Care for the Planet: Eat Sustainably
What we eat is a personal choice, and we make this choice daily. The food items and ingredients we choose, where we buy them, the way we cook or serve our food — all of this seems like an intensely personal, private matter. However, the food on your table is part of a larger ecosystem. It comes to your local market, your doorstep, and your dining table via an extensive network that consumes energy and involves labor, transportation, and storage. It bears the markings of the long journey it underwent — one that puts a strain on the planet.
The latest "EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health" report says, “Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience. It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries.”
About a quarter of all planet-warming greenhouse gases emitted each year are a result of what and how we eat.
Naturally, we owe it to our planet to eat sustainably.
Wholistic wellbeing, at its core, embodies deep respect for the environment and the planet — you can’t live a life of wellbeing if you’re unconcerned about the wellbeing of the planet. Concern for sustainability and preserving our ecosystems through clean, mindful eating, and a conscious use of natural resources in our daily lives are central tenets of wholistic wellbeing.
I do my bit to eat sustainably by sticking to plant-based foods. It’s been relatively easy for me to make this choice as I was born in a country where vegetarianism is both a way of life and a religion for many; it’s easy to eat the rainbow (colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables) every day. I was born into a vegetarian family in Punjab, India. In our household, time — and family time — was marked by meals. We always ate at the dinner table and made time to eat together. My parents impressed upon us the positive health benefits of eating simple vegetarian fare from different food groups, all sourced locally.
This traditional wisdom has been right all along. According to research from Oxford University, eating a plant-based diet is healthier for us. It is also healthier for the environment as such foods consume fewer natural resources and, when planted, harvested, and cultivated right, can even lead to the regeneration of the ecosystem. This is in line with the definition of an ideal planetary health plate: It should “consist by volume of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits; the other half should consist of primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein.”
Whatever our nutritional habits and preferences, physical requirements, or age, we need to practice mindful eating and bear the sustainability of our planet in mind when making food choices.
Here’s are some small steps you take daily toward eating sustainably:
When I talk about sourcing food locally, it doesn’t simply mean going to your nearest supermarket. For a sustainable approach, you must give a leg up to local farmers and patronize local production methods. The idea is to buy food directly as much as possible, from the people who produce it. This not only enables small local businesses to find a footing in your community but also helps build a stronger, more conscious society. Locally grown food is also nutritionally advantageous — it is usually fresher than the stuff you buy from the supermarket and likely hasn’t been mass produced or sprayed with preservatives to make it last hundreds of food miles or stay on the shelf for months.
Change the Menu: Include Diversity on Your Plate
When we include natural, local, and seasonal produce in our daily diet, we ensure there is a demand for a diversity of crops apart from the mass-produced varieties of cereals and legumes. Mindless large-scale production to meet global demand has led to agricultural land being scrubbed of its rich diversity. Food crop diversity is the key to sustainability, but according to research, we grow only 150 crop species commercially across the world, with wheat and maize providing over 50% of the world’s protein and calorie needs. About 7,000 crop species have unexploited commercial potential although they’re used for food, fodder, vegetable oil, medicines, etc. Developing these can help improve food security, reduce poverty, improve nutrition, and sustain critical and fragile ecosystems.
If we are more conscious of the food diversity in our countries, and can nurture traditional crops and seeds by bringing diversity to our plate, we can help conserve crop diversity and ensure agricultural biodiversity..
We are not nourished only by what we eat, but also by how we eat. We eat three or more meals daily — by bringing mindfulness to your meals, you can bring awareness to your daily life. This will help you be grateful, and find meaning and nourishment not just for your body but also for your soul. Take into consideration the time and energy put in by nature itself in making this meal possible. This consciousness will also help you make healthier choices and avoid food waste.
Taking mindfulness beyond the sourcing, preparation, and consumption of food, you can make your kitchen more sustainable. Reuse old glass jars and canisters, and invest in cast-iron or long-lasting cookware to minimize the use of single-use plastic bottles, containers, and nonstick coated pots or pans (that need to be replaced often). This will help reduce your carbon footprint. Small conscious steps like carrying your own cloth or paper bags to the market, choosing eco-friendly options for dish soap and cleaning agents, using cloth wipes instead of single-use napkins, etc., can help reduce land and water pollution.
Food scraps like vegetable or fruit peels, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and other food waste can be composted to make manure that can enrich your garden soil. A simple composting bin or pit in your backyard will reduce the burden of biodegradable waste on landfills and keep greenhouse gases like methane being emitted into the atmosphere in check.
These are only a few steps from an exhaustive list of actions we can take to help restore the planet’s health. But if we are sensitive toward Mother Earth and start caring for her by eating sustainably, we can do our bit to combat climate change.