Thoughts on Sustainable Eating

Sometime back, I wrote about plant-forward as an eating style and as a means for showing concern for the environment. Today I would like to share some thoughts and opinions of mine about sustainability while eating with the intent to inspire you to eat greener (pun intended).

Before we get started, there is something I have to address. As many vegetarians and vegans would know, there is certain cynicism around eating styles for sustainability or care for animals. It goes like this: “The food industry is too big and powerful; thus, no one’s eating habits will move the needle.” While this claim is valid in the short run, it fails to recognize one fundamental aspect of change. Throughout history, people have driven change by challenging the status quo and daring to be the change they want to see. This challenge has inspirational power when others who also want the change realize how to go about it. When more people join forces, markets begin to acknowledge the new trend and offer products to tackle these needs, generating a competitive edge. For example, ten years back, people made fun of vegans, and today there is an array of products that address the concerns for animal cruelty.

Now, back to the topic of today’s post, we’re ready to talk about sustainable eating. Before I begin, let me state that there is never a simple solution for social problems, and these problems typically consist of layers of depth. So then, let us talk about some of those layers. At this time, I wish I had studies of research in my possession to support my opinion, but I don’t. I will, though, in the future try to confirm or deny these hypotheses.

Some of the issues I’ll be unpacking in the following paragraphs are CO2 emissions caused by the supply chain of foods and the dairy industry, single crops that are not good for the local ecosystems, non-organic farming, and the fast-food industries, that consume these and are seen as a convenient and cheap way of feeding the masses.

Layer one, a significant chunk of the population doesn’t understand nutrition or how to eat well. In this world view, most people’s eating habits and beliefs about nutrition come from upbringing. As a result, these people eat as they have been brought up, perpetuating potentially untrue ideas, like “meat is the only good source of protein.”

Layer two, most people don’t know how to cook. If we combine this in the world laid down by layer one, we could imagine how people can turn to pre-packaged and convenient meals that are highly processed. This statement also supports how items like pizza and burgers become a staple in the daily nutrition of the masses.

Layer three, good quality food is expensive. In the greater scheme of things, only expensive restaurants offer fresh and local ingredients; it takes a significant effort to keep these ingredients fresh. By simple economic reasoning, most affordable restaurants will resort to highly processed ingredients with a long shelf-life. Moreover, even if most people knew how to cook, at least in the US, farmers sell their products at a more-than-premium price at farmer’s markets. All of this makes eating well only accessible to the privileged classes.

Layer four, the processed food industry demands large quantities of a single crop from farmers. Think about avocado toasts; this is an item that you can find nowadays all over the world. Think, then, how many avocados and wheat and eggs should be produced and shipped around the planet. This hypothesis also supports, by extension, why it’s not easy to find local ingredients that only a few farmers grow.

Layer five, people don’t eat seasonally. Globalization got us used to eating year-round ingredients like peas or tomatoes, but these grow in particular seasons. In a world where people don’t know how to cook and live a demanding work routine, weekly habits of the same staples add up to what I discussed in layer four.

Layer six, a significant amount of food ends in the trash. Again, building on the previous layers, grocery stores and restaurants are throwing away tons of food. But there is another nuance to this. Farmers and grocery stores fraction ingredients in quantities that feed a family of four, but many families don’t fit this stereotype. Thus, they build in their fridges a stock of leftover ingredients that they can’t use (because they only know how to cook enough to follow a recipe) and end up in the bin.

A farmer at the “Marche Atwater” in Montreal. Visiting farmer’s markets is one of my favorite tourist activities because it helps me understand the local culinary.

At this point, there are likely many more layers of complexity that I haven’t even imagined. But I hope that at least my view illustrates the need for a few changes:

  • First, everyone would benefit from knowing how to cook and preserve ingredients. This knowledge was common in households many decades back, but now fewer people know or want to pickle, confit, grow fresh herbs, make jam, etc.
  • Second, everyone would benefit from knowing the fundamentals of nutrition. So they know how to put together at least something nutritious.
  • Third, we should work with local farmers and partner with them to make local produce affordable to everyone.
  • Last, everyone should adapt their eating habits to consume diverse and seasonal foods. This habit would make eating more enjoyable and even more interesting for the visitors. It would also put less stress on farms and the supply chain.

With this, I conclude my post, and I hope that you got inspired. I’d be happy to know your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments section below.

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