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How to Eat a More Sustainable Diet

Most of us consider the health benefits when choosing food to buy, and how it affects our bodies, but how often do we stop to consider the environmental impact that it takes to get that food to the grocery store? As we learn more about climate change and how our dietary habits affect the environment, we should make an attempt to move towards a diet that has a low impact on the environment, and therefore supports the longevity of the planet’s resources.The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) defines sustainable diets

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) defines sustainable diets as: “diets with low environmental impacts which 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.”

What’s wrong with our current system?

It takes an amazing amount of resources (land, water, feed, etc.) to produce the huge amounts of meat and poultry that we eat, especially in the Western diet. The livestock sector is considered one of the top contributors to serious environmental problems – even globally. This is due to activities like feed production and handling (including land use), manure processing, methane gas produced by the animals, and deforestation to create new pastures. Producing meat uses 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly as pasture, but that also includes land used to grow feed.

Many large-scale farms use fertilizers and pesticides to produce high volumes of crops. These can linger on food, but also pollute the land and can run off into water systems. Crops are then shipped around the world, which in turn uses equipment (including the resources needed to the keep the food refrigerated or frozen if needed) and fuel.

Consider the distance your food travels from where it is produced. These have been coined “food miles.” If your food doesn’t travel as far (for example, if you are eating food that is grown locally), it has less of an impact on the overall environment.

What can you possibly do? Small changes help. Try one (or more!) of the following.

Shop at farmer’s markets, where farmers offer locally grown produce or locally sourced animal products. Ask the farmer about the methods used to produce their food to learn more.

Eat more plants and less meat. Try to center your meals on vegetables instead of meat, or eat vegetarian one day per week.

Choose sustainably sourced and caught seafood. Although fish is a healthy option nutritionally, overfishing is greatly reducing the ocean’s populations. Further, methods used in commercial fishing often impact the habitats of other species.

Reduce food waste: freeze leftovers, use produce even if it isn’t perfect looking.

Recycle packaging where possible in your own kitchen – wash and reuse jars or bottles. Food packaging is not sustainable due to the production of plastics as well as the potential pollution when discarded.

Eat less processed foods. Processing food uses more resources than whole foods and often results in more food miles.

Use these small changes to help reduce our impact on the environment so the planet’s resources can be used for a long time.

[Image via Getty]

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