The effect of your food related practices on environmental resources is significant. Current food choices in the United States create a carbon footprint that is one-fourth larger than that created by Americans' driving habits. What can we do to strive for a sustainable diet for our future generations? Sustainable diets meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Don't wait, expecting the government or big food companies to solve the world's sustainability problems. Consumer choices help shape the food supply. Start with one idea today and you can make a big difference to maximize health for yourself, your children, their children, and so on; save money; increase the wellbeing of the environment; and improve the vitality of local communities.
The suggestions are grouped into seven categories:
l. Choose nutrient rich foods. This will maximize health while limiting your use of natural resources. It will reduce the amount of food required, which will also save money. This can be done by basing most of your meals and snacks on whole grains, fruits, legumes, and dark green, red and orange vegetables.
2. Eat locally produced foods when available. This practice can increase the capacity of your local community to produce food, increase biodiversity, and improve the environmental impacts of your food choices. This can be done by choosing foods that are in season, shopping at farmers markets, roadside stands and orchards. Be sure to ask where the plant or animal foods were grown before buying. Grow some of what you eat.
3. Buy from businesses with sustainable practices when possible. Who you buy food from can affect both the environment and your local community's economic vitality.
As the capacity to distribute foods locally in sustainable ways increases, so will agricultural resiliency, protection of natural resources, quality of life in local communities, and your own food security and nutritional wellbeing.
4. Minimize avoidable food losses and waste. Buy the amount of food you will use before it spoils or by its "best used by" date. Store perishable foods appropriately. Compost plant based food scraps as appropriate to convert them into soil amendments that will improve your garden or yard.
5. Limit energy use. Limit how often you shop for groceries. Shop at stores that are close to your home or are along one of your routine driving routes. Defrost your freezer whenever it has ice buildup on the walls or shelves. Increase your freezer's and refrigerator's efficiency by checking that the door seals are airtight.
6. Limit water use. Conserve water when preparing meals. Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool. Shut the faucet off between rinsing batches of washed dishes.
7. Minimize packaging and wrapper waste. Carry a durable reusable water or juice bottle instead of drinking from small packaged juice containers or using packaged bottle water. Use recyclable shopping bags. Instead of buying many small packages of food, buy a large one and portion out single-size portions of food into reusable containers.
Here are just a few of the suggestions from the publication "Making Everyday Choices for a Healthy Sustainable Diet" by Mary Meck Higgins, Human Nutrition Specialist and registered Dietitian at K-State Research and Extension. You can Google this publication on the K-State Research and Extension website www.ksre.ksu.edu and enter the publication title or number MF-3060.
— Susan Jackson is a Kansas State Research and Extension Agent for Harvey County. Consumer sciences are her specialty.