Eating for a Sustainable Future: Seven Tips to Reduce Your Food Footprint

While many of us environmentally frugal types focus on ensuring that our printing paper is made from sustainable resources and our light globes are energy efficient, many of us bypass the important role of what we put in our mouths and its impact on the environment. 

As we are all consumers of food and many of us enjoy eating, the impact of our overconsuming and voracious appetite is costing not only our hard-earned cash but also the environment. Eating sustainably need not be difficult or time-consuming; some simple techniques can ensure that what we eat has minimal impact on our environment.

So let’s get straight in…

Take-away foods

Firstly, it may seem obvious, but avoiding takeaway foods will dramatically reduce waste. Quick meals such as salads, stir-fries, wraps, and steamed vegetables can be both nutritious and just as speedy as takeaway foods.

However, if you are indulging in takeaway foods, I encourage you to plan ahead for your purchases. There are a couple of things that I like to keep on hand when I’m eating or buying food away from home. I keep a couple of lunch boxes and various-sized containers in the back of my car for impulse purchases or to ‘doggy-bag’ our leftovers from restaurants. Also, in places like Chinese or Indian takeaways that insist on putting your takeaway food into a plastic bag – I keep a reusable cloth bag on hand to take my food home.

These recommendations, lead us directly to the second suggestion –>

Re-usable containers

I love to use stainless steel lunch boxes and storage containers for lunches, snacks, and leftovers – stainless steel is antibacterial, lightweight, and easy to clean.

However, my favourite old-school reusable container is the glass jar. Like many frugal types, I have quite a collection of jars on hand for all occasions. I have a particular penchant for wide-mouth jars that are easy to clean and can serve multiple purposes, over and over again. These jars have, on many occasions saved me from resorting to single-use plastic containers or plastic wrap.

Plus … you can never have too many jars in your kitchen cupboards!

Also, if you haven’t already done so – look at upgrading your disposable coffee cup for a more environmentally sound reusable coffee cup and you could save over 250 disposable coffee cups per year ending up in landfill.

Food Packaging

Avoid pre-packaged foods as much as possible, consuming whole foods, which are less processed, require less energy to manufacture, and create less waste with unnecessary packaging.

I’ve noticed supermarkets love to plastic package so many fruits and vegetables, especially, (and ironically) organic foods. Local farmers’ markets will rarely package up their lettuce leaves or celery in plastic, plus supporting your local farmers is beneficial for your local economy. You can also seek out your local wholefood supplier or market for foods such as nuts, grains, spices, and legumes, and take your own container to store your purchases.

Remember when our rubbish collection per household used to fit into a little metal trash can? I’m often surprised when I see households, week after week, with a full sulo bin with rubbish going straight into landfill.

My personal challenge each week is to consume as little packaged food as practicable and produce the smallest amount of landfill waste as possible. But, hey, that’s just me.

Sensible Spending

Buy only what you need – write a list before shopping with the intention of only purchasing what is necessary for the week, save leftovers for lunches, and freeze excess food for a later date.

Seems simple, huh? But do you remember when we used to do this anyway? Before the world started turning at a tremendous rate and people began to fear that they couldn’t survive the two public holidays per year when the shops weren’t open.

And although it is beneficial to keep an extra supply of non-perishable dry goods on hand. It’s also sensible to go regularly go through your pantry supplies and make use of what you have, rotate your stock, and make sure that bugs and weevils are not feasting on your supplies.

I find my most deliciously creative meals are created with ‘what we have left in the fridge’ and fresh herbs and spices.

What’s for Dinner?

Learn to cook! Finding some basic recipes for delicious and nutritious homemade meals can help build confidence in the kitchen and get the whole family involved in cooking, inspiring the next generation to eat healthy and care for the environment. There are some great websites that have recipes to help with choosing simple and healthy meals.

I remember when I was a kid, my mother would always announce the cost of the food at the dinner table – it was like her version of Grace. And I guess that’s where I have learned some of my more frugal food tendencies. Those pre-mixed jars of sauces and condiments not only contain a medley of sugar, salt, and preservatives, but they also add to your food budget and add so many more single-use containers to landfill (unless of course, you re-use the jar).

Local Grown

Aim to buy local, Australian, or grow your own. Transportation costs and refrigeration of foods increase the prices of imported products and have a considerable environmental impact. Eating local and in season also means that your food is fresh and you are supporting local and Australian industries.

Buying and eating locally grown is always a real eye-opener. I find two things surprising – first is the knowledge of how many foods ARE actually grown and harvested by farmers in the local region. I’m always in awe of these farmers who are growing beautiful brown rice or organic bananas right on our doorstep here in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales.

The second thing that I realise when buying locally is how good we really have it in Australia. Yeah, I still love to buy organic nori sheets from Japan and many of the medicinal herbs that I use in my formations have raw materials sourced from outside of Australia. But is good to be aware that we have so many foods imported from other countries, and the transportation and packaging of these food items do take their toll on the environment.

Whole Food Plant-based

Animal industries are one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, if you compare the amount of grain required to produce meat, a single hectare of land can produce 78 times more food in the form of vegetables than in the form of beef**. Eating more plant-based foods not only improves your overall health but also significantly reduces the waste of essential environmental resources from intensive animal farming.

Many staple, plant-based foods such as whole grains, lentils, and legumes can really give animal meats a run for their nutritional money. Many of these foods (such as lentils) are grown in Australia and provide enough protein and fiber to fuel even the most active and hungry households.

Of course, making gradual and sustainable changes to reduce the wastage of resources through better food choices ultimately results in a healthier body, bank balance, and environment.

And although some of this might sound like I’m taking the environmental high ground with some of my suggestions. I mention these environmentally frugal tips in the hope that others will slow their lives down enough to notice the impact of our wasteful culture around packaged foods and indulgences. And feel more comfortable with low-stress natural whole foods that are locally grown, packaged in re-used containers, and consumed with the intention to nourish your body, your soul, and the environment.

*The Australian Institute, 2009, What a waste – An analysis of household expenditure on food

** Cribb, J, 2010, The Coming Famine: The global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it

The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking action based on this article. While the author uses their best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises regarding the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information presented. If you rely on any information provided in this article, you do so at your own risk.

About The Author

Leonie Satori

Naturopath and Herbalist Leonie is passionate about women’s health, especially perimenopause and all that midlife encompasses for women - anxiety, gut health and hormones. Her holistic and down-to-earth approach to well-being incorporates wisdom from traditional healing practices, including Western herbal medicine and Ayurveda plus over a decade of clinical experience. In her free time, you’ll find Leonie bush-walking, gardening and living life slowly.

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