"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates
The debate about ethical eating has been going on for quite a long time and these days, when it comes to food, tensions run high.
In Part 1 we explored some simple ways to improve our shopping habits, and in Part 2 of this guide we will try and give you 6 simple suggestions to eating more consciously.
As the WWF Living Planet Report explains, food makes up 28% of our ecological footprint, therefore it is at least necessary to address the elephant in the room: we need to moderate our appetite and we need to do it now.
I’m not suggesting to go on a diet, I am throwing spotlight on the well-know fact that the Western World eats too many calories a day and has a colossal problem with portions.
While we eat our gargantuan servings, the rest of the world is left with our crumbles. Starving, not having a table to sit down at.
It’s not just a matter of quantity but it’s also a matter of quality, for most of the time the food we ingest is poorly produced and generally bad for our health.
Gulping down junk food (I mean… it must be called “junk” food for a reason, right?) and sugar loaded beverages cannot possibly be good for our bodies and minds.
In order to manufacture this completely over exaggerated amount of food, the human species is literally exploiting every natural resource on the planet, almost never considering the environmental impact of both agriculture and meat production.
Pesticides, fertilizers, greenhouse gases, deforestation, pollution, biodiversity destruction, exploitive labor practices, animal rights… you name it.
All of the above should be taken into account when deciding what to buy and what to eat.
So far as possible, everyone should be aware of the impact of their choices, in regards of what they put in their mouths and the consequences our planet will be suffering.
Embarking on a new journey can be scaring and confusing, but more often than not amazing surprises and discoveries are just around the corner: there are millions of delicious meals that can be prepared without harming the Earth and all of its creatures, people included.
Plus, eating healthily will make you stronger and smarter. Win win!
Here are 6 simple tips to help you go on a sustainable diet
1. Farmers’ market
There are a number of different reasons to choose your local farmers’ market instead of buying your groceries at the supermarket, but since we should also be talking about our tastebuds, let me start with this one: everything tastes (and looks) better.
Forget those watery tomatoes and flavorless apples: small farmers pick their produce at the peak of ripeness, delivering fresh, delicious ingredients on your table.
In the painful case you have somehow lost your sense of taste, you might want to consider these other factors: local farms provide work for local men and women; non-industrial agriculture uses less (or none whatsoever) pesticides diminishing environmental pollution; a significant amount of fossil fuel is being used to ship vegetables across the world, while family farms distribute their products in the nearby areas; you always know where the produce comes from and finally, everything is more nutritious and salutary.
2. Buy in season
For all of you sceptics out there, my opening statement will be the following: in season produce costs significantly less. Purchasing the right vegetables in the appropriate time of the year, will save you a lot of money. And I mean a lot.
Seasonal produce is harvested in abundance and doesn’t require long periods of travelling of storage, hence the lower price.
It doesn’t contribute to pollution because it is right there for the picking: what’s the point of buying oranges in june, when they shouldn’t be available in the first place?
Where are those oranges coming from and what did it take to grow them?
Mother Nature knows best and as a matter of fact the right food is up for grabs exactly when we need it: for example fruits rich in vitamin C are at our disposal in the colder months, while foods such as cucumbers are gathered in summer, just in time to hydrate us during the hottest days of the year.
3. Freeze, can, dry, reuse, plan
So you started buying your veggies at the local farmers’ market and are thoughtfully checking the seasonality of the produce, but it’s winter and there are no tomatoes to be found.
I know, I love tomatoes too. Winter is sad.
Oppositely from our ancestors who lived in caves, we do have the knowledge and the technology to preserve our food for long periods of time, so it is perfectly possible to stock our pantries with canned, dried goods of our making and freeze something that might not be available in the upcoming months. Winter doesn’t have to be that sad.
All it takes is a little time and some planning, but this course of action will allow you to enjoy off-season foods, save a lot of money and put a stop to all of that abhorrent waste, which takes me to my next point… don’t throw away your leftovers, reuse them to cook something else or simply freeze them and eat them later. They might even taste better!
In the event that your freezer is already full, you should ask yourself if you really need all that ice and more importantly if you happen to buy too much stuff at a time.
Try to cook only the right amount of food to avoid any waste and to do so review your portions and watch the expiry dates carefully, preventing sad discards.
We mustn’t squander the opportunity to treat the food we buy and consume with respect.
4. Grow your own
This is a trend that has been rightfully spreading around the globe for some time now and represents one of those practices that are both good for our health and for the environment.
There is no denying that having a product in our garden is the better option when it comes to determining the healthier solution for our nourishment, meanwhile helping the planet and ultimately our bank account.
Not all of us are blessed with a wide garden, but there is a good chance that our house has a small terrace or at least a balcony: you can start small with just a plant or two.
Try placing a flower pot with some tomato seeds on a sunny balcony or the top leafy part of a pineapple in a glass full of water to get your own fruits! Rosemary, sage and thyme are unbelievably easy to grow and maintain, even indoors.
Having the chance to watch your food grow it’s a privilege and a deeply satisfying feeling that can make you feel part of the environment in a good way.
After all, the human species has been growing crops for over 11.000 years… don’t try to tell me that you are not as capable as a hairy guy from the Neolithic.
Better yet than buying organic groceries at the farmers’ market, growing our own food costs next to nothing and allows us to steer clear of any doubts about its provenance.
We should have some sort of control on food production and all it takes is some soil and the sun.
5. Eat less meat
High consumption of red meat may increase the risk of cancer among other diseases and in the Western World our crazy diet imposes bigger portions than anywhere else in the planet.
The time has come to show some personal restraint: eating a portion of meat with every single meal will not do any favours to our health or the environment.
The veil has been lifted and it is commonly recognized that livestock is responsible for a great part of greenhouse gas emissions, it takes billions of gallons of water to be raised and is contributing to deforestation.
As the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations has clearly stated, gas emissions are directly linked to climate change and you can learn all about it in this extensive report.
Proteins are fundamental to our well-being, but this is no reason to have a steak or a burger at lunch and dinner till hell freezes over, whereas we could enjoy some other, delicious options.
Scientific evidence clearly shows that eating red meat once or twice a week is the maximum amount our bodies can safely process, so I urge you to give those steak knives a rest.
Once again, when purchasing meat, it is preferable to choose local suppliers rather than supermarkets because not even “naturally raised” eggs and meats perfectly lined up on the counters are totally safe and cruelty-free.
Even supposing that those chickens haven’t been fed antibiotics, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t been raised in ridiculously small barnyards or that they had eyes.
Choosing to buy your meat directly from a farmer means getting a higher quality, safer product, sustainably raised and humanely treated.
6. Processed food
If it didn’t exist when your grandmother was a little girl, don’t eat it.
If you’re not sure of what your beloved granny used to eat… if it comes wrapped in plastic and it’s not a whole ingredient, you probably shouldn’t eat it.
Researches such as the one lead by Brazil’s University of São Paulo show how processed food is generally high in trans fats, low in both fibers and nutrients, filled with artificial ingredients, high in sugar and guess what… addictive.
Not only is it unhealthful, but it also takes a massive waste of natural resources to be produced and transported around the globe, coming from an industrial system that is bad news for the planet.
All that packaging inevitably ends up in landfills, contributing to poisoning the soil, the air and the water.
When given the opportunity, it is safer to choose foods which are ingredients, not unsustainable chemically prepared meals, wrapped in plastic and coming from God knows where.
Bonus track! The V word
Dealing with different values can be testing, because we don’t all share what we think is wrong and right: it may depend on our culture, on our religious beliefs or on the country we were born and bred.
Many people in the world are vegetarians or vegans for a number of different reasons and daily choose not to eat meat or any animal products at all: some people deem unethical to treat certain animals as pets and others as food, while others make a political or a health-related choice.
At any rate, it is possible to survive without eating meat so my suggestion is to take a look at all those different recipes and styles of eating: most of us aren’t familiar with quinoa, spelt, flax seed or even the dreaded tofu and yet we are bypassing the opportunity to enrichen our diets with great, divers nutrients.
Breaking the mould isn’t easy and I am not saying that you should go vegan, I’m merely suggesting that if you are trying to eat in an eco-friendly way, great help can come from different types of cuisine.
Say that you have already consumed your recommended two portions of red meat this week… Try lentils or chickpeas meatballs instead of purchasing another burger.
Bake your own butterfree ginger biscuits. Have an aperitif with your sun-dried tomatoes.
It is possible to eat and live without harming the planet, all we need to do is look at the options.
Still not convinced?Test your footprint!