A guide to sustainable eating in 2020

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According to numerous scientific studies and reports, in order to avoid frightening consequences for the future of our planet, humanity must implement more sustainable food systems. Whilst many changes need to be made on national and global scales, there are also plenty of steps we could take as individuals to eat more sustainably.

However, the onslaught of media and marketing data that is pushed under our noses can create confusion in regards to what is and what isn’t sustainable food.

That’s why I’ve created this handy guide to sustainable eating, which is based on the latest scientific research and provides you with comprehensible and actionable steps that are easy to follow.

“A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease” The EAT-Lancet Report, 2019

What is sustainable eating?

Sustainable eating is the process of choosing foods that have a positive impact on our health and the environment. The concept of sustainability applies to the production, processing, distribution, and disposal of food.

What are the benefits of sustainable eating?

By choosing foods that are sustainable, we are contributing to the longevity of our planet and its occupants. Sustainable eating plays a role in protecting biodiversity; improving animal welfare; reducing climate change; and contributing to social and economic benefits. What’s more, it does so without detriment to future generations.

How do I cook and eat more sustainably?

Because you’re reading this article on The Vegan Review, then might I assume you’re already plant-based? If so, congratulations on making your first step towards sustainable eating! 

sustainable eating 2020

Transitioning to a vegan diet is an effective way of contributing positively to the health of the environment. Nevertheless, I won’t let you get off that easily! There are many other steps we should be taking to continue reducing our footprints.

Below are 8 steps that we can take to eat more sustainably. It’s not always possible to follow them all but we can certainly have a positive impact simply by choosing a few and being more aware of what we are eating.

8 Steps to Eating More Sustainably:

1. Eat more plants

I know, I know – vegans already eat plants. But how many do you eat?

According to The EAT-Lancet Report, the high rate of biodiversity loss is a huge risk to the stability of the Earth system and human health. If everyone were to switch to soy milk, then the increase in soy monocrops could have devastating effects on the environment, such as contributing to the extinction of bees. That’s why choosing a variety of plant-milks to include in your diet is a much more sustainable choice.

“If everyone reduced the amount of animal products that they ate to meet their nutritional requirements, the total agricultural land required would decline by 13%” WWF Appetite for Destruction Report, 2017

The same concept applies to most food that we eat. What’s more, there are many other reasons we should all be increasing the variety of plants we consume. For example, by growing different crops, farmers can reduce the financial risk of price fluctuations and the potential of losing an entire crop to unfavourable weather or disease.

Additionally, the Agricultural Sustainability Institute states that crop rotation and cover crops (methods employed as a result of increased crop diversity) can improve soil stability and nutrients; conserve soil moisture; reduce the likelihood of pests, weeds, and pathogens; attract beneficial arthropods; and reduce the necessity of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

2. Eat local and seasonal food

By eating locally-produced and seasonal food you not only get to support your community, but you also reduce your carbon footprint. The further away the ingredients of your dinner were produced from your location, the more fuel was used to get it to your plate. That’s why eating locally-grown vegetable patties will be more sustainable than frying a couple of Beyond Meat Burgers!

Check out our article on vegan meat alternatives to find out more about sustainability.

Moreover, eating by the seasons will mean that your fruit and veg are more likely to contain their optimum nutrient content and will ripen without the need for post-harvest techniques such as temperature management and chemical treatment.

3. Grow your own

sustainable eating 2020

What better way to understand food systems and eating sustainably than by growing your own food? You will gain a new appreciation for the effort and time that goes into producing crops and will rejoice when you get to eat your first homegrown tomato!

4. Reduce food waste

According to a 2020 report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), UK households generate 4.5 million tonnes of avoidable food waste every year, amounting to £700 for an average family with kids.

We can eat more sustainably simply by making the most of what we have. Find yourself throwing away the leaves of a cauliflower? Roast them for a delicious side dish! Got a few squishy strawberries or some tired cabbage leftover in your fridge? Preserve, pickle, infuse, ferment!

5. Eat organic

Organic food may be more expensive (if you have attempted to grow your own food then you will understand why) but it will significantly reduce the amount of pesticides used in crop production and will promote more sustainable soil practices including crop rotation, cover crops, and composting.

6. Buy certified food

Buying foods that display credible certifications, such as Fairtrade and RSPO, will ensure that you are eating products produced to certain standards of environmental sustainability and social responsibility.

7. Buy food with less packaging

Shop Like You Give a Damn and choose food products that use 100% plastic-free packaging. Need I mention why plastic is bad for the planet?

8. Initiate conversations

Last but not least – talk about it! Talk to anyone who listens: your local farmer, grocery shop assistants, friends, family, your cat! The more people who are aware of how food arrives on their plates, the more likely we can all push for positive change. Plus, you can share resources, motivation, and advice to help all of us eat more sustainably.

Alice Johnson 
Alice Johnson 
Alice Johnson is a freelance writer, keen musician, and co-founder of Vegan Sisters’ Online Community, which offers training courses for content writers. She is passionate about public health, animal rights, sustainable living, plant-based food, travelling, conservation, and rescuing stray animals on her way around the world. Alice has made appearances on BBC News and her work has been published in national scientific journals, print magazines, and on web-based news channels. When she’s not in the kitchen experimenting with cashew cheese, homemade body moisturisers, and vegan kimchi, you probably won’t be able to find her as she will be off gallivanting around the world.