There’s a great deal of talk these days about sustainability, sustainable energy communities and design. But what, exactly, is sustainable food? And why is it important to you and your family?
Sustainability is commonly defined as meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Your family will be better off without hormones in your milk or antibiotics in your meat. The planet will be in better shape if we don’t use petroleum to produce unnecessary chemical pesticides and fertilizers. We shouldn’t use fuel to process and then ship meat, fruits and vegetables thousands of miles to our neighborhood grocery store. According to a 2006 United Nations report, feeding, processing and shipping livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
For the health of your family – and of our small planet – following are 10 tips to help you eat sustainably.
1. Buy local.
By supporting locally grown agriculture at farmers’ markets, you are saving thousands of “food miles” – the distance food travels from farm to table – reducing air and water pollution, traffic congestion and energy use.
2. Know where your food comes from.
Buying directly from farmers, you eliminate the middleman. A local food supply is a good way to avoid the bacteria and food-borne illnesses that can spread through huge processing plants and sicken your family.
3. Eat seasonal foods.
Buying food in season guarantees your food is fresh and delicious and that it’s grown locally.
4. Avoid foods grown or raised with chemicals.
Go organic. Even if food is not certified organic, it may be grown without the use of harmful chemicals – ask your farmers how their food is grown. Avoid unhealthful factory-farmed meat and poultry that contain hormones and antibiotics.
5. Prepare your own food.
You’ll save money and eat better, too. Share good food, made at home, around the table with your family and friends.
6. Support sustainable seafood.
Fish stocks are dwindling due to overfishing and poor fisheries management. In general, locally caught or raised fish and shellfish are more sustainable than fish from a different country or continent. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label and ask your fishmonger or restaurant if the fish they provide is sustainable.
7. Go meatless.
Reduce calories and carbon emissions. For one day a week, eat no meat. If every American observed this rule, then it would be the equivalent, in carbon saved, of taking 20 million cars off the road for a year.
8. Be fair.
Look for Fairtrade certification for imported products, such as coffee and cocoa. Fair or ethical trade means purchasing with minimal harm to or exploitation of humans, animals and the environment.
9. Get smart.
Educate yourself about the industrial food system. Read books – Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” (Penguin Two, 2009), Morgan Spurlock’s “Don’t Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America” (Berkeley Trade, 2006), Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” (Harper Perennial, 2005) and David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” (Rodale, 2009). Watch movies – “Food, Inc.” (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009), “The End of the Line” (Educational Video Network, 2004) and “King Corn” (DOCURAMA, 2008). Calculate the carbon in your diet at eatlowcarbon.org.
10. Grow your own.
Start a garden. The shortest farm-to-fork route is the one from your backyard to your kitchen.
Peg Champion is an environmental communicator, project manager and member of the GreenTown Los Altos Leadership Team. For more information, visit greentownlosaltos.org.