Do You Have to Eat 100% Local, Sustainable, and Organic?
When you think about making a switch to a local, sustainable, organic diet, does it seem overwhelming? Do you have a regular routine for shopping, cooking and eating that feels difficult to change? Do you worry about your kids' meals, your finances, and what it will taste like?
Well, don’t worry! These are common questions and we will help you find answers that work for your family and lifestyle.
First of all, why should you make a change?
There are many reasons to incorporate sustainable food into your household and we are sure that one or more will resonate with you. Here are 10 to think about:
- Sustainable foods taste better. It’s true! Because sustainable food is local, it doesn’t travel as far as most conventional food. This means it is picked closer to its peak ripeness, allowing the flavors to be delicious and intense.
- Sustainable foods are healthier – see reasons 3 - 6!
- Sustainable produce is grown with fewer and less toxic pesticides.
- Sustainable meat is raised with no antibiotics or hormones.
- Sustainably raised animals are more likely to live in healthier (and happier) situations.
- Sustainable foods aren’t genetically modified or irradiated.
- Sustainable foods are grown in a more sustainable manner for the farmer and workers too.
- Sustainable farming supports local economies.
- Sustainable farming produces less waste.
- Small and medium size farms aren’t as water, fossil fuel and chemical intensive and don’t create manure lagoons .
If you can’t change all of your habits, should you even bother?
Yes! There are a lot of issues involved, but you don’t have to change everything at once. In fact, it’s our guess that no one could ever be 100% sustainable (maybe a farmer, off the grid, who is a great food preserver and knows solar technology?). Make one change today and see how it feels. Every little step counts.
Where do you start?
Pick the message about our industrial food system that you feel the most strongly about and make your first change there. What is your greatest concern? Antibiotics? Pesticides? Animal Welfare? If you are most worried about pesticides, then take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list to determine which vegetables and fruit carry the most pesticide residue and should be bought organic. Pick a vegetable or fruit that your family eats often—potatoes, apples and spinach are three of the top 10 on that list. Choose one and buy that item from a local farmers' market or buy it organic from your grocery store for a month. At the end of the month evaluate how it went. Was it easy? Was it more expensive? Did you notice a difference in taste? Do you think you can incorporate another item from the list? It is your choice: do what works for you.
What if you feel overwhelmed?
We understand. Until you get into a new routine and find out what you want to cook and the best places to shop, this might seem like a challenging transition. But don’t fret; focus on your trip to the farmers' market or the non-GMO product you bought. For example, if you are worried that you can’t always buy sustainably raised meat, serve sustainable meat less often. There are many delicious and hearty vegetarian recipes to fill in for those meatless meals at Meatless Monday. Remember that if you fall off the sustainable wagon, it’s OK! Try again tomorrow.
What if it seems too expensive?
Changing your usual shopping routine to include more sustainable foods can seem expensive. Here are some ideas to help you:
- If there is one near you, shop at a food coop. They typically offer more sustainable food items than a conventional store and at a discount. If you join, they often give even bigger discounts.
- Shop at a farmers' market. This allows you to ask questions about a farmer’s growing practices, and will also keep you eating seasonally. When the items you are buying are abundant (in season), the price will decrease. Many times sellers will have a box full of slightly damaged produce at a discount and sometimes they will sell in bulk for a discount too. Ask!
- Buy dried goods, especially beans and grains, in bulk.
- Plan your weekly meals before you shop and go to the store with a list so that you don’t overbuy. And don’t show up at the store hungry; we have all done that and we know what can happen!
- Eat less meat. Protein substitutes such as beans, nuts and tofu are definitely less expensive. Replace a meat-focused meal to reduce costs and increase health!
- Cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers for lunches and for when you are short on time. It will save you from buying processed and expensive options.
What are a few ways to get started?
- Buy rBGH-free milk.
- Check the Dirty Dozen for the most pesticide laden vegetables and fruits. Pick one and start buying it from a farmers' market or organic from your grocery store.
- Stop by the farmers' market once a month; this is not only a great way to get local food, but it’s a fun outing - even for kids.
- Read the labels on processed foods you buy and learn about the ingredients.
- Eliminate one conventional processed food product that you usually buy.
- Look for non-gmo items at the grocery store. See the Non-GMO Project for more information.
- Learn more about food issues by reading Omnivore’s Dilemma or the issue pages our site.
- Shop only at the farmers' market for a month or longer.
- Buy dairy from local farmers; remember this can sometimes be done at a specialty shop in your neighborhood.
- Buy meat from your farmers' market.
- Can vegetables, jams and fruit for use in the winter.