Whether you’d like more ideas to help you develop a more sustainable diet — or you’re just getting started — these strategies can help.
1. Lean toward a vegan diet
Leaning toward a vegan diet is a great way to minimize the environmental impact of your food. If you can’t see yourself giving up meat and dairy forever, that’s okay. Even small changes can make a big difference.
Here are some simple ways to start learning toward a vegan diet:
- Reduce your consumption of meat and dairy. This is the easiest place to start because it doesn’t require complete elimination. If you eat beef with every meal, try substituting chicken for beef at some meals. It might surprise you to learn that cheese produces more climate emissions than pork or poultry, so cutting back on cheese is also a good first step.
- Practice intermittent fasting. Lowering the amount of food you consume on a daily basis can benefit your health and reduce cravings for meat. Fasting periodically is one strategy to reduce your meat consumption. If you decide to try intermittent fasting, you won’t eat your first meal until around noon (depending on your protocol). This will make it easier to skip breakfast foods like sausage, ham, and eggs. Have a bowl of oatmeal for your first meal of the day and if you want to eat meat, have it at lunch or dinner.
- Experiment with meatless dishes. Every dish you make with meat can be enjoyed without meat. For example, spaghetti and meatballs is an all-time favorite that tastes great without the meatballs. The key is finding or making spaghetti sauce with the right seasoning and then adding chunky vegetables like zucchini, squash, and broccoli. For more ideas, Meatless Monday features a variety of plant-based recipes.
2. Reduce processed & packaged foods
Processed foods by their nature are more resource-intensive. In addition to the resources required to grow the ingredients, the processing and packaging require yet more resources. These foods are also more likely to include additives you might want to avoid.
When shopping, try to precycle by purchasing only foods packaged in materials you know you can recycle.
Eliminate or reduce foods like:
- Cookies and snacks packaged in plastic trays sealed in composite bags. These composite bags (think of chip bags, for example) are not recyclable because the recycling center can’t separate the inner lining from the outer plastic. Instead, look for alternative snacks with less packaging or fully recyclable packaging. Note that some carton manufacturers make their packaging recyclable, but the recycling process consumes resources so try to avoid creating unnecessary recycling.
- Impulsive food or beverage purchases. Try to avoid buying those sugary bottled drinks and candy from the grocery store checkout line.
- Frozen foods. Many frozen foods aren’t inherently unsustainable, but the processing and packaging gives the final product a higher carbon footprint. Also, reducing your reliance on frozen food will give you a chance to start eating more fresh produce and making your own meals at home, which directly contributes to a sustainable diet.
- Produce wrapped in plastic. Some popular chain stores wrap their vegetables in plastic. It’s worth going to a different grocery store to get unwrapped, fresh produce. Ideally, produce should be sourced from local farmers.
3. Learn how to grow your own food
Eating food you’ve grown is the ultimate form of sustainable eating. Grow whatever you can and use your fresh produce in meals to reduce and environmental impact and packaging waste.
Learning how to grow your own food, even if you start small, is the foundation for maintaining a sustainable diet long-term. Once you learn how to grow the vegetables you love, it will be easier for you to eat sustainably because you won’t need to buy a good portion of your food.
4. Research sustainable brands
Unless you’re ready to eat only fruits and vegetables, you can’t avoid all packaged foods. For those times when you need to buy packaged foods, choose the brands that focus on sustainability in their business.
A little research will turn up sustainable food brands you can trust. For example, two popular sustainable brands include:
- Salty Girl Seafood. This brand only sells albacore, black cod, and Pacific rockfish sourced from small-scale fisheries. The best part about Salty Girl is that each package of fish tells you exactly where the fish came from. It even includes the name of the fisherman who caught the fish and the name of his or her boat.
- Endangered Species chocolate. You’ll have to recycle the wrapper, but Endangered Species donates 10% of profits to protecting endangered species that live in the areas where they source their cocoa beans.
5. Be flexible, but stick with it
In a perfect world, going on a strict sustainable diet would be easy. However, you may find it hard to stick to drastic changes. Be flexible about your diet when you’re just getting started. For example, if you’re focusing on reducing packaged meals but you know there are times when you won’t have the energy or time to cook, buy packaged meals with the least amount of non-recyclable packaging.
Feature image by Jack Sparrow from Pexels