As we walk the supermarket aisles, we’re usually looking for our favourite products and culinary inspiration. Food sustainability isn’t often at the forefront of our minds.
Our decisions are based on convenience, taste and price. Even for those of us who wish to live more planet-friendly lives.
Having a better understanding of what makes a food sustainable could help us all make more informed decisions. It would allow us to weigh up products and brands more easily. We could answer our “does this align with my values” questions more quickly. And we could consume more mindfully.
The trouble is, sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword lately. One that is used (and often abused) in many different contexts. It’s a hugely important concept but one that has started to lose its meaning.
So let’s fix that by looking at what food sustainability really means.
It’s Not Just About The Food
Sustainable food isn’t only about the food itself. It’s a combination of factors including how the food is produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s consumed.
Food miles, or how far a food has traveled, plays a large role. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.
When considering the sustainability of food there are many other factors at play.
Resource usage, environmental impact and animal agriculture all affect sustainability. As do health considerations and social and economic impact.
Factors of Food Sustainability
There is no one truth when it comes to defining food sustainability. Although most definitions cover the following factors:
Sustainable Farming Practices
Food production needs to be profitable. Otherwise, farmers and producers would go out of business. But this doesn’t have to mean mass scale food production that’s bad news for animals and the environment.
Sustainable farming aims to maintain or increase output, while increasing the environmental benefits.
Such farming requires an understanding of the surrounding ecosystem. This means it will protect the diversity of our native plants and animals while meeting the needs of the farm and its production system.
Farming that aims to be sustainable has to protect biodiversity. It has to be beneficial to plants, animals and the environment. Sustainable farming also has to protect soil fertility for future food production.
Thankfully an increased number of farms and farmers are moving to more sustainable farming practices.
Sustainable agriculture supports organic and low carbon food production. It also avoids the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides as well as genetically modified organisms.
Farms that are sustainable also make use of better farming practices.. These include crop rotation and avoiding the use of monocrops. Planting varied crops helps with soil fertility and biodiversity. They also tend to manage pests with natural predators, plow their fields less and integrate crops and livestock.
Low Environmental Impact
Sustainable food aims to avoid damaging or wasting natural resources. It also minimises its contribution to climate change throughout the whole production process.
The use of the earth’s finite resources is also considered. This includes the use of energy in transportation and storage.
The impact on the surrounding flora and fauna, waterways, air and sound quality is also considered. Ideally any negative impact is minimised while aiming to produce food in the most efficient and cost effective way possible.
Upholding Animal Welfare
Sustainable farmers use livestock husbandry techniques that protect the animals’ health and wellbeing.
They provide pasture grazing and allow animals to move freely. No animal is confined to a cage or restricted holding pens. This all ensures that animals are treated with care and respect.
Such farmers also aim to reduce, if not remove, the pain and suffering that animals may be subject to as part of the food production process.
Protection of Public Health
Sustainable food is food that is safe and healthy. It’s produced without hazardous pesticides and chemicals, non-essential antibiotics or growth promotion supplements.
Nutrition is also playing an increasing role in defining sustainable foods. There’s a growing movement towards plant-based foods. These foods tend to have a greater emphasis on whole foods and fewer processed ingredients.
Good Employment Practises and Community Support
Sustainable food brands pay workers a living wage alongside safe, hygienic and fair working conditions.
They support local and regional economies that offer jobs and build stronger communities.
How to Make Sustainable Food Choices?
All this might seem daunting, but as with anything, learning and changing slowly is key. We don’t have to completely rethink our shopping list.
Instead, we can make one or two changes each week or month. We can swap beef mince for veggie mince, choose fair trade coffee or have a go at reducing food waste at home.
Educating ourselves is important too. Becoming a regular reader of sites like ours will help. Knowing what is and what isn’t sustainable is the first step to leading a more sustainable lifestyle. The second step is using that knowledge to make more informed choices.
There are many ways that you can choose to eat and live more sustainably:
- Reduce the amount of meat, fish and dairy you eat. Animal agriculture is an industry with one of the largest carbon footprints. You don’t have to go full on vegan, just reduce the amount of meat and dairy you eat and up the veggies!
- Eating less meat and dairy means that you could spend a little extra on sustainably reared produce.
- Choose to eat foods that are in season. Seasonal foods haven’t had to be artificially ripened and are less likely to have come from overseas.
- Likewise, foods that have been produced locally have fewer air miles.
- Reduce your food waste. Because why would you want to waste all that consciously produced food?!
- Reduce the amount of plastic that you use. Plastic only adds to the problems of sustainability as it’s so energy intensive to make and recycle.
- Choose products that have been traded fairly.
- Grow your own herbs, fruit and vegetables. That way, you’ll know exactly what’s gone into producing them!
Want to Eat and Live More Sustainably?
Being part of a like-minded tribe can make living and eating sustainably much simpler. You can share ideas, learn from each other and gently encourage change.
Join Eco & Beyond Community group on Facebook and surround yourself with mindful consumers just like you!