Small changes now can create a big impact later. That is why we are so concerned with recycling, upcycling, and lowering our carbon footprint to the best of our abilities. And our collective efforts as a human family are making a difference. But, are there potential ecological footprints we can leave on the planet by our choices of food and how much land it needs for production? Yes, however, we can reduce those footprints by adopting sustainable eating practices. Simply defined, sustainable eating is choosing foods that are good for the environment and our bodies. It includes how food is produced, using techniques that help conserve natural resources and allow future generations to do the same. Consider just one aspect - grain-fed livestock.
According to the EAT-Lancet Report Commission on Food, Planet, Health, when our food is sourced from animals, especially red meat, it leaves a high-impact environmental footprint per serving in comparison to other food groups. These impacts include tons of greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of land allotted to raise the animals, such as cattle, which results in a loss of biodiversity.
Does this mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan to make an impact? No, but making a conscious decision to eat less red meat, reaching a goal of 1 serving a week, can make a huge difference in your health and that of the planet. Consider making gradual changes to your diet by switching out red meat-based protein with plant-based protein such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, and also adding seafood and eggs to your weekly diet. Your physician will praise you for a healthier lifestyle choice and the planet will offer you a silent thank you.
Where to start? Here are three changes you can begin implementing this week as you prepare a menu and grocery list.
1. Increase. Plan your menu around increasing vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. A twenty-minute search online for vegetarian or vegan meal options will render hundreds of new recipes for you to try. Prepare, cook and eat with an open mind - you may be surprised at all of the delicious food combinations you were missing out on. Keep leftovers in lunchbox-sized containers in the fridge to provide an incentive for packing a healthy, and inexpensive, lunch for work.
2. Decrease. True, meat provides protein, iron and vitamin B12 which is good for you. In moderation. You don't have to completely eliminate meat from your diet; just decrease the amount. The perceived sacrifice of giving up drive-thru lunches of bacon topped hamburgers three days a week is diminished when compared to the long-term potential benefits of overall better health and a decreased risk of obesity.
3. Diversify. Buy local; get to know your way around your nearby Farmer's Market. Purchase food from farmers and responsible retailers who support biodiversity through regenerative agriculture. Change up your eating habits - forgo Friday night take-out and replace that with creatively cooking at home with family and friends. Start new, healthier traditions and teach your children by example.
Sustainable eating may seem foreign to you at first. So start small. Educate yourself on the potential benefits. Set reachable goals you can stick to. Keep in mind your reasons for making a change and this will propel you forward as you strive for a balanced, diverse, and optimal diet that promotes good health for you and the planet.