Starting your family on a path to sustainable eating is a great thing to do for the environment. It can also be excellent for your household budget, and it can help your family to eat healthier too. However, there’s more to sustainable and responsible eating than simply picking up a few vegetables at the farmers market. There are various issues you should consider if you want to get it right and help both your family and the environment. If you don’t think about them, you might not have much of an impact, or you could even make things worse in some ways. If you want to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the food issues you should think about.
How Locally Are You Really Buying?
When you think about how to eat more sustainably, you’re likely to see many people recommend taking a local approach. Eating locally-sourced food means that your food hasn’t had to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to your plate. It might have come from just a few miles away. However, you need to make sure that the food you buy is really as local as you think it is.
What does local mean anyway? There’s no exact definition, but some people say food from within a 100-mile radius of your home is about right. Others will say more and definitions could include within a particular county, region, or even country. So if you’re buying food that says it’s grown locally, check where it’s actually grown. It’s up to you to set your boundaries of what local means.
Understand the Science
Food, like medicine, can be steeped in myths, misunderstandings, and sometimes outright lies. If you want to take a scientific and fact-based approach to sustainable eating, there can be a lot of false information to wade through. Many scientists, for example, will say that there is no problem with eating genetically-modified foods. In fact, they can often help to feed certain populations who might otherwise not be getting the nutrients they need. However, there are many other people who think GM foods are bad to eat and bad for the environment.
If you really want to understand the science of sustainable eating, you should use resources such as scientific journals and magazines, or even documentaries with scientific evidence behind them. Avoid “food bloggers” without a background in dietary studies, or any scientific or economic knowledge, as well as sensational documentaries.
Ensure Food is Safe
Your food might be sourced locally and sustainably, but that doesn’t automatically make it safe and healthy. Food that comes from a small farm might not be as heavily regulated as some other foods. You still need to check that your food is safe, especially if there might not be a regulatory authority doing it for you. If you’re worried, you can find resources online that highlight the latest salmonella issues and other problems with food poisoning and food safety. You’ll notice that there can often be problems with fresh fruit and vegetables, and not just meat or fish. There are also some extra precautions you might take if you buy food somewhere like a farmers market. For example, you might be extra sure to wash fruit before eating it.
Find Responsible Restaurants
If you want to eat a sustainable diet, you need to think about eating out, as well as what you eat at home. It’s not always easy to find out about the ingredients a restaurant uses, but many are becoming more transparent about their suppliers and the ingredients they source. There are many restaurants that are proud to talk about their local and sustainable food, which makes it easier for you to find somewhere you’re happy to eat. You can often look on their website to find out about their food. Of course, many restaurants will also advertise their approach outside and inside the property, and you can speak to servers about where their ingredients come from.
Understand Food Labels and Terminology
When you look for sustainable foods, you’re likely to come across the same terms. It’s important to know what some of them mean, or even if they have any clear meaning at all. If “local” doesn’t have an exact definition, you can assume that there are other words and phrases that aren’t clearly defined too. For example, a free-range (or cage-free) egg needs to come from birds that have access to the outdoors, according to the USDA, but there are no rules about the quality of that space. Some egg producers might also use “barn-roaming,” which means the birds are free to roam inside but aren’t outdoors. Another term with a vague definition is “organic.” Organic foods are regulated, but synthetic substances can be used to control pests in some circumstances so your food might not be as organic as you think.
Growing Your Own Food
Many people who want to eat sustainably contemplate growing their own food. This can include both growing fruits, vegetables and other plants, and perhaps raising your own animals for meat, dairy or eggs. Producing your own food could be easier than you think, but there are still some things you need to think about carefully. You should consider the time and space required to do what you want to do, whether you want to grow some herbs or have some chickens. It’s also important to think about how to grow, eat and preserve your food safely. For example, when you’re canning something, you need to ensure everything is sterile.
Consider Vegetarian and Vegan Diets Carefully
It might seem obvious that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is more sustainable than eating meat and/or dairy products. However, before you choose either one of these diets, it might be a good idea to think again. Take a look at the available foods you could be eating on one of these diets. Can you get locally-sourced grains, tofu, and meat and dairy replacements? Sometimes, it might be better to eat locally-sourced and responsibly-produced animal products if you’re aiming for a sustainable diet.
If you want to eat sustainably, it might not be as simple as you thought it would be. There are some issues worth considering if you want to get it right.