Nobody wants to wreck the Earth, but also people have to eat. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving spread for family or just a better lunch at your desk, we want what we eat to be as Earth-friendly as possible. And that creates a tricky balance between the angels of our nature and the need for convenience and desire for fun food.
When buying groceries, what’s green, what isn’t, and what should you know?
- Eat more plants. Simply put, it takes a lot less effort to grow, feed, and prepare plants for eating than it does almost any animal. This has the key side effect of being cheaper. Even though some plants have a much harsher environmental impact than others (nuts, in particular), and animal products can be a part of your diet, the more plants you eat, the greener your groceries will be.
- That said, some plants are better than others. For example, buckwheat is an eco-friendly grain, while almonds arguably cost more water than they’re worth. Spend some time researching the plants you eat (and there are surprisingly few of them), and get a sense of their environmental impact.
- Move down the food chain, and away from tradition, for proteins. Sustainable, green-friendly food is, in the long run, about eating what the apex animals we farm now eat, instead of eating those apex animals entirely. Instead of salmon and tuna, eat the smaller fish like smelt and sardines. If you can handle it, and we know it’s a big ask for some, try some cricket flour. In other words, eat more of what the animals we currently see as food like to eat.
- Less red meat, more lean protein. While the sustainability of livestock agriculture is an open question everyone from farmers to shoppers are struggling with, the day-to-day reality is pretty stark. One cow takes ten times as much resources as a flock of chickens. Cutting down on red meat, and eating animals that use less resources, is a good shift.
- Look for local, native, and seasonal. One of the worst impacts on the earth for food production is that we ship, truck, and fly food constantly. There are places on the planet where this is just a fact of life; American diets are heavily dependent on the Mexican growing season, for example. But, where you can, buy local, buy native to your area, and buy what’s in season.
- Buy ugly food. The “ugly food” movement is gaining momentum, because it’s far less wasteful. Don’t be shy about asking for, and paying for, “ugly food.” Who cares what the carrot looks like before you chop it up?
- Get to know where your food comes from. Keep in mind that agricultural technology is advancing absurdly fast, and that’s broadening both the foods available locally year-round and reducing their environmental impact. You might be surprised by what’s unfolding.
- Be honest before you shop. We’ve all had that moment where we decide to do something truly ambitious, like eat raw for a week and then two weeks later, we’re scrubbing an organic soup out of the crisper. Be honest with yourself, your timeframe, and your wants and needs, and you’ll both save money at the grocery store and guilt during cleaning day.
- Compost. At this point, it’s simple to either start your own composting pile, or hire a service to come pick up and compost buckets of scraps. The less you throw out of what you buy, and the more use you get out of it, the better.
The greener we eat, the better off we’ll all be, not just in terms of the planet, but in terms of our health and the security of our food. It’s not that we need to stop eating Doritos and burgers all the time, we just need to eat them occasionally, with our minds on their impact. A little thought, it turns out, goes a long, long way.