Environment Food & Health

10 Ways We Can Make the Food System More Sustainable

If you’ve been paying any attention to the changing food climate over the past several years, you’ve probably heard a certain buzzword repeated time and time again: sustainability.

But what does a sustainable food system refer to, exactly?

The answer is complex and composed of many moving parts, but at its heart, a sustainable model in the food system promotes the physical health of the public, the economic health of farmers and producers and the fair treatment of the earth, animals and people.

A sustainable food system also refers to an approach that makes the most of the earth’s resources for future generations. It guards against depleting these resources. Why, then, has sustainability not yet been achieved? Perhaps it’s because not enough folks know how to achieve it.

Here are 10 ways that consumers, food producers and legislators can work together to make the food system more sustainable.

10 Ways to Make the Food System More Eco-Friendly

1. Local eating

The cost of transporting food across the globe isn’t measured just in dollar signs, but in carbon emissions too. When you buy food from local farmers, you’re contributing to your community’s economy and also decreasing your impact on Mother Nature. Win-win.

Tip: If you really want to reduce your food miles, we recommend growing your own herb garden. It’s easy, economical and sustainable. Check out this post on growing herbs.

Ways to Make the Food System More Sustainable

2. Encourage cooking

Since sustainability promotes better health among consumers, learning to cook at home more skilfully — and more frequently — is an essential component. When people have control over their own food, they can eliminate ingredients like added sugars and fats. This, in turn, creates a healthier public.

Tip: Check out the video below that we created to encourage people not only to cook vegan, but to grow their own food too!

3. Design menus to follow seasons

Eaters like to enjoy fruits and veggies year-round which is part of the reason foods are imported from all over the world: to gratify the appetites of consumers. This however is unsustainable. If you stick to seasonal produce, however, you’ll be able to buy almost everything locally — and make sure that you get more variety in your diet over the course of a year. This practice will help to reduce your carbon footprint and boost your health.

4. Rotate crop varieties regularly

When farmers plant the same crops again and again, they eventually suck the nutrients out of the soil, making it near useless and often necessitating chemical-laden fertilizers. There’s a simple, natural and time-tested trick to avoid this, though. Farmers can plant different crops every few years to keep the soil healthy. Consumers just have to get on board with mixing up their diet too.

How to Make the Food System More Sustainable - Rotate Crop Varieties

5. Waste less

If you added up all the food to be produced from now until the year 2050, the sum would equal the same amount of food that’s been consumed over the past 8,000 years. Clearly, as the food industry grows, so will its impact on the earth. In order to offset this impact, consumers should strive to toss out less food at home and make the most of their groceries. Businesses, supermarkets and industry should stop throwing out food too and strive to donate to charity or other organisations.

Tip: It’s important that food isn’t sent to landfill as it adds to the carbon pollution problem as rotting food in landfills help to create methane, a greenhouse gas. So make sure to compost your food. To learn more about the food waste problem, we recommend reading this post which runs through the issue in great detail. 

How to Make the Food System More Sustainable - Addressing Food Waste

6. Support Fair Trade

Foods that bear the Fair Trade label have been produced in a way that ensures fair treatment of employees and the earth. So if you’re committed to the sustainable food movement, you should opt for Fair Trade foods whenever possible to support the right kinds of producers.

Tip: If you really want to support a sustainable food system, make sure to choose more plant-based foods, reduce your meat intake or try a vegetarian or vegan diet. 

7. Consider food’s true cost

The “true cost” of food refers to the often unseen environmental and social impacts that mass food production creates. Although unsustainable foods may be cheaper at the supermarket, they ultimately have a higher “true cost” in their negative impact on people and planet. It’s important to keep this issue in mind when you buy food.

Tip: If it’s more sustainable to support local grocers, farmers and primary producers, why not quit the big supermarkets? This post offers some helpful advice.

How to Make the Food System More Sustainable - What is the True Cost of Your Food?

8. Invest financially

The Netherlands is a small nation, but it exports the second-highest amount of food in terms of value, after the United States. How? The Dutch have invested in sustainable agriculture. They get innovative, using indoor farming techniques to make the most of every square inch of land. They also forgo most chemical pesticides so they can keep their soil fertile.

Tip: Vertical farming is a great example of indoor farming. Not sure what it is? This beginner’s guide will bring you up to speed.

9. Avoid additives, pesticides and go organic

Synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics take a toll on the earth and on animals, but are used frequently by primary producers and livestock farmers in conventional farming to ensure produce and animals grow – and turnover profit – as quickly as possible. When you have the option, try to buy organically grown and additive-free produce and grass-fed meats where possible This should be clearly marked on the packaging but if it isn’t, make sure to ask an assistant.

How to Make the Food System More Sustainable

10. Be willing to forgo convenience

Supporting a sustainable food system isn’t easy. When you commit to buying locally-produced foods and Fair Trade foods and adhering to other tenants of sustainable living, these conscious choices may cost you time and money. But ultimately, you’re working toward a greater cause that will ensure you pass on a healthy earth to future generations.

Contributing to a sustainable food system may require a personal investment on your part, but when you weigh the benefits, it’s well worth the effort. With just a few minor tweaks to your daily life, you could have a huge impact on the way the food system develops in the coming decades. So pick one or two of these steps that you can take to do your part in living (and eating) more sustainably.

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About the author

Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM writer and green living enthusiast. She is passionate about science, sustainability, and writing; and uses her skills and knowledge to communicate scientific discoveries in a more palatable way.

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