Building A Sustainable Menu
Eating is something we do every day, and the choices we make can impact the planet, for better or for worse.
Sustainable foods are those that enhance the environmental and natural resource base on upon which the agricultural community depends, make efficient use of non-renewable resources, sustain the economic viability of farm operations, and enhance the quality of life for farmers as a whole.
Sustainable food matters because it is crucial for the viability of our natural resources and our farmers for the long term. Many stores and brands in the U.S. mark their products as sustainable or put them on a scale of sustainability. The purpose of all of this is to bring awareness to the importance of supporting sustainable food farmers and incorporating more of these foods into our diets, while lessening our dependence on non-sustainable foods that will ultimately damage our planet in the long term.
Of course, eating sustainably is a great goal, but it can be overwhelming to get started.
Here are a few guidelines to help you make healthier, more sustainable solutions in the near and long term.
Water is the obvious choice for the best, healthiest, most sustainable drink. Use glass refillable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles when you drink it for the most sustainable choice.
Drinks like coffee and tea should be fair trade varieties or organically grown. Beer and wine brands can vary greatly, so stick to vineyards that say the wine is organic or biodynamically produced.
Microbrews tend to be more focused on their environmental footprint, so they are the better choice over a large mass-produced beer brand. Sodas are generally unhealthy and entirely processed so it’s best to skip them altogether whenever possible. Instead, make seltzer and sodas at home with homemade simple syrups!
Vegetables can be purchased everywhere from the supermarket, to the big box store, to the farmers’ market. A general rule of thumb for sustainability is to purchase them from the most local source possible. A farmer from your area is likely working on a small, sustainable scale. He deserves your support and is producing superior, healthier vegetables than those that are mass-produced.
Meats & Poultry
Raising cattle and chickens is expensive, so many are raised on factory farms in order to keep the cost of the product low. Not only does this produce a cheap, non-nutritious product, but factory farming is notoriously bad for the environment and is unsustainable for the long run.
Sustainable beef farmers do exist and deserve support. They typically raise smaller herds of animals in large pastures with plenty of access to fresh air and water. They employ sound environmental techniques to ensure the longevity of their operation and the health of the land. Check labeling of meats for a sustainability scale indicator before you buy it. Better yet, work with a local butcher or seller at your local farmers’ market to ensure you are buying meat or poultry that has been sustainably produced.
Sustainble fishing means fishing at a rate that can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the species’ ability to maintain healthy, long-lasting population levels. This can be difficult when a particular type of fish is in demand and is fished intensely. It can also be hard when fishing practices ensnare other species that are needlessly removed from the ocean and discarded. When purchasing fish, be sure to look online for the current list of most sustainable species. Then, work with a fishmonger to choose the fish that has been the most sustainably harvested. To maintain the long-term health of our oceans it is imperative the we support sustainable fishing practices.
Growing wheat depends on air, soil, and water. While all of these things tend to be in abundance, they aren’t always easy. While the demand for wheat continues to climb farmers have begun to implement more environmentally safe practices in order to ensure the longevity of their crops and soil. When shopping for wheat based products look for the words “organic” and “sustainably grown.”
Sugar cane is typically grown in warmer countries, often on islands near the ocean. To that end, farmers and environmentalists have noticed a detrimental impact of sugar cane farming on coral reefs and sea life which is why they are now focusing on more sustainable practices. When you buy sugar or sugary products look for the Fair Trade Certification or Rain Forest Certified Labels.