Eating More Sustainably

The calm before the winter storm, the shoulder season, is an opportune time to pause, reflect and evaluate if our present habits reflect our deeper values. With environmental sustainability at the forefront of many of our minds, it is encouraging to note that seemingly small everyday behaviours, like choosing what we eat, can result in big impacts. Industrial agriculture and factory farming are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Excessive food packaging and waste are dire issues. A few simple changes can have a big influence on the food industry’s environmental sustainability. Following are five ways to make more conscious and progressive choices in regards to food:

1. Seasonal Local Produce
Where seasonal produce flourishes, it can be bought and consumed in its most natural, healthy form without being shipped vast distances. It is better for you and better for the planet. By purchasing in-season produce sourced from a nearby supplier, you not only help decrease food mileage emissions, but you’ll also enjoy more delicious nutrient-dense products.

2. Fewer Animal Products
In a 2006 report, the United Nations stated that farming animals for food creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Pollution caused by transportation makes up approximately 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions, while livestock is responsible for between 14.5 to 18%. The kicker is that while transportation creates carbon dioxide, livestock farming produces enormous amounts of methane which is 23 times more damaging to global warming than CO2. Meatless Monday is a global movement to avoid eating meat for one day a week. If the world took part in Meatless Monday, it is estimated meat consumption would lower by 15% leading to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 240 million cars off the road each year. If one person does not eat animal products for one day, it is estimated they save over 1,000 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest and 20 pounds of CO2.

3. Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk helps reduce packaging waste. Products sold in smaller quantities are oftentimes packaged in excessive plastic. Purchasing bulk items, whether from the grocers’ bulk aisle with reusable scoop bags or from stores like Costco, helps lower unnecessary plastic use. A study by Portland State University’s Bulk is Green Council found that 26 million pounds of waste would be avoided per month if all Americans bought in bulk once a week.

4. Embrace Imperfection
High consumer standards require that produce be the perfect colour, shape, and size or else we do not want it. For this reason, an incredible amount of fruit and vegetables are wasted because they are perceived unfit for sale even though they are perfectly fine, albeit slightly imperfect. The next time you are at the grocery store or market and see a twisted sweet potato or wonky carrot, choose that one! Better yet, ask an employee if they have any imperfect produce in the back. You will be helping to decrease the 193-million tons of greenhouse gas emissions that are created by wasted food in North America each year, and 396 kilograms of food wasted per Canadian each year.

5. Whole Over Processed
Grains that are used to produce edible oils and packaged foods make up 60 percent of the United States’ crop acreage, while vegetable, fruit and nut farms, only two percent. If we all ate fewer processed foods, the demand for copious amounts of cereal grains like soy and corn would decrease and the resources and land used to grow them could be assigned to fresh produce which hosts much higher nutritional value.

This shoulder season, take a moment to reflect on your food purchasing habits and their impact on environmental sustainability. If we all made more mindful choices about food, we would contribute positively towards the issues facing the industry.