How To: make your diet more sustainable

How to eat sustainably: art by Aimée Lister
Save the planet through your stomach

As a staple part of our everyday routine, adapting what we eat and our relationship with food is a clear way forward when we want to take steps towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Big change in our diets can have a big impact on carbon emissions, but not everyone is in a position to do this. Luckily, there are small ways of slightly adapting our eating and shopping habits that we can all consider in order to do better for our planet.

How to make a difference without changing your diet at all

1) Reduce food waste

How common is it that you bought too many of one thing or left that cheese in the back of the fridge just a bit too long? The twinge of guilt as you had to throw it away is always uncomfortable, but these habits mean we’re chronic food wasters. There is some good news! In the last ten years the amount of food wasted in the UK has halved - but we need to improve this by making more choices that encourage sharing what we waste. Why not join a food sharing network like OLIO that has saved nearly 5 million food portions since its creation? Or it can be as simple as starting your own. This doesn’t have to be scary: it could be as simple as starting a local group chat of friends or neighbours and posting ‘anyone want these potatoes? I won’t eat them all!’ so that we can stop food going to waste and share with our community too. This also doesn’t have to stop at an individual level; if you are employed by a company that sells food or you know someone who owns a business, why not encourage them to give their waste food to an organisation like Fare Share?

2) Reduce packaging

It’s not only the food itself where we can reduce the waste produced, but in the packaging as well. Zero waste shops have started popping up all over the country, especially in markets. These are normally locally-run businesses, so adapting your shopping habits help not only the planet but also local people. To find an outlet near you, this website is a one stop shop! If shopping regularly in store does not work for you, the traditional Milk and More delivers milk and juice in reusable glass bottles via electric floats.

Making small dietary changes

Changing what you eat does not have to be all consuming or mean making a major change. But thinking about where your food comes from and shopping accordingly can have a considerable impact.

3) Buy local

A first step is reducing how far your food had to travel to get to you. Look into local farm shops and what they produce. Primarily buy fruit and vegetables when they’re in season and when they can be grown in the UK. Investing your money in local produce helps support the farmers who live near you and reduces the energy used to transport your food to your table.

4) Grow your own and try composting

Undertaking gardening, even in a small capacity, has been proven to be good for your mental health and helps you reconnect with the natural world. Online there are all sorts of articles that tell you how to grow food sustainably without a garden, how to design a cheap vegetable garden and the best plants to grow in pots. In fact, the internet is full of resources that demystify growing your own food. Additionally, there’s nothing more satisfying than serving up food that you nurtured from seed – especially if it was fed with compost made from your old food scraps!

5) Be flexible

In general, it’s important to have more flexibility with what you eat. If you eat fish, consult resources such as the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Good Fish Guide’, which gives you information about fish stocks and practices. Instead of buying your vegetables in the supermarket, think about subscribing to a service such as Odd Box or Wonky Veg Boxes, which deliver a selection of misshapen and surplus veg to your door. Overall, changing how we think so we don’t expect to always have access to all types of food or in its perfect form will help us shift into a more sustainable mindset.

Bigger steps: Reducing meat and dairy consumption

Reducing the meat and animal products you eat is one of the most substantial impacts an individual can have on the environment. We recognise that not everyone can go vegetarian or vegan – it might not be suitable for your lifestyle or physical and mental health requirements. However, there are some easy ways to change your mindset towards eating less meat.

6) Get inspired by exciting veggie and vegan recipes

Buy a vegetarian cookbook such as the Veggie Cookbook by Higgidy or, for a fancier approach, try the cookbooks published by Mildred’s restaurant. Eating vegetarian can even be a money-saving exercise! If you’re strapped for cash, Jack Munroe’s Cooking on a Bootstrap is an absolute wealth of extremely cheap and delicious recipes. Incorporating vegetarian food when you consider what to cook in this way can feel quite natural, and just another part of experimenting in the kitchen.

7) Build plant-based meals into your routine

If you need more stability, perhaps give ‘Meat Free Monday’ a try or make a rule that if you get a takeaway food you look at vegetarian offerings first. Once a choice like this becomes a habit, it can be almost effortless to maintain.

8) Arm yourself with some reasons to switch

If you do feel in a position to move to a vegetarian or vegan diet, read up on why you want to make the change! It can give you more motivation for what can feel like quite a drastic move. Start by reading about these 18 myths debunked or look at the Vegetarian Society’s information page. More in depth books like Jonathan Safran Foer’s We are the Weather tackle climate crisis in general but give specific information about reducing animal product consumption and how that helps the planet.

final words: Be kind to yourself

It is true that doing what we can to reduce our environmental impact is really important and adapting our diets to be more local, waste less and include animal products is really beneficial. However, you should always remember that it’s better to focus on what you can do and move on to more substantial change if and when it feels right. Lots of people making purposeful small changes is just as good as a few people getting it completely ‘right.’

All sustainable lifestyle change is a sliding scale, and every step you take towards living a more eco-friendly life is important.

By Louder Than The Storm writer Daisy Everingham


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