SUSTAINABLE, what does it mean in relation to the food we eat?
There are a lot of people throwing around the words “sustainable”, “ local”, “farm-to-table” and “organic”. In the midst of it all we are left wondering what it really means. As a person who shops and cooks food professionally on a daily basis, I am going to share with you some simple and easy ways to make subtle changes to your lifestyle that will not only have an impact on your health, but also our environment.
What it means to eat sustainably.
Eating sustainably means avoiding processed foods, reducing our overall food waste, and always considering the connection between our food and our planet. It also means that we are supporting a production system that is humane to both animals and farm workers.
Sustainability is a broad term that encompasses some of those trendier terms you hear, like local, farm-to-table and organic. In order for food to be labeled ”organic” it requires a strict codified set of practices enforced by the USDA certified organic program which guarantees that the given farmer is not using synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified seeds (GMOs).
“Local” simply means that you are supporting the farmers and producers in the physical area or state where you reside and “farm-to-table” is more of an overall selling point for restaurants and food makers. Sadly, “farm-to-table” has become a bit of an overused term, but it was originally created with the best of intentions.
“Farm-to-table” was something created by Alice Waters (of the famed Chez Panisse) who was one of the first US chefs to establish a clear connection between her menu and the farmers who supplied the food for it; nowadays it seems commonplace to see the names of local farmers and producers on a restaurant menu but that wasn’t always the case. Alice also spearheaded the movement that re-established the connection between the food we consume and the seasons of the year. She is a serious culinary hero in my book. I could fangirl on and on about her all day if you let me.
How do we incorporate it in our daily lives?
This is the best part about eating sustainably; I like to think there are several levels – beginner, moderate, and die-hard. Remember that even a couple of small changes can make a huge difference.
Food for thought: “If 40 percent of American households bought only organic milk, it would change dairy production,” says Michel Nischan, author of Sustainably Delicious, “You really can be a hero one product at a time.”
So with that in mind – here are some beginner level ways you can live more sustainably when it comes to food:
- Buy only rBGH-free Milk (you will see it listed clearly on the carton). Some U.S. dairy farms inject the genetically engineered hormone rBGH, also called rBST, into their cows to boost milk Make sure the milk you buy isn’t supporting this method of production.
- Stop by your neighborhood farmers market once a month. This is my favorite way to obtain local food and it can be a fun adventure for kids, too!
- Eliminate one processed food product (that you usually buy).
- Look for non-gmo produce at your local grocery store. Not sure how to do this? Check out the Non GMO Project website (nongmoproject.org) for help in finding and verifying produce.
- Eat one vegetarian meal per week. For inspiration, check out the Meatless Monday campaign (meatlessmonday.com)
Next time, I will share some ways to move from a beginner to a more moderate level of eating sustainably. In the meantime let me know if you have any questions and I will incorporate the answers into my next post.
Sarah Hendrix is a chef, sommelier and cheese enthusiast. She is the founder of La Femme Epicure, a company that focuses on intimate dining experiences, culinary branding, menu design, and food styling. When she’s not in the kitchen, the Los Angeles native can be found gardening, listening to vinyl records and drinking rosé.