It’s only when we take the time to think about how and what we eat that we truly consider how we can change our habits for the future of the planet. Consider that, for example, livestock production—including milk, meat, and eggs—uses one-third of the world’s freshwater. Fortunately, eating mindfully and sustainability go hand-in-hand, meaning we can adopt sustainable eating practices that better our health while simultaneously benefitting the health of the planet.
Contrary to popular belief, living an eco-friendly lifestyle doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In many ways, sustainability is more about making small—and doable—adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits. Here are five to start with.
Support local farmers.
Shopping at farmers’ markets is a win-win situation—not only do you get to support local farmers, but you also get to enjoy fresh-from-the-farm fruits and veggies.
Buying from local farmers ensures that your food is fresh and full of nutrients. When you buy food from the grocery store, it’s likely that the food has traveled a long way before ending up in your kitchen, and has probably lost its nutritional value during its journey.
Farmers selling at local markets minimize the amount of waste and pollution they produce. Many local farmers use certified organic practices, which reduces the number of chemicals that pollute soil and water. Additionally, a growing number of local farmers have also adopted low-impact practices, such as onsite composting, which helps mitigate environmental issues like climate change.
Plan your meals ahead of time.
When you have a solid meal plan for the week, you take all the guesswork out of grocery shopping, and you can avoid buying food you don’t need. When you buy food you don’t need, less food is thrown away—it’s as simple as that.
When you throw away food, you’re not only throwing your money away—you’re also throwing away the time spent cooking that food, and even the time you spent shopping for that food. There’s also the labor of the person who harvested the food, and the transportation costs to move the food from its origin to the grocery store to your kitchen.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately one-third of all food is lost or thrown away. Of course, nobody is perfect, but making an effort to plan a few meals every week can help you significantly reduce your food waste.
Grow your own herbs.
When you grow your own food, you’re in control of every step of the process—from selecting seeds and soil to managing pests to harvesting and composting your food. Although growing your own food might sound intimidating, gardening can be done on any scale, from a kitchen windowsill to a backyard plot.
Think about it: If you pot a few plants and remember to take care of them, you won’t have to worry about buying herbs ever again. Starting an indoor garden can help you save money and ensures your herbs were grown organically.
Sustainability is about methods that are both healthy and maintainable, and growing your own herbs accomplishes both of these requirements. Not only do you get to enjoy responsibly grown, organic herbs, but you also eliminate the need for repeated purchases. If you’re interested in starting an indoor garden at home, check out our guide.
Choose responsibly raised meat.
Commercial meat production takes a significant toll on the environment, using substantial amounts of resources like crops, water, energy, and land while producing greenhouse gases.
One way to decrease your footprint is to choose responsibly raised, rather than factory farm-raised, meat—and to eat less of it. When you choose responsibly raised meat, you’re supporting the farmers that are doing things the right way. Not only are cows, pigs, and chickens treated humanely, but meat raised under organic conditions is better for you.
Compost your waste.
Food waste is inevitable—even if you have minimal leftovers. Between coffee grounds, fruit peels, and eggshells, food scraps, and yard waste comprise more than 28% of what we throw away. According to the EPA, composting these materials keeps them out of landfills, where they take up space and release methane.
Instead of tossing your food waste into the trash, start a compost bin with your roommates. Although composting requires a bit of knowledge, it’s nothing Google can’t help with.
Composting your food waste allows minerals and nutrients to be recycled. In other words, instead of creating trash, food waste becomes soil, which, in turn, grows more food. By taking what’s been made and using it to make more, composting your waste effectively closes the food production loop.
Lifestyle adjustments don’t happen overnight, and if you’re serious about adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s going to take some mental rewiring. When it comes to food, it’s easy to get caught up in convenience and instant gratification—but eating sustainably requires putting the world’s well-being before your own.
Above all else, sustainability requires sacrifice. But a healthier planet—and a healthier you—makes it all worthwhile.