I have a very deep rooted and personal interest in food, nutrition, the environment and sustainability. So, when I started studying nutrition academically and first heard the term ‘sustainable nutrition’ it’s safe to say my heart beat a little faster in excitement!
Sustainable – ‘able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’
Nutrition – ‘the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth’
Therefore, sustainable nutrition – ‘sustainable production of healthy, nutritious food as well as healthy diets sourced, made and disposed of sustainably’ (Forum for the Future)
The best way I have seen sustainable nutrition explained in relation to how we can all interweave some of the major principles into our lives (and share this with those around us) is broken down into 7 easy-to-grasp steps, which I have listed below. Although I do still struggle to recite them when asked on the spot! What I really want to be at the heart of this blog is these core principles, so I will aim to write an in-depth explanation of each in the future.
- Plant-based food preference
This means, where possible, making more choice of plant-based foods over meat, poultry, fish, dairy and associated products. This helps not only to increase the sustainability of your diet from a health perspective but also as plant-based foods, more often than not, have a smaller environmental foot print. Thereby helping to conserve and preserve natural resources and reduce emission of greenhouse gases, for example.
- Organic foods
The definition for food produced organically is that which is the product of farming systems that don’t use man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) state that these systems work towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. Although I do believe choosing some organic foods can be a good choice their production and consumption is a highly complicated area with many inter-related factors that I will attempt to elaborate on in a later post dedicated to the issue.
- Regional and seasonal products
Getting to know your local area through its food can be highly rewarding, as can eating in season which is also often cheaper. Being aware of your local produce is a great place to start. Although this might at first seem restrictive (the thought of not having strawberries in December may seem inhumane to some!?) it allows you to save money, support local businesses and get more creative with your cooking.
- Fair trade products
Just the idea that we should need to name certain products ‘fair trade’ should be enough to pull on anyone’s heart strings, as it implies (not that unsubtly!) that if you don’t buy fair trade, you’re buying un-fairly traded products. Choosing fair trade foods and drinks – the range available is huge: tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar being just some – guarantees that the producer is getting what they deserve for their goods. If you think about it, how can we NOT do this whenever we can?! Even if you only do it to give yourself a little moral pat on the back. By the way there really are some truly delicious (and reasonably priced) fair trade goods out there.
- Minimally processed food preference
Although it makes sense to eat less highly processed foods such as microwave burgers and factory-made cakes I have a bit of a problem with the term ‘processed’ in relation to food. This is for two main reasons: firstly, preparing or cooking of any kind is a ‘process’ meaning that many very healthy and convenient foods, such as tinned tomatoes or sliced wholemeal bread are in fact processed. This can be very marginalising as these foods make the ‘less processed’ varieties, like freshly baked bread and fresh tomatoes, seem put on a pedestal somehow. These foods are often not accessible to most who cannot afford (either the time or the money) to choose them regularly.
- Resource-saving housekeeping
Housekeeping, although meaning to most one massive ball-ache, refers to many areas of our daily lives. To me this means having as little impact on the precious resources of our planet and choosing to conserve these when confronted with the many opportunities we have throughout the day to make a difference. From choosing to microwave our potatoes instead of boiling to choosing to bring a reusable coffee cup for our morning coffee (or even making our own coffee to take with us!). There are so many little moments when we can save resources and money at the same time.
- Enjoyable eating culture
How many times have you felt stress because of what you chose to eat, the location that you chose to eat in or because you felt rushed or distracted? So-called mindful eating, sharing meals with loved one (or strangers!) and taking the time to really savour what we eat is a huge part of good nutrition and healthy eating. I will explore more ideas for making when and how you eat more enjoyable in a later post.
Having a holistic, all-encompassing approach has to be the way to being more present, aware, enterprising and compassionate in relation to food, energy saving and inter-related factors such as our mental health, general well-being and even our relationships. I will continue to expand on my rants looking at the importance of each of these in turn and what evidence there is to support any benefits they may bring us, as well as ways we can invite them into our lives more.
“Although I have been prevented by outward circumstances from observing a strictly vegetarian diet, I have long been an adherent to the cause in principle. Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” – Albert Einstein, writing in a letter dated December 27, 1930 (Einstein Archive 46-756)
For the keen readers and evidence-checkers amongst you:
Van Koerber et al (2017). Wholesome nutrition: an example of a sustainable diet. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665116000616
BBC Goodfood – What does organic mean? Available at: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/organic
forum for the future – A guide to sustainable nutrition. Available at: https://www.forumforthefuture.org/sites/default/files/files/A_guide_to_sustainable_nutrition(6).pdf