There is a lot of confusion about food and what to eat these days. A lot of people are interested in becoming more sustainable and one of the ways to do that is to eat more sustainably. But what exactly is sustainable eating? In this article I will attempt to answer this question. Please note that this article is not about what diet to follow, it is about how you can eat sustainably whichever diet you choose.
1. EAT LOCAL
Growing it yourself is the most sustainable way of eating. Everyone can grow at least some of their food, be it sprouts in trays or containers on their kitchen bench, miniature fruit trees and vegetables in pots to garden beds and food forests. The food has low food miles, is fresh and because everyone likes a diverse diet, you plant diversity which is helpful for the soil and the planet.
If you can only grow a small amount and do not have space to grow enough for your needs, either connect with a co-op which distributes locally grown food (you may even supply the co-op with some of the food you grow) or connect with a local farmer who grows produce that you do not grow. Try and keep your food miles as low as possible.
2. SUPPORT POLYCULTURE AND DIVERSITY
In other words, do not eat anything that is produced as a monoculture crop. This includes factory farmed animals (feedlots), staple carb crops like rice, wheat and other grains, legumes like peas, chickpeas, beans and lentils and any other food which is farmed as one crop. These crops use fossil fuels to sow, grow and harvest, annihilate whole ecosystems, cull animals to protect their crops and cause massive soil degradation. Please be aware that most grains (including corn and rice) and legumes are grown as monoculture crops, as they are machine sown and harvested. Manual harvesting for those crops is not worthwhile. If it weren’t for fossil fuel use, we would not be eating as many grains and legumes as we are now. Any monoculture agriculture will encourage pests and soil loss / destruction. A lot of monoculture crops also rely on cheap manual labour, so there is a human cost as well as animal and environmental.
Get your food from small community gardens, backyard growing and small farms that grow diverse produce and run a number of different animals sustainably on their farm. Animals that are treated well, moved regularly to stimulate carbon sequestration in the soil, fed their natural foods (most animals would not eat, or only minimally eat, grains in the wild) and have a safe and good life, produce high quality food. Diversity is key, and more and more farmers are now moving towards becoming more sustainable by having more diverse animal and plant systems on their farm.
3. ABOLISH PROCESSED FOODS
Anything packaged in boxes or bags that comes from a factory rather than a farm is processed. This includes most items in the supermarket. Supermarkets will also buy produce from the other side of the world, so food miles are very high. The best thing is to not go into a supermarket for your daily or weekly shop (apart from maybe for (recycled) toilet paper). If you cannot get your food needs from your garden, co-op or local community, visit your local butcher and ask him where his meat comes from. A good butcher should know, and will also be able to tell you whether the meat is grass or grain fed. Visit your local fruit and veg shop. These small businesses usually try and do the right thing and get as much as possible locally. Again, it is just a matter of asking where products come from. Encourage your local small businesses to buy locally grown meat and produce, ask for it specifically and ask whether they can source it for you if they do not have it. Keep asking, they will get local in if the demand is there.
4. DON’T EXPECT EVERYTHING TO BE AVAILABLE ALL THE TIME
When you eat local, you will automatically eat seasonal. This means you cannot have bananas in a temperate climate. You cannot have oranges in the subtropics in the middle of summer. And you cannot have apples in the tropics. But every climate has its own wonderful fruits and veggies which grow at different times of the year. If you are in a temperate climate, this will mean you may have to start learning to ferment freshly grown summer veggies in summer, to consume during winter. This is how it was done before fossil fuels came about. Or you can live on only animal foods in winter. Did you know that cacao beans grow in the tropics (and some subtropical environments)? So what are we doing consuming it all over the world constantly? Same with coffee… Now, I am not telling you to give up your coffee or chocolate habit, but be aware the distances travelled for your treats! Most cacao and coffee comes from South America. Then it gets processed and packaged somewhere else and then it has to make its way to you. That is a lot of food miles! So if you must consume these, make them real treats, not a daily habit… Learn which fruits and veggies are in season in your location. Then you will know if you see any that aren’t in season, they have travelled a long way to get to you and are not sustainable.
I read a document not so long ago that said that 25,000 trucks are travelling daily in NSW (Australia) to deliver food products to the supermarkets. These trucks travel far and wide, from manufacturers and monoculture farms, to deliver their food. This is unsustainable. And if you buy this food you will support this system.
Food must be local, fresh and seasonal, grown in a diverse and caring environment, for the health of the planet and ourselves! Eat local, encourage small diverse growers who are trying to do the right thing by their animals, crops and the planet, and by you. We can make a difference with our food choices. If we choose locally grown foods from farms that believe in diversity and soil regeneration, we can become a more sustainable planet.