In the spirit of Earth Month, you’re probably considering the various ways you can give your lifestyle an environmentally friendly update in ways that don’t just seem accessible for the present, but will be easy to stick with long-term. And if you hadn’t yet thought about the role your food habits play, it’s a good time to take stock and make some important sustainable diet changes that benefit your body and the planet alike.
While many people and food brands are working on ways to go greener, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and experts say some of the biggest mistakes you could be making in terms of sustainable choices aren’t always so obvious. As Dr. Olivia Audrey explains, this has a lot to do with buying out of convenience. For example, the naturopathic doctor and author says shopping at big box stores and buying “‘family size’ portions of items normally sized for consumption by an individual” often means choosing packing, ingredients, and sourcing that’s a lot less environmentally friendly. “In our culture, we have taken the farm-to-table process out of the equation with convenience foods and drive-thrus around every corner,” she tells TZR. “This has led to a disconnect between the food that is produced, the process it goes through and the effect on the environment. If it’s not right in front of us, people have been spoiled to be uneducated about it.”
And Alana Kessler, a registered dietary nutritionist who champions an intuitive approach to eating, agrees. “Most people don’t think about where food comes from and how it is produced as part of the eating experience,” she explains. “It’s a bit of a blindspot when it comes to sustainability. We haven’t been conditioned to have a holistic and systemic approach when it comes to how humans are a lynchpin in environmental wellness. We are the machine that uses and ultimately discards food product and the way in which we choose to participate and take responsibility in those roles plays a huge factor in the sustainability of the environment.”
If you think your food shopping, consumption, and waste habits could use a bit of revamping without any major overhauls these experts have a few ideas you can implement ASAP. Ahead, find out how they suggest you practice more sustainability in your diet — and stick with it.
Sustainable Diet Changes: Shop Local Farmers Markets
Not only is eating locally sourced and seasonal produce advantageous taste-wise (it’s most likely fresher and therefore more flavorful) but it also equates to a smaller carbon footprint and stimulates the local agricultural community — which is why Dr. Audrey highly recommends shopping farmers markets if you’re able. “Supporting local farmers and artisans is a wonderful way to not only give back [...] but also redevelop a relationship with food,” she explains.
Sustainable Diet Changes: Consider Packaging
When you’re not able to shop farmers markets, the food expert encourages opting for products with minimal, or environmentally packing (for example, avoiding single-use plastic). “Look at items for not just what’s inside but imagine how long that pack again will be on the earth and sitting in a landfill before you purchase,” says Dr. Audrey.
Sustainable Diet Changes: Compost Your Waste
Composting may seem intimidating, but it’s probably a lot more accessible than you think — and even the most minimal efforts (remembering to store food waste in a compost bin and dropping it off at a community garden or another local initiative that makes use of it) can have a huge impact. “When you throw organic food waste in the garbage and it goes to landfills, the carbon emissions are huge,” Kessler explains. “Using waste product to enhance soil for plants to grow is the circle of life. By doing this, you are repurposing products that may cause harm if left untreated by this process and contributing positively to the environment.”
Sustainable Diet Changes: Consume Less Meat
Even if you’re not ready to make your diet 100% plant-based, Kessler says that cutting down on meat consumption can help cut back on your carbon footprint. “Beef production takes up a huge majority of the agricultural landscape and also emits the most pollution,” she says. “I recommend leaning towards a more plant-friendly diet.” The nutrition expert adds that you can take this idea one step further by growing your own vegetables, which will also reduce your dependence on supermarkets.
Sustainable Diet Changes: Cut Back On Processed Sugar
You may not have considered that eating less sugar can actually help the environment as much as it helps your anxiety, but according to Kessler, making this adjustment to your diet has a global impact. “Sugar plantations ruin the soil and destroy biodiversity by overtaking plantations with ecosystems rich in plants, insects, and animals that support homeostasis,” she says. “It also uses a lot of water as well.” Looking for more sustainable sugar substitute? “[Add] sorghum syrup instead of sugar cane to your food,” the nutritionist adds. “The plant is heat- and drought-tolerant so it is very sustainable.”