With the rising popularity of green living, there has been an incredible influx of messaging coming from media on what sustainability is, and how we can alter our daily decisions to embrace it. These messages can oftentimes be overwhelming or contradictory, making it obscure and confusing. This is particularly true when it comes to food. So many products on the shelves today boast green or sustainable packaging, energy consumption, or an organic label. Marketing tactics would lead us to believe that just because a product says “natural” on it that it is good for the environment, but what does it really mean?
Here is a quick guide to help you understand how you can make more sustainable decisions in all aspects of purchasing food-from the grocery store, to a restaurant, to your kitchen.
Have you ever wondered where your food comes from? Some of us certainly may have, but others just grab something off the shelf or from the bin without giving it a second of thought. Where our food comes from has very much weight in its sustainability.
If a piece of fruit travels from South America to the United States, it may in fact be cheaper, but it certainly would imply much more travel than if a piece of fruit came from a farm two hours south of your supermarket. That increased travel time means greater emissions in transport. Regardless of your stance on global warming, I cant think of one person that wants to breathe the exhaust from a semi-truck. Beyond the emissions, more energy is being used in that transport. In a time when conserving limited natural resources is a serious necessity, this will weigh heavily on the sustainability of a product. Less travel means less fuel, which means less oil must be pumped.
What’s the Hype about Organic?
Organic food is more sustainable because it does not utilize pesticides-which could ultimately end up in water sources through rain run-off and ground water, and into our systems by eating the produce that is coated in it. Choosing an organic piece of fruit that came from across the country, however, may not be a wiser choice than choosing one that came from a local farm. All of these factors are interrelated. A lot of the chemicals artificially introduced into different foods can have harmful consequences over time. It is a great idea to educate yourself on the different chemicals that are prevalent in certain foods (such as growth hormones in dairy products). It comes to a great surprise to many what levels of chemicals are present in what they eat.
Packaging is another important factor in green living. Many companies attempt to make their packaging greener by creating it out of compostable materials (such as the noisy Sunchips bag that flopped so strongly) or using less packaging overall. Individually wrapped packages, such as those nifty 100-calorie packs of goodies, tend to be excessively wasteful compared to a standard box of the same snack. Purchasing goods in bulk is one way to pare down the packaging waste. If you enjoy having single-servings of a snack, for example in lunches, using small reusable containers to package them is more sustainable than disposable Ziploc bags.
Obviously there are many, many more factors to consider when making consumer decisions in favor of sustainability, but these are three of the main considerations. One that we often fail to understand is making them sustainable for ourselves. Eating a healthy, well balanced diet that is high in nutrients and low in harmful preservatives, high levels of sugar and sodium, and synthesized chemicals will allow our bodies to function healthfully and allow our body’s system to sustain as well.
Educating yourself is the best action to take toward living sustainably-and remember: You are what you eat!