the people who are producing it.
2. Start your own garden. Growing your own herbs or vegetables will reduce food mileage. If you live in a big city, seek out community-gardens or Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA).
3. Choose plant-based proteins such as legumes, beans and tofu over meat (see recipe below). The carbon emissions of these foods are up to 40 times less, compared to meats such as lamb, beef, and pork2. Cutting down on meat also means cutting down on water usage for large industrial farming purposes.
4. If going plant-based doesn’t work for you, try meatless Mondays. Reducing meat intake even just once a week can positively impact our planet and support sustainability. When consuming meat make sure to know how and where it was raised. Little changes are better than none at all.
5. Prepare more food at home. You will help save the resources required to produce packaged goods and as an added benefit save some money. Preparing our food can be an empowering process and gives us control to know what is in the meal we are consuming.
On your path to adapting a more sustainable lifestyle, here are some foods to consider adding: lentils, beans, peas, barley, oats, rice, buckwheat, leafy green vegetables, olives, tomatoes, local seasonal fish and all local/seasonal fruits and vegetables.
1. Brannon, Keith. Lower-carbon Diets Are Good for You and the Planet. Tulane University. https://news.tulane.edu/pr/study-lower-carbon-diets-aren%E2%80%99t-just-good-planet-they%E2%80%99re-also-healthier. Published January 24, 2019. Accessed September 11, 2019.
2. Meat Eaters Guide: Report. Environmental Working Group Website. https://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/ Published 2011. n.d. Accessed September 11, 2019.
3. Rose D, Heller M, Willits-Smith A, Meyer R. Carbon footprint of self-selected US diets: nutritional, demographic, and behavioral correlates, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019;109(3):526-534. http://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy327.