Feel good about what you’re eating this Earth Day by choosing produce that’s good for the planet!
First things first, how do we define sustainable agriculture? There are three main objectives in sustainable agriculture: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity (1). From farmer to plate, and everyone in between, can play a role in ensuring and promoting sustainable agriculture systems. Because it’s Earth Day, we’re going to focus on the healthy environment piece of the sustainable food systems puzzle.
Soil heath, water use, and pollution reduction are among the practices that farmers and agricultural scientists are always working to improve. In sustainable systems, soil is viewed as a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure long-term productivity and stability (1). Practices like; using cover crops, applying natural and renewable soil inputs, optimizing crop diversity, and integrating both crops and livestock in the same farming operation are among the many ways farmers can create resilient, efficient, and sustainable systems. If you’re able to support the farmers who are doing the hard work to implement these practices, you’re a sustainability champion! Many of us, however, don’t have a full picture of the practices that were implemented to bring the food to us in the grocery store, so here are a few practical tips that anyone can employ!
If you’re trying to incorporate more produce into your diet, you’re already on the right track to more sustainable eating! Plant-based foods [could not only] add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands; but would also significantly reduce carbon emissions and waste byproducts that end up in our oceans and as seafood byproducts (2).
Plant-forward diets, which simply emphasize consuming produce, have grown in popularity and a plant-forward approach is at the root of many healthy diets around the world. Think about animal protein as more of a side dish or condiment than as the main ingredient. Shifting your plate, even slightly, adds up!
Local & Seasonal Eating
While local foods aren’t always produced using sustainable practices, they typically have a shorter supply chain, reducing the carbon footprint of the product. A reduction in food transit time can sometimes result in more nutritious foods. Vitamins, like Vitamin C, can degrade over time. So, an in-season and local strawberry, for example, is likely to be higher in vitamin C than a strawberry that requires a longer transit time. Additionally, eating local produce is a great way to support and strengthen your local community and economy!
We know that wasting food is expensive and feels careless when food insecurity exists in virtually all of our communities, but it also generates greenhouse gases and contributes to our already overfull landfills (3). So, how can we reduce produce waste at home?
First things first, you’ve got to plan! How many nights will you actually cook this week? If you’re buying for the week, plan to use more delicate foods, like avocados or mushrooms, first. Heartier vegetables, like carrots and cauliflower, tend to last longer. Maybe you bought some beautiful spring asparagus on a whim. Make a plan before you forget about it in the crisper drawer!
Don’t forget to be realistic. If kale always goes limp in your crisper drawer, maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you even like kale. Buy fruits and veggies that you’re excited about, you’ll be more likely to eat them. Perhaps you simply don’t cook. That’s okay too! Look for convenience items like bagged salads or precut veggies in steamable bags. Check out this article for more waste reduction tips!
Whatever you do this Earth Day, remember that small changes add up, and that eating sustainably is delicious!
Jalava M, Kummu M, Porkka M, Siebert S, and Varis O (2014). Diet Change–a solution to reduce water use? Res. lett. 9(7):1-14.