Feeling healthy, protecting the environment, and saving money. These all sound attractive, right? Accomplish them ALL with these tips for achieving a more sustainable diet.
Am I here to sell you on a new diet craze? Nope. This is a different kind of diet, unlike the endless cycle of drastically changing your eating habits for a few months until you reach a goal and then going back to whatever you did before. I’m talking about a lifestyle change – a sustainable diet (long-term eating habits) that will naturally up your health, protect the environment, and save you money. Whether you only try one of these tips or if you go for all five, your wallet and waistline will thank you.
Only buy what you can use.
Last month we talked about how to waste less + save more on produce. One key tip from that article is to not buy produce too far in advance. Only purchase what you’re going to be able to use or store before it goes bad. If you buy more than you need, you just end up throwing money away. But don’t be afraid to get creative when you see a good deal! For example, when you go to a “You Pick” farm, you can get a huge amount of produce for very little cost. Say you picked eight quarts of strawberries – keep some fresh in the fridge to eat plain, and use the rest to make strawberry jam, strawberry ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry daiquiris, strawberry cheesecake… You get the idea.
Buy local or grow your own.
A lot of energy is spent transporting produce across states and countries. Produce has to be picked early to not be rotten upon arrival, but has already lost some of its freshness by the time it hits the shelves. This is why buying locally-grown produce and/or having a garden of your own is a big factor in maintaining a sustainable diet. There are a few options for buying local, including a farmers’ market or the “locally-grown” section in your supermarket. Here are some pros and cons for each:
Farmers’ markets: takes out the middle-man so the farmer gets to keep more of a profit, generally encourages you to bring your own reusable produce bags, supports the local economy, only allows you to buy what’s in season, lets you meet and form relationships with neighbors, more likely to be organic produce, can be a bit expensive, only open in warmer months
“Locally-grown” section of supermarket: supports the local economy, only allows you to buy what’s in season, more likely to be organic produce, allows for a “one stop shop” where you can get all your groceries at the same store, available all year, encourages use of plastic produce bags
Grow your own: the freshest produce you can get, you know exactly what chemicals were used on the produce, satisfaction of sustaining yourself, free after initial seed/starter-plant purchase, produce available on demand, avoids use of produce bags, avoids any transportation, can be time-consuming, some plants don’t grow anything for the first few years (apples, raspberries, etc.), not as feasible in colder months.
Buy what’s in season.
This is mostly related to the previous point. However, you can almost always find any fruit or vegetable you want at the grocery store. The price depends on whether the produce is in season or not. During the summer in Michigan, berries are 5/$5, but in the winter, they may be $3 for one container. Why is that? Well, it costs the store more money to import (or just bring in from a different state) produce that isn’t growing locally. Or if the store can find some locally, there isn’t very much available, so prices go up to lower demand. (That economics class is finally paying off.) When you only buy what’s in season, you save money AND the environment, by not requiring so much produce to be shipped thousands of miles. Yay, you!
Find out what’s in season in your state with this handy guide from Field to Plate.
Regrow or compost what you can’t use.
Did you know you can regrow some foods from scraps? Romaine lettuce is a great example. You buy the lettuce still attached to the hearts, cut the lettuce off, and put the hearts in a bowl of water about 1-2 inches deep. Change the water every day to keep the new lettuce from getting soggy. It’s so simple! You can do something similar with green onions, too. Regrowing food is fantastic for a more sustainable diet because, again, it saves you money, encourages you to eat healthy foods, and helps the environment in multiple ways (less waste, less production costs, less transportation).
If you can’t regrow your food scraps, compost them! It’s great for the soil and keeps unnecessary waste from the landfill. Bonus points if you find a compost bin at your local thrift store.
Finally, eat fruits and veggies raw – but not too often.
There are pros and cons to eating raw food, especially if that’s all you eat, but eating a few basic foods raw isn’t a bad idea. I wouldn’t recommend eating only uncooked fruits and veggies, though, as 100% raw food diets are linked with poor metabolic function, excessive energy loss, and hormonal deficiencies or imbalances. (Read the article from Health Ambition for more information.)
Basically, don’t be afraid to eat fresh fruit, make a salad, or snack on that veggie tray at a party, but make sure you’re cooking at least some of your produce to give your digestive system a well-deserved break.