While sustainable food is generally defined by its eco-friendliness, like sustainability, diets are complex systems of many interconnected dimensions. In other words, besides being environmentally sustainable, a diet should also be sustainable for your health- and budget. Balancing all these sustainability aspects can feel like those triangle charts in which you can only pick 2 out of 3 essentials.
This is why we’ve compiled a list of foods that, besides being environmentally sustainable, are healthy and reasonably priced. Moreover, we’ve included some general sustainability rules of thumb that apply to more extensive food categories and your diet overall.
Mushrooms are known for their grit, being able to grow against the odds. They can even “recycle” other crops’ byproducts and use them as compost, which aligns with sustainability’s best practices.
Beans, lentils, peas, and other legumes are staples of the vegan diet, which has become practically synonymous with environmental friendliness. But you don’t have to be vegan to see how they benefit humans and the environment on multiple levels.
For one, they have a unique symbiotic relationship with the bacteria rhizobia. The soil microorganism draws nitrogen from the air and stores it in legumes’ root nodules, using them like underground warehouses. After the legumes’ life cycle is completed, the nitrogen is released into the soil for other plants to use, thus decreasing the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.
Moreover, being rich sources of protein and B12, legumes are one of the few worthy substitutes for meat from a nutritional standpoint.
Mussels and other bivalves are widely regarded as one of the eco-friendliest foods you can eat on various levels.
Farming mussels is environmentally undemanding as it requires no land or feed. It even helps purify the ocean since it draws out carbon dioxide and stores it as feed, in addition to other contaminants they use similarly and convert into beneficial substances.
Add its rich nutritious qualities to the mix, and you get the definition of an all-around sustainable food.
It’s worth noting that some believe that being ocean filters also makes mussels ocean dumpsters, full of bacteria.
Seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide. It uses nitrogen and phosphate as fuel so that it can convert agricultural runoff into nutrients.
The label “bio” doesn’t just protect you from pesticides, including the soil and its long-term health and viability.
Local, Seasonal Fruit, Veg, and Fish
The more local the fruit, vegetables, and fish you consume, the less distance they need to travel to you, which means a much lower carbon footprint.
Eating Meat and Fish Within Reason
The meat industry is one of the major contributors to climate change, whereas overfishing threatens many fish species.
Nobody is saying you have to go vegan, or at least we’re not. However, reducing your meat and traditional fish consumption within reason with the help of some of the aforementioned alternative nutrient sources can go a long way toward helping the environment without hurting yourself.
- Tradd Cotter, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, Chelsea Green Publishing, August 18, 2014
- SureHarvest, The Mushroom Sustainability Story: Water, Energy, and Climate Environmental Metrics
- Wang et al, Genetic and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Symbiotic Specificity in Legume-Rhizobium Interactions, Front. Plant Sci., 09 March 2018 Sec. Plant Development and EvoDevo, Impact Factor = 6.627; Times Cited = 172
- Duarte et al, Can Seaweed Farming Play a Role in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation?, Front. Mar. Sci., 12 April 2017 Sec. Global Change and the Future Ocean, Impact factor = 4.435; Times Cited = 357