I don’t think there’s really a way to truly eat/live ‘environmentally-friendly’ or sustainable if you don’t live off of your own land, grow your own food, make your own products, and rely on renewable energy to power your home (basically, living off the grid).
And unfortunately this blog isn’t going to tell you how you can be a homesteader (cause I have no freakin idea) or what some might see as ‘unmodern hippy freaks’. What it will do though, is give you a few tips on some things I have learned in my own life. Some things that I sometimes forget to do… So I’m in no way perfect (to the thousands of people who think I am, HAHA) and I am not trying to “preach” about how to not be an Earth Killer, I’m just sharing some ways that help me be more conscious of how I grocery shop and how I lessen my impact on the planet.
At the grocery store:
1. Stick to the ‘outside’. The grocery aisles is where you find most processed and packaged foods, try to avoid these areas as much as possible and shop in the ‘open’ area of the grocery store — where the truly healthy foods are like fresh vegetables, fruits and grains (I promise it won’t be boring).
2. Avoid products with heavy packaging. So many things at the grocery stores are in heavy packaging, which usually consists of unsustainable materials that will most likely end up in the landfill. These unsustainable materials are mainly plastic (since all of it doesn’t end up being recycled) and styrofoam (which can’t be recycled at all and is made out of a known cancer causing chemical called Styrene — the devil of all materials). Even in the ‘open’ area of the grocery store, you will find salad mixes and pre-chopped vegetables in plastic packaging. Even though these are the more convenient options (and sometimes more expensive since you could just be paying for the packaging), go for the raw head of lettuce or whole vegetable (they’re fresher too!). I do admit that sometimes I buy the pre-sliced mushrooms that come in a cardboard box wrapped in saran wrap, out of complete laziness. Of course, some things you can’t avoid buying in packaging at most grocery stores, like bread. If you do buy something with heavy packaging, don’t beat yourself up over it, just be conscious about it.
3. BYOB. Bring your own beer to the grocery store. Getting drunk while I grocery shop is the only way I can handle all the chaos… Haha, kidding. Of course this stands for bring your own bag! I’m sure many of you already know how bad plastic bags are so I won’t go on about that. Plastic shopping bags are popular with my family who use them as bathroom trash bags (Is there anyone else who grew up with a kitchen drawer full of plastic bags in their house…?). This is one way of taking on the ‘reuse’ thing but the problem is that they only get reused once and then they’re thrown in the trash for the landfill where they will either fly away in the wind to another place or break down into tiny toxic pieces of plastic over time. Every year, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags. That’s a lot of damn bags! So instead of having to deal with the flimsy, plastic bags that cut your finger circulation when they’re heavy, buy a reusable bag and save your fingers. I have a bag that I can stuff to the brim with groceries (which I’m probably not supposed to do) and fling over my shoulder to carry it to my car and it won’t tear (unlike Kevin’s bags), it’s pretty much like a miracle bag. Sometimes I forget to take my reusable bags with me to the grocery store and once you get reusable bags, you will find it difficult at first to always remember them, but than it will become a routine (it also helps to just leave them in your car). You’re welcome.
4. If possible, buy organic. The main reason why people don’t purchase organic food is because it can be more expensive and while this is true, as people are becoming more aware of the harmful environmental and human health impacts of pesticides, organic options are becoming more widely available and cheaper (I mean c’mon, Walmart’s ‘Great Value’ generic brand even offers organic options).
5. Know the Dirty Dozen. Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases a list of produce most heavily contaminated with pesticide residues. I don’t buy everything organic but I do buy produce on the dirty dozen list organic because I know it is worth the small, extra cost of not eating toxic chemicals. This year, the produce that have the most pesticides are: 1. Strawberries (Strawberries tested by scientists at the USDA in 2014 and 2015 contained an average of 7.7 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.3 pesticides per sample for all other produce, according to a new EWG analysis), 2. Spinach, 3. Nectarines, 4. Apples, 5. Peaches, 6. Pears, 7. Cherries, 8. Grapes, 9. Celery, 10. Tomatoes, 11. Sweet Bell Peppers, 12. Potatoes. Buying just a few of these items organic, may reduce your exposure to pesticides and you’ll be helping to support more environmentally sound farming practices. Go here for the full list.
6. Eat in Season. It’s so much cheaper to eat with the seasons and even though we have foods from all over the world available pretty much year round, it’s best to eat what’s growing in your region.
7. Support local farmers. Try something new and visit a farmers market. The produce you buy there will not only be local but it will most likely be organic and/or more sustainably produced. Not only will you be getting fresh produce, but you will also be supporting a local farmer (who are critical to our food system since most of the country’s food comes from huge industrial farms who don’t give a flying shit about environmental or human health). Tucson has many farmer’s markets year round and one of them even offers vouchers for people with food stamps, making fresh and healthy produce affordable for EVERYONE.
8. Eat less of it. Not only is this important for the health of the environment, but also for your health. There is a long list of environmental impacts from the livestock sector (illustrated down below) and beef is the worst offender. A strong body of scientific evidence links high meat consumption, specifically red meat and processed meats (bacon, sausage, hot dogs, etc.) with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, various types of cancers, and earlier death (No bueno). Even a small change, like cutting out meat from your diet once a week, can make a difference. Challenge yourself and try out Meatless Mondays, resources available here
9. Eat less of it. Ok, I am going to suggest eating less of any animal product because of my own vegan bias (sorry, not sorry). A recent study predicts that pretty much all commercial seafood species will no longer exist by 2030 if we continue with current fishing methods, 90% of large fish species have already gone extinct within the last 50 years (we are literally fishing our oceans to death). Seafood production greatly contributes to environmental issues, also mentioned in the above infographic. We often hear about the health benefits of consuming fish and other kinds of seafood due to their high protein content, vitamins, and omegas. But we don’t really hear about the health risks associated with seafood consumption except when pregnant women are told to avoid eating tuna and other kinds of fish because of their high mercury content. Fish not only contain levels of mercury, but it also contains industrial contaminants like PCBS (levels vary with species and ‘farmed vs. wild caught’) , which are persistent (they stay in the environment for a very long time), cancer causing chemicals that were banned in the U.S. over 3 decades ago. DDT, the famous insecticide that was banned in 1972 (shout out to Rachel Carson for making the dangers of DDT known) because of it’s deadly impacts on wildlife and the environment, is also found in fish. But just because PCBs and DDT have been banned, doesn’t mean they aren’t still in our soil, our water, and of course, our food (animal and fatty foods contain the highest levels of DDT and PCBs because they are stored in fat and increase in concentration as they move up the food chain). More info available here
10. Know your fish. When you’re at the grocery store or a restaurant, know which seafood options you should avoid and which ones you should go for. To see the types of fish produced more environmentally sustainable use the Seafood Watch’s guide according to your state: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/consumer-guides. To find which fish are highest in Omegas and lowest in mercury, use the Environmental Working Group’s guide: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-good-seafood-guide. But always remember to be critical, for example the EWG has salmon as a good option for high omegas and low in mercury. However, one of their studies found that farmed salmon has the highest amounts of PCB contamination, which has been linked to certain cancers and reproductive problems.
11. Just eat less of it. I can go on and on about why you should avoid dairy, but this post has already gone longer than it should’ve. So, don’t be so cheesy and cut some of it out of your diet (I promise, you will live).
12. Don’t cram. To avoid food waste, make sure you can always see everything in your fridge. Nothing is more frustrating than when I buy something that I need for a recipe and realize that I already had it after I move what was blocking it from my site in the fridge. When my fridge is crammed with food, it’s easy for me to not notice something that is about to go bad… So do some fridge tidying when you get bored (you might even ‘treat yo self’ by finding that half eaten pickle you forgot was hiding in the back).
13. Storage, storage, storage. Put perishable foods in air tight or moisture controlled containers. I’ve lost too many strawberries, blueberries and heads of lettuce in my life to the hostile environment of the fridge so now I never forget to transfer them to a container as soon as I unpack them. This might be the most important step in avoiding food waste.
14. Use it up! Make breakfast, lunch, and or dinner using up the foods you already have, especially the ones that are about to go bad. One favorite dish that I love to make is a tofu scramble because I can easily throw in any vegetables that are on the verge of rotting, which for me, are usually greens and peppers.
15. Only buy what you need. Never ever never go to the grocery store when you are hungry or else you will end up buying bags of chips, sweet drinks, and other things that you might later regret. Know beforehand what you need to buy and why you need to buy it, this will also save you from taking multiple trips to the grocery store. And of course, reduce the amount of food waste. Sometimes, you just gotta buy those cookies though… shhh.
16. Freeze. Many of you probably already know that the freezer can be your food saving best friend. If I know that me and my boyfriend aren’t going to finish some greens or berries before they go bad, I will put them in the freezer until I need them. Right now, I have some pasta sauce in my freezer from a night where I made way too much. There’s also some random veggie scraps in my fridge, for vegetable stock that I will probably never make… oops.
17. Compost. Some people might get grossed out thinking about saving their food scraps and letting them decompose (rot)… But composting is seriously one of the most satisfying things I have ever done (and the coolest). Just knowing that I’m taking my cucumber skins, apple cores, avocado peels, and other miscellaneous parts of foods, mixing them with some soil/yard waste and knowing that over time (with the help of worms, a post on this coming up) it’s gonna turn into a nutrient rich soil that I will make my plants happy… Just makes me so happy… so dang happy *tear. Learn how to start composting here.
This was a list of some easy steps you can take to help make the world a healthier place to live and some ways to have a healthier body, but there are still so many other things you can do. Remember, living more environmentally sustainable doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Trying two or even just one of these things can make a difference.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” E. Hale.
If you found this post helpful or have some things you do in your life to be more environmentally sustainable that you want to add, let me know by commenting down below! Thank you for reading!