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You Are What You Eat: What is a Sustainable Diet?

What is a sustainable diet? A sustainable diet is one that is environmentally friendly and also meets the needs of the individual and future generations. It takes into account the health of the planet as well as the health of the person consuming the food. These diets are mainly plant-based, but they can include meat and dairy as well. The important thing is that the foods are locally sourced and environmentally sustainable.

Table of Contents

An Introduction to Sustainable Diets

This guide covers the fundamentals of a sustainable and environmentally friendly diet, explains why you should consume a mainly plant-based diet, provides some tips to improve your diet, and ranks diets from most sustainable to least sustainable.

There are many benefits to sustainable diets. They help to reduce our environmental impact by reducing the number of resources needed to produce food. They also connect us to our local ecology, which can help us understand and appreciate the natural world around us. Eco-friendly diets have been shown to have positive impacts on human health, as well. All of these factors make sustainable diets an appealing option.

sustainable diet

A sustainable diet takes into consideration factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, resource utilization, food waste, and land management. A truly sustainable diet also involves more than merely shopping for vegan-friendly food at the market; it also considers labor, food production, food availability, and other factors. The goal of a sustainable diet is to minimize the negative impact of our food choices on the environment, while still meeting our nutritional needs.

A key philosophy of an eco-friendly diet is one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. So, how can we make sure our diets are sustainable? By being conscious of the impact our food choices have on the environment and making eco-friendly choices whenever possible!

The need for a more sustainable food production system is becoming increasingly important as the world faces issues such as climate change and food insecurity.

sustainable food future

An example of sustainability

A sustainable farm is one that works in harmony with the environment to produce healthy fruits and vegetables while also minimizing the use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Crops are rotated to keep the soil healthy, and environmentally friendly practices are used to help conserve resources. In this example, a sustainable farm not only benefits human health but also helps to preserve the planet for future generations.

The impact of sustainable diets on humanity

A sustainable diet must be inexpensive, allow for easy access to the local food supply, nutritional, and devoid of dangerous components like foodborne germs.

People working in all areas of sustainable food systems, from cultivation and packing to transportation, retailing, and cooking, must be paid a living wage, receive proper health benefits, and work in safe environments.

A sustainable diet should decrease the risk of diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in humans over the long term. The overall health benefits of a more vegetarian diet on one’s health can not be emphasized enough.

The impact of sustainable diets on the environment

Sustainable and healthy diets must minimize greenhouse gas emissions, food waste, water usage, soil erosion, and pollution while also prioritizing animal welfare and conserving biodiversity to be environmentally sustainable.

On an individual level, this implies eating less meat and consuming plant foods that have not been treated with hazardous pesticides or fertilizers.

On a larger scale, it means investing in a food production system that renews rather than depletes or damages the ecosystems to which they belong.

Should a Sustainable Diet be Plant-Based?

farming systems

Yes, plant-based diets should be prioritized over animal foods when it comes to diets that encourage sustainability. This does not, however, imply that you must completely avoid meat and dairy. Or that plants are always grown sustainably.

A diet rich in plant-based foods such as grain, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and any products derived from such foods and low in animal-sourced foods is more sustainable and eco-friendly. 

Food Production and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Did you know that agricultural areas occupy approximately 40% of the planet’s land, including animals and crop cultivation? Another noteworthy statistic is that our food production and food waste methods account for around 35% to 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means that what we eat has a significant impact on the planet.

Animal production accounts for 57% of greenhouse gas emissions, plant-based foods account for 29%, and other land uses such as cultivating crops for other needs, such as cotton for textiles, and rubber account for 14%. As you can see it’s not just our diets that contribute to global environmental changes.

Food Waste and Plant Foods

Relying more on plant food would greatly cut down on food waste overall which helps to create a more eco-friendly world for humanity, animals, and the environment. In fact, many plant based food waste can be used for composting and creating rich nutrient soils for steady crop rotations. Plant food waste is often beneficial for the environment and creates an optimum renewable and sustainable food production cycle.

Future Generations and the Food System

According to many scientific organizations and even the United Nations, food production would need to grow by nearly 70% by 2050 to fulfill the growing global population’s food supply demands.

The optimal method to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural usage is to rely less on livestock, which takes up more acreage and produces more greenhouse gases, and instead rely more on crops.

However, sustainable healthy diets do not necessitate the complete exclusion of animal foods. Instead, it is suggested that you limit your weekly consumption of fish, dairy products, poultry, and red meats. A flexitarian diet is also being recommended by some scientists, this type of diet allows for smaller amounts of animal foods.

hemp hearts cholesterol

Is Hemp an Environmentally Friendly Crop?

The cannabis plant is environmentally friendly and it has great potential as a sustainable crop. This is especially true when it comes to hemp, a cannabis plant species that has a wide range of environmental advantages. Hemp is a very flexible and resilient crop that needs significantly less land and water than other crops, it even collects carbon dioxide, requires little to no pesticides, and regenerates soil as well. Its seed, fiber, and flower may be used to make over 20,000 items, ranging from biodegradable plastics to food, making it an environmentally-sustainable and commercially viable crop. Its potential to replace many animal products is also quite impressive.

Are There Negatives to Plant-Based Foods?

The answer is complicated, all things being equal plant-based foods would most definitely lead to a more sustainable method of food production. Unfortunately, our agricultural and food production systems are far from all things being equal. It’s like many other industries, controlled by corporations using industrial methods to ensure maximum profit with little regard for sustainability or the environment.

Although cutting down on meat intake is crucial for sustainability, with our existing agricultural and economic systems, switching to a plant-based diet isn’t a magic bullet for environmental sustainability. However, it’s a good start.

It’s no secret that the farm system is far from perfect at best and a disaster at worst. Commercial and industrial agriculture systems are focused on lowering expenses while simultaneously increasing profits. Their strategies have been linked to soil health degradation, human health risks associated with mass pesticide use, and the pollution of water and soil.

Even more disturbing, large industrial farms account for only 1% of the global total of farms, yet they use 65% of all agricultural land. This implies that small independent farms have no chance to compete, especially those that are sustainable. If this sounds like a familiar system to you, and it should, this is a systemic problem. Large businesses with limitless resources dominate the food industry’s marketplaces.

As a result, going plant-based with our diets isn’t always more environmentally friendly. For it to be more effective and long-lasting, the system must be changed. Large organizations are typically focused on short-term profit margins. That is why you should be concerned about things like where your food is grown and its seasonality, as well as why supporting local farmers when you can is so vital.

10 Tips to Achieve a More Sustainable Diet

So how can you transition into a more sustainable and eco-friendly diet?

whole foods

1. Educate Yourself

Knowing is half the battle, as they say, learning about dietary needs, nutritional needs, how food is produced, distributed, the environment, sustainability, and more can lead you to a foundation of knowledge to make more educated decisions.

More educated decisions tend to be more rational which is a good start for individuals as well as local communities. Improved food production starts locally.

2. Eat Home Cooking

Most of the time, food prepared at home is more nutritious than a restaurant or fast-food chain cuisine. Home cooking also reduces the amount of resources and labor required for food preparation. This reduces the footprint you create and greatly reduces waste and other environmental factors. Take-out food for the most part is not sustainable and is very inefficient.

3. Consume Fewer Animal Products

Reduce your intake of red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Consuming fewer animal products is also a winning situation for the environment but also encourages healthy eating. Diets that include fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, legumes, and whole grains are generally considered to be much healthier for human consumption.

4. Consume More Plant Based Products

One of the main reasons we eat meat is for protein, many plants offer protein, oftentimes plants such as hemp are excellent sources of proteins and healthier fats such as omega fats. Hemp is also extremely sustainable and environmentally friendly. For example, hemp doesn’t erode the soil, soy for example does erode the soil. While soy is healthy for humans it’s not good for sustainability. Consuming more plants for nutritional needs such as protein is a no-brainer.

5. Buy Sustainable Foods

local farms

Look for food products that are produced using sustainable agricultural methods, focus on plants that maintain soil health, reduce soil erosion, and that support the wider ecosystem around the farm. These smaller farms usually use non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers, as well as rotate crops to keep the soil nutrients at optimum levels.

If your community has farmers’ markets be sure to purchase what you can from them and to ask questions about how they produce their crops.

6. Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is a major problem in the United States. According to many estimates, about 30–40% of food supplied in the United States is thrown out! While some waste is unavoidable, reducing food waste is critical for long-term sustainability.

Keep an eye on the expiration date and plan ahead. Try to use as much of the edible portion of food before it spoils, eat all your leftovers, and even invent ways to repurpose waste. Another tip would be to purchase foods with longer shelf lives when you can.

7. Take Part in Vegan, Vegetarian, and Flexitarian Diets

vegan diet

Vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets rely much more heavily on plant-based foods, or rather they avoid animal source foods. Veganism is the most sustainable diet, followed by vegetarianism. Flexitarian diets are not as well known or popular but they also have benefits for human consumption as well as the environment. Flexitarian diets often draw analogies related to harm reduction methods.

8. Keep it Local

The next time you go grocery shopping or sit down for a meal, take a moment to think about where your food came from. It’s likely that it traveled a long way before reaching your plate, and the process of getting it there has taken a toll on the environment.

People are becoming more interested in supporting local economies, getting to know farmers, and testing out regional delicacies as local food movements grow in popularity in the United States.

Food grown locally requires less transit to reach you, reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption. As a result, costs are reduced.

Furthermore, the more you invest in dining locally, the more likely you are to try new flavors and foods.

9. Is it in Season?

nutritious foods

Seasonally produced foods are at their ripeness and flavor apex, and they’re often even richer in nutrients. Foods purchased in season are much less costly than those bought out of season.

Seasonal eating is good for the environment since it promotes the natural growth cycles of crops.

Industrial food production will need to use more resources such as fertilizers, insecticides, or water to cultivate crops year-round, as our existing food system requires, using additional resources.

Eating seasonally and locally are two concepts that go hand in hand. It takes less time and hence fewer resources for neighboring crops to reach your plate when they are produced according to their natural cycles.

10. Don't Waste Those Leftovers

Because reducing food waste is a great method to help the environment, it’s ideal to consume your leftover meals instead of throwing them away.

In addition to reducing food waste, consuming leftovers will stop you from overspending on takeout or unnecessary shopping.

If you’re not a fan of leftovers, try repurposing the leftovers, can your ground beef used for one dish be repurposed as used in another dish? For many being creative is what they enjoy most about preparing their own foods.

What are the Best Diets for Sustainability and the Environment?

no red meat

1. Vegan Diet

The most sustainable and eco-friendly diet is the vegan diet.

A vegan diet is one that contains only plant-sourced foods such as vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits, and any other foods made from plants. Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs. While there are many reasons why someone might choose to follow a vegan diet, one of the most common reasons is ethical and or environmental reasons. Some vegans believe that it is wrong to kill animals for food, while others believe that a vegan diet is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than a diet that includes animal products. Regardless of the reason, a vegan diet can be healthy and nutritious if it is well-planned and contains a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

2. Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet is one that eliminates meat, poultry, and fish in favor of plant-based foods. 

While there are many different motivations for choosing a vegetarian diet, one of the most common is the desire to eat in a more sustainable way. A vegetarian diet requires less land and water than a meat-based diet, and it produces lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, it is often seen as a more environmentally-friendly option. In addition, vegetarian diets tend to be rich in fiber and low in saturated fat, making them a healthy option for those looking to improve their overall health. Studies have shown that vegetarian diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Whether motivated by concerns about being humane to animals, the environment, or personal health, more and more people are choosing to adopt a vegetarian diet.

3. Flexitarian Diet

A flexitarian diet is a type of dietary pattern that emphasizes plant-based foods while still incorporating small amounts of meat, fish, and dairy.

The flexitarian diet is often described as a sustainable or environmentally-friendly diet due to its focus on plant-based foods. The flexitarian diet has been shown to offer numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity. In addition, flexitarian diets are a more sustainable dietary pattern than diets that are heavy in meat and processed foods. As the world becomes increasingly concerned about the environmental impact more individuals are taking part in this diet.

What are the Least Favorable Diets for Sustainability and the Environment?

1. Keto Diet

A keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

While there are some potential health benefits associated with keto diets, they are generally not considered to be sustainable or environmentally friendly. Keto diets are typically heavy on animal fats and proteins, which can have negative impacts on the environment. Meat production results in the release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In addition, keto diets often require large amounts of water for the production of livestock, which can put a strain on local water resources. For these reasons, keto diets are generally not considered to be sustainable or environmentally-friendly options.

Please note a related diet, the Adkins diet, is also not environmentally friendly or sustainable.

2. Paleo Diet

The paleo diet tries to re-create a pre-agrarian diet or a “caveman diet” by focusing on fruits, vegetables, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meat over grain, dairy products, and sugars.

The paleo diet is frequently promoted as a healthy, ecologically responsible way to eat. The paleo diet from an environmental and sustainable perspective, is one to avoid. While this may appear to be a healthy diet, the paleo diet is typically meat-centric.

Eco-Friendly Sustainable Diets and Food Production - Conclusion

eco-friendly diet

We’ve learned that sustainability in our food production, as well as individual diets, is a complex issue. It’s not only a matter of eating less meat or buying only organic products to achieve sustainability. A fully sustainable diet is both healthy and good for the environment.

 

It’s not enough to focus on personal choices. Creating a long-term food system necessitates the adoption of new farming methods, food supply chains, and more. That said, it should not be interpreted to imply that your behavior is unimportant or that you have no control.

 

Every little bit helps, paying attention to policies that affect food production methods for better or worse is also a big help. Another tip educated your children as to why a sustainable diet is vital to the planet as well as long-term human survival.

 

Choose eco-friendly options now by eating more plants, buying items from companies with good sustainability habits, and minimizing your own food waste. Let the market know they need to make better long-term decisions. Choose healthy food, choose a healthy diet, and take part in a sustainable food system if it’s available to you locally.

Hemp&fork Hemp Hearts - Eat Food That Matters!
One of our pillars here at Hemp&fork is to promote a healthy environment that starts with our diets. This is why we CHOOSE to source our hemp directly from farmers in the United States who use sustainable practices. Please help us support farmers in transitioning to organic sustainable farming processes as well as creating a better world for our loved ones and future generations.