We’ve just had the warmest decade on record, with 2020 being one of the warmest years ever. Unfortunately, there is no indication that climate change will slow down in the next decade.
We are all in the same boat here, and it’s in our hands to stop it from sinking. And it all starts with food, production of which accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that it’s not only up to governments and large producers to help reduce global warming. Each of us can do something to support the environment – and human health along with it.
The World Health Organization has been stressing the importance of changing our Food systems for our own and planetary health. In addition, a recent research report about The Future of Food identifies 8 megatrends for more sustainable food systems and nutrition, which is something each of us could work towards in 2021.
We can start by eating foods that are grown and processed in a way that does not harm the environment and go on to other ways of making a difference. Here are six uncomplicated tips for making your diet more sustainable and planet-friendly in 2021.
- Use regional and seasonal produce
When possible, choose products that are seasonally and locally available. For example, if you live in the Northern regions, look for seasonal vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, cabbage, carrots, and many others, instead of buying exotic fruits that grow on the other side of the globe.
By choosing regionally available products, you’ll help reduce the amount of fuel needed to transport your food by land, sea, and air. And you’ll vote against maintaining huge greenhouses that require an immense amount of energy and chemicals. Besides, you’ll avoid consuming harmful chemicals that are used on products to keep them fresh longer.
Mainstream grocery stores can offer you practically every fruit and vegetable any day of the week, which makes their offer convenient and competitive. To support the environment and your community, consider buying food from local farmers and producers, who are constantly competing with big chain grocery stores.
- Limit food deliveries
The rapid spread of food delivery apps like Uber Eats, Grubhub, Wolt, Foodora and others has increased convenience – especially in times when many urban residents are home-bound due to COVID-19 lockdowns. However, such services have at least two significant downsides – they increase access to unhealthy foods and produce lots of packaging waste.
With food delivery services offering an increasingly wider choice of meals to consumers, it’s a matter of individual choice – to go for convenience and save time or prioritize sustainable food choices. If you feel that you cannot stop ordering food entirely, try to do it less often or choose more “green” restaurants – for example, those that use only paper packaging or cook vegan food.
- Switch to a vegetarian or flexitarian diet
Eating less meat and animal products is one of the most straightforward things we can do to save the planet. Livestock farming contributes 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – more than all transport emissions put together. In addition, it is a major source of land and water degradation.
The United Nations has named 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, highlighting their vital role in human nutrition and urging efforts to improve sustainable production and reduce waste.
Realizing the negative impacts of industrial meat production on the environment and human health and the ethical aspects of eating meat, increasingly more people switch to vegetarian or vegan diets.
In recent years, a flexitarian lifestyle has gained recognition, with around a quarter of Europeans now identifying with this trend. The flexitarian diet is less strict than vegetarianism. It entails opting for plant-based foods like veggies, legumes, nuts, and beans, and only occasionally choosing sustainably produced meat.
A flexitarian diet may be a solution for people who call themselves avid meat lovers but still want to eat healthier and “greener.” You can start with having two or three vegetarian days per week, and then see if you can have five vegetarian days in a row. Look for inspiration in trendy vegetarian and vegan recipe apps.
- Grow or pick your own food
Growing at least some of the food you eat is a satisfying way to take care of your health and planetary health along with it. Even if you don’t have a garden or a small land plot, you can grow herbs, onions, or tomatoes on your balcony or inside the house. This way, you will help reduce the need for production, packaging, and transportation of your food, reducing the environmental impact. Growing some of your food also helps to reduce expenses and avoid consuming chemicals added to industrially-grown crops.
If you are not into gardening, consider foraging for mushrooms or berries. Or, look for farmers who would share their harvest in exchange for some help on their farm. Some farmers offer very low prices for veggies or berries if you come to pick them yourself.
Another option is buying crops and vegetables straight from the farmers. It’s no secret that eco-friendly products are often more expensive in shops since they have higher production standards and don’t use shelf life-extending yet harmful chemicals. So, buying directly from the producers is a way of ensuring the quality and sustainability of your food while not overspending.
- Purchase fewer bottled beverages
You may have realized that plastic drink bottles produce excessive waste – in fact, U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles. But did you know that liquids are among the heaviest items to ship, and lots of fossil fuel is needed to do this? Not to mention the huge environmental impact from manufacturing the bottles.
The simplest way to substitute purchasing bottled beverages is using a refillable bottle and filling it with water from the tap or filter. You can also make your own soft drinks like kombucha or home-squeezed lemonade or juice.
- Avoid single-use packaging
This may seem like a diet-unrelated tip, but today the terms food, waste, and packaging are tightly bound together. As outlined in the recent food megatrends research, it’s essential that we move away from a “throw-away culture” and towards a circular economy that promotes reusing, repairing, and recycling.
But eliminating plastic is not as easy as it sounds since plastic packaging can significantly prolong shelf life and prevent food waste. As we are waiting for new solutions to come from packaging manufacturers, we can already choose better alternatives to single-use plastics, for example:
- Buy bulk foods to avoid packaging for every single item.
- Choose minimally processed foods or more plant-based meals. Doing so results in less packaging and waste.
- Buy from zero waste stores or manufacturers who use sustainable packaging like paper, recycled packaging, or even edible packaging.
Big transformations start with small steps
At present, almost half of global food production exceeds Earth’s environmental boundaries.
It’s in our hands to speak up about climate change and try to do as much as we can to support nature and the environment. Changing our daily habits and the way we consume food is an excellent place to start. And taking baby steps is better than taking no steps at all.
Imagine if every person in the world tried to avoid using plastic-bottled drinks or skipping at least one or two meat dishes per week? It would amount to a massive positive impact on the environment. So start with yourself and drag others into this – your planet will be thankful!
Ieva Sipola is a writer and a journalist with more than ten years of experience, mainly covering productivity and well-being related topics. Among her other undertakings, she works with the research project about The Future of Food.
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