Sustainable Eaters: How to Eat for the Planet + Your Health

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Sustainable Eating

The awareness of our social responsibility, globally, in improving planet health is trending, but what exactly is sustainable eating?

It is a simple answer, but with many parts. Let us try to help you unpack it and empower you to start being a planet saving champion instantly, while also getting the health benefits this consideration in your food choices will naturally bring you.

Food Location and Season

When you chose foods that are seasonal and local – you are firstly:
  1. Saving carbon and money
  • Lowering the carbon footprint, environmental and dollar transport cost of your food supply.

  • When you demand fresh foods out of season, often they need to be transported from as far as overseas.

  • In season food is cheaper, so it saves you money.

  1. Eating the right nutrition at the right time of year
  • For example: Citrus is in season over the winter months, high in Vitamin c to help you fight off colds and viruses.

  • The nutrition in the “in season” fruit or vegetable will be high, vs food not in season that has travelled lots of food miles and sat in storage for extended periods of time.

We really like the simplicity of this Australian Seasonal Produce Guide from Sustainable Table.

Image: Bite Nutrition Beautiful Yummy Food "Fruit" Book

Plant Based Foods

A sustainable diet is one that is higher in plant foods closer to nature and has an intake of animal-based foods that are high quality and low in saturated fat and salt.

In developing countries such as Australia, our intake of plant-based foods are well below recommendations. Less than 9% of Australian adults each enough vegetables each day and only 55% manage 2 serves of fruit a day.
Common food crops like vegetables, legumes, (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy), grains, fruits, seed’s and nuts offer nutrition in volumes with low demand on the land.

We all need to eat more plant-based foods.

Fibre, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, prebiotics, high water and moderate to low kj’s pending the plant – all incredibly helpful to us in building immunity, preventing chronic disease and living a long life in a body we know we have nourished.

Animal Products: Quality and Biological Value

Documentaries such as Food, Inc. have burnt images in our minds around mass red meat farming practices in the USA to keep up with the fast food market demands.  But they key words here are “fast food markets”.

Animal products are very important for our nutrition and are recommended as part of a balanced diet. But as our wealth grows, so does our intake of animal products, and sadly not always the high-quality options.

Over the last 50 years, countries increase in household income is directly linked to an increase in red meat consumption. Then, interestingly, at a certain level of income, red meat consumption steadies and has been shown to decline.  When you go for a long time not being able to afford something, and then suddenly you can afford it – ofcourse you buy it!

What no one is talking about however when we mention increases and decreases, is that some countries need to increase their intake and that the quality of the animal products can be quite poor and most likely sit in the “discretionary” category such as fast foods and less healthy options such as sausages, bacon, fast food options and processed meats which are high in saturated fats and sodium.

Australians’ intake of lean and cooked red meat per day has not increased since 1995, however our intake of discretionary” foods has increased and is currently on average 1/3rd of our daily intake and double what it should be.
Focusing on getting back to dietary recommendations of animal products in our day and week would be a great start, choosing better cuts of meat and eating them in portion sizes that are recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. For most people as a general guide, this is protein that fits in the palm of your hand.

Quality animal products are high in biological value (HBV), meaning they contain essential amino acids in a form that we can easily absorb and use to help our bodies grow and repair. They also contain minerals that our bodies depend on.
The meat and livestock industry have their own commitments to the environment and sustainability which is fantastic.

Livestock is an important part of our use of land and farming systems. It is too oversimplistic to suggest that red meat production reduction will solve climate challenges. It is just untrue.

But we need to help ourselves and our planet out by ensuring we only eat what we need in animal products and focus on low-fat, low salt, high-quality sources.

Food Fads and Superfoods

When a food is on “Fad” please be mindful. Usually, the foods on fad are not normally produced on mass. So, when a fad hits and demand skyrockets, typically this displaces the food production to unnatural heights and can be detrimental to a local system. Quinoa demand for example disrupted local indigenous farming, introduced chemicals into the farming practices to meet demand and meant other local crops used to feed locals did not get raised. So, fads or “superfood” driven marketing can cause unethical displacement of existing systems and happens too quickly to establish rules for food safety and commercial level production. These fads come and go, but the damage sometimes can be permanent.

Food and Packaging Waste

Single use plastics and household food waste are completely unnecessary contributors to our planet waste and emissions. Australia plans to reduce food waste 50% by 2030, but most of that work needs to be done at home and by lowering our cosmetic expectations of food.

With 1 in 6 Australians not having enough food, it is a contrast to consider how much food is wasted for convenience, poor planning and ignorance. Household income is not going up, yet we still chose to spend more on single serve packaging and food we do not need; our inability to manage our shopping list is equally wasting money we do not have, and adding stress to our planet.
Some facts below:

  • Of the 7.6million tonnes of food waste a year, 2.46 million tonne’s is from household
  • Up to 20% of purchased food is wasted and 70% of that food is edible.
  • 40% of the average household garbage bin is only food. 
  • Young consumers (19-24), households with incomes over 100k and families are the highest wasters.
  • Each year food wastage costs the Australian economy $36.6 billion.
  • Production and disposal of food that is wasted generates 17.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
  • 20-40% of food is “rejected” before getting to shelves as it does not suit consumers expectations 

In our household, we waste no food. Our grocery shopping daily lives include no single serve plastics that cannot be upcycled; our school lunch boxes are “nudefoods” – no plastics or packaging at all. We have a compost and, in the past, had worm farms. We create recipes for leftovers and have no shame in asking for a "doggy bag" when we eat out. Unless it’s totally green with mould, we eat it. Due by dates are just a guide!

Nude Lunchbox No Plastic Packaging

Image: Nude Lunchbox's. For Ideas, see Bite Nutrition's Website

What change can you make, immediately, to your food purchasing and waste behaviours?

For more facts go to FoodWise
The Global Sustainable Development Goals include 12: responsible consumption and production.

Sustainable Agriculture

There was a while back where the “Farm to Fork” movement was significant. People wanted to learn more about where their food came from, what the animals were treated like and what they were fed.  Free range egg availability is a testament to consumer power!

Sustainable agriculture embraces a wide variety of techniques including organic, free range, holistic, low input and biodynamic farming. It mimics as best it can, natural ecological processes. Sustainable agriculture rejects the industrial approach to food production developed during the 20th century.

Food supply has been plentiful, affordable and constant due to our farming dependency on processes, monoculture, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, and subsidies. Yet, this has been at the cost of ecological erosion, depleted and contaminated soil and water resources, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, labour abuses, and the decline of the family farm.

In sustainable practices, farmers minimize water use, encourage healthy soil by rotating crops planting fields and integrating croplands with livestock grazing, and avoid pesticide use by nurturing the presence of organisms that control crop-destroying pests.

Total farm philosophy however is much bigger than just growing food. Sustainability supports the fair treatment of farm workers and food pricing that provides the farmer with a liveable income.

You can support farmers in sustainable agriculture by knowing where your food come from and buying from sustainable farms as best you can.

Our kids Fruit and Vegetables Books certainly try to focus on raising awareness of “Farm to Fork” by explaining in symbols and words what season food grows, how the food is grown and the benefits of the food to your body.  Just another tool in the kit to support the next generation of sustainable eaters be planet saving ambassadors and role models. 

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We know we can all do just one thing and it will make a significant difference. Just one. What will yours be?