What can you do as an individual to eat more sustainably?
There are dietary choices you can make which are good for both you and the planet: choose to eat a wide variety of sustainable ingredients, more plants than animals, and foods which are healthy and minimally-processed.
There’s no ingredient that is universally sustainable or unsustainable – it all depends on how it is farmed or fished.
Sustainable ingredients have minimal impacts on nature – they are produced responsibly and don’t threaten wildlife populations or their homes.
Species aren’t hunted to critical levels and rainforests or grasslands don’t have to make way for large plantations. Nor do these ingredients pollute water or leave soil less healthy, because they aren’t reliant on excessive fertilizer and pesticide application.
The best way to know if your ingredients are sustainable is to get to know the people who produced them – if at all possible, in person!
Some other things you can do are look for certifications and stamps of approval (like RSPO Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or ASC Aquaculture Stewardship Council), choose local or organic fruit and veg, and look for free-range meat and eggs.
One of the best ways to improve both your health and the environment is to increase how many plants you eat relative to animals. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy are all important sources of nutrition and in many places there’s no need to reduce their consumption. Elsewhere however, mainly in richer and more urban communities, it’s possible to increase plant consumption and get healthier.
In any scenario, the meat we do eat should be sustainable – so less intensively farmed livestock, only livestock fed on grass, ideally on naturally occurring rangelands. There are options for farmed fish, but the most important thing is to avoid wild fish which are being overfished.
The more processed a food is the greater its environmental impact – because of emissions created through the process and because it often loses nutritional quality, meaning more food has to be produced overall, just to deliver minimum nutritional requirements. We will be healthier if we eat fresher foods which are minimally processed/have minimal additives and we won’t need to use as many natural resources for food production.
It’s OK to enjoy the occasional treat and using some tinned foods can help reduce food waste, but convenience should only be one part of choosing what foods to eat.
Eating too much of any food is unlikely to be good for you or the planet. Our bodies need a variety of nutrients, and the planet also benefits from a variety of food being cultivated.
Soils are healthier when different types of crops are grown together and fertilizer use can be reduced by mixing crops with animals or other plants. A wider variety of foods also means food systems are more resilient to shocks like pests, diseases or extreme weather.
A good balanced diet can include many things but tends to have lots of wholegrains, fruit and veg, and less sugar, oils, fats and meat.
Within this though, you should also try to eat different grains, vegetables and animals to achieve as much balance as possible.
When it comes to diet, there is no one-size fits all approach. There will be times in life when you need more of one food than another.
It’s important that diets are flexible, respect local cultures and are context-specific. But people all over the world can eat different foods in different amounts while still following these four steps.
At all times, trying to make these healthier, more sustainable choices will help us create a future in which our planet can feed everyone.
"The good news is we can feed the world without destroying more forests, rivers and oceans."
João Campari, WWF Food Team Leader
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