Last week I published a guide on how to buy sustainable clothing. Clothes are not something you buy weekly, at least, I hope not. But there’s something I do buy every week. And that is food. Food is something we all need and so we can reduce a huge part of our negative impact on the planet in that category. It can be difficult too, making sustainable food choices. But it does not have to be! Today I’ll share how to make sustainable food choices.
The past few years I’ve learned more and more about sustainability. And so, about food. But it has been a rough path frequently. I used to know some basic things, that a plant-based diet is sustainable for instance. That was straight forward. But, there are other things which I’ve found more difficult when it comes to negative food impact. Do I buy organic in plastic or non-organic without plastic. And what about food waste?
Last year this maze changed for me, not only on the food aspect, but on my entire life. I’ve read the book ‘The Hidden Impact‘, which I also wrote a blogpost about. This book put so many things in perspective! You can read the post, but the book basically tells you which part of your life causes the most negative impact, in a top 10. And in this top 10, food is extremely important. So, the author dedicated a chapter to food. And that is what I want to share today. This information is not mine, it’s from the book. But, I’m sharing it since I feel like everyone should know. It’s become my guide.
There are basically five steps to consider when you want to buy sustainable food. I’ll walk you through these in chronological order. Point one is the biggest influencer on whether the food is sustainable and point five is the lowest.
1. Animal based or plant-based
If you want to make sustainable food choices, you’ll have to go for a plant-based diet. Plant-based is better for the environment than animal-based organic products, than local animal-based food, than seasonal animal-based food. If you buy a product which is animal-based, 99% of it’s impact is caused by the fact that it’s animal-based. We can’t have a sustainable future without a plant-based diet being the absolute norm. So, the first choice you make. Meat, fish, diary or eggs vs anything plant-based? Always choose plant-based. Plant-based is always more sustainable. Always.
2. Preventing food waste
Okay, so you’ve chosen any type of plant-based product. Next thing that is really important is that you save food. I know that in foreign countries dumpster diving is a thing, in the Netherlands not so much because they lock all the food which is thrown away by supermarkets or restaurants. But, there are more ways to prevent food waste. InStock for instance, is a restaurant that cooks with rescued food! Great to check out. And supermarkets nowadays have a discount for products that are about to expire. Buy those! It does not matter whether it’s a coconut from the other side of the planet, flown here by plane. As long as it’s plant-based food that would otherwise be thrown away, it’s the most sustainable option. Because, otherwise all those resources would have been wasted. In the Albert Heijn they have 35% discount stickers for that. Or at a farmers market, ask if they have any food which nobody wants to buy.
3. Local and seasonal food
Next thing on the list, is local and seasonal food. So, you’ve chosen a plant-based option, but there’s no way you can prevent food waste. Then you go for the local and seasonal option. The best way to do this is go to a farmers market. These people can tell you all about what’s in season and the farmers are usually close by. If you don’t have one of those, you can look up what food grow in what season. And then buy those. And check in the supermarket whether they’re actually local. Never buy pre-sliced or chopped food. This is never barely ever local.
I was surprised by this one! Organic is at number 4. Which means that buying non-organic food that otherwise be wasted is better than ‘normal’ not yet to expire organic food. Same goes for local and seasonal, it’s better than organic. However, that does not mean it’s not important, at least to me. If you choose to buy local and seasonal at the farmers market, then go to the organic stand! The switch is relatively easy then. But, if you have to choose between organic coconuts from far away or local and seasonal non-organic strawberries, go with the strawberries. Are you getting it? The lower the number in this story, the bigger the impact.
And then, at the very bottom, packaging. This was quite a bummer to me, since I started this whole eco-positive lifestyle with a zero waste lifestyle. But as it turns out, it’s not the biggest part of the impact from food. Let’s say you buy package free meat or vegetables in packaging. The vegetables in packaging are waaaay better. 99% percent of the impact is in the meat and just 1% in the packaging. So, I’d say zero waste is the perfect end. If you have a plant-based, about to expire, local and seasonal and organic product. Then it would be amazing if it’s zero waste. But, it’s not where you start.
There you have it, a guide on how to buy sustainable food! If you follow these steps, you’ll be fine. I thrive to buy things that are plant-based, about to expire, local, seasonal, organic and zero waste. But, the point I’m trying to make here is that you don’t have to be perfect to make more sustainable choices. As I said, focus on the big things. If you focus on zero waste and still eat animal-based products it’s not the best way to spend your energy. You want your energy to make a huuuge difference, right? I’m not saying that the lower ranked criteria (like packaging) are not important, they’re just less important. To make things more visual for you: here’s the infographic from the book (it’s in Dutch though). It’s a tree. And you have to start at the base, the fundament.
Now, I want to add a few examples to make things clear. If you have to choose between:
Seasonal, local and organic cheese vs a pineapple from Costa Rica, choose the pineapple.
An organic avocado in plastic vs a unpackaged non-organic avocado, choose the organic avocado.
A bag of non-organic coconut pieces which has a 35% discount because it’s about to expire or a local and seasonal orange, choose the coconut pieces.
I think you’re getting it by now. Let’s do this! And again, all credits for this information go to Babette Porcelijn, she author of The Hidden Impact.
Do you find buying sustainable food difficult? You can ask me anything!