5 Ways to Make Your Diet More Sustainable

Written by Abbey Mesler, Programs Intern, Texan by Nature

Food production accounts for 30% of global greenhouse gases, 70% of freshwater use, and 40% of land use. At Texan by Nature, we recognize the impact that every single person can make. This is the #TxN5WayFriday series, providing weekly insight on being Texan by Nature. Here are 5 ways to make your diet more sustainable and help reduce these numbers:

1. Buy seasonal and local food

Locally sourced food is more sustainable because it does not have to be transported for thousands of miles to get to you, meaning less fuel is burned and fewer greenhouse gases are emitted. Food that is in-season requires fewer natural resources to produce because it is being grown in the conditions it has evolved to grow in. Not to mention – local and seasonal food tastes better too! Food that has to be shipped from far away is harvested before it is ripe, so that it can last the journey. Local food tastes fresher and is better for the environment. You can find local produce at a farmers market, which brings the added benefit of being able to talk to the person who grows your food and find out the farming methods they use. You can find out what produce is in season in your area using this Seasonal Food Guide.

local food market

2. Choose sustainable protein sources

The impacts of animal products can markedly exceed those of vegetable substitutes to such a degree that meat, aquaculture, eggs, and dairy use ~83% of the world’s farmland and contribute 56 to 58% of food’s different emissions. Not to mention the enormous amounts of water and agricultural land it takes to produce just one steak. However, it isn’t reasonable for all Americans to cut out meat entirely. Instead, sourcing sustainable meat is a more realistic option for many people. Producing meat using regenerative agriculture can reduce the emissions of meat production or even create a net emissions sink by drawing carbon into the soil. Look for labels like “USDA Organic” or “Certified Grassfed” when selecting meat to buy. Check out FoodPrint’s Food Label Guide for a more comprehensive guide to sustainable food labels.

Another thing to consider is that not all meat is equal. Beef and pork have higher carbon footprints than chicken or fish. Consider choosing chicken or fish more frequently, and saving red meat for rare occasions. Even better – choose wild game. Wild game such as venison and duck has a far lower environmental impact than farmed animals. If you are not a hunter yourself, you can get game meat at a local butcher or from an online source such as Broken Arrow Ranch. In addition to these sustainable meat options, there are plenty of non-meat sources of protein that are also sustainable. Tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, and even vegetables like broccoli and spinach are all high in protein. Check out this list of 17 plant-based protein sources for even more options.

3. Reduce food waste

In the United States, an estimated 30-40% of our food is wasted. We can help reduce this by being smart about the food we buy. Only buy what you can eat. This may mean going to the store more frequently, but buying less each time. Reduce spoilage by paying attention to expiration dates. Keep reusable food containers to save any leftover food from meals. When eating out, take home any leftover food you didn’t eat. If you have excess food you can’t eat, consider donating it to homeless shelters. For any inedible food, compost it through curbside pickup if your neighborhood has this, or through home composting methods. A guide to different composting methods can be found here.

4. Buy food with less plastic packaging

Most food at the grocery store today comes wrapped in some sort of packaging, and it can seem difficult to avoid. However, there are many ways to get around this. Produce is the easiest thing to buy package-free because most of it is already sold without packaging. Just remember to bring your own produce bags, containers, and jars to the grocery store. Meat can be bought from local butchers or the deli counter at grocery stores, and you can bring your own containers here as well. Many other products such as nuts, rice, and even spices can be found in the bulk section of many grocery stores. With a collection of jars, cloth bags, and metal containers you can greatly cut back on unneeded packaging. When buying food with packaging, try to avoid plastic and choose packaging that is compostable or recyclable.

5. Consume less palm oil

50% of the products we use on a daily basis contain palm oil. It’s cheap to produce, has zero trans fats, a high melting point, and can be used in many different products. All reasons why it is the most highly traded oil in the world. The problem is the extreme deforestation that comes with the production of palm oil. Millions of acres of tropical rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia are being cleared for palm oil plantations. The soil of these rainforests sequester carbon, and when the forests are cleared, the carbon is released into the atmosphere. In addition, deforestation means a loss of habitat for many species including orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos, and sun bears. Choosing palm oil-free products can be difficult because it is disguised under several different names. It can be labeled as palm kernel, palm kernel oil, palm fruit oil, palmate, palmitate, palm olein, stearate, stearic acid, ethyl palmitate, or others. In addition to choosing products without palm oil, you can also choose products made with sustainable palm oil. Look for palm oil that is RSPO-certified.

Doing all these things at once can be nearly impossible. It’s better to choose a few sustainable changes that work best for you and focus on those. Whether it’s frequenting your local farmers market, or starting a compost bin, any small change is a step towards a healthier planet.