The concept of food sustainability has been around for over 70 years, beginning with the Sustainable Agriculture Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, sustainability has become a growing topic among business owners and food manufacturers. Food sustainability is particularly important to food and nutrition professionals, as it directly relates to the understanding of how our food is produced, distributed, packaged, and consumed. Let’s look at what food sustainability means, some of the ways we can benefit from its core principles, and how changing our food choices can help transition our planet into a more sustainable world.
What is Food Sustainability?
Food sustainability generally refers to foods that are produced without the use of hazardous chemicals such as pesticides, antibiotics and/or growth hormones. Sustainability is multifaceted and considers how food is produced, distributed, packaged, and used by consumers.
Sustainable farming practices produce food with the goal of maintaining a healthy environment and ecosystem. This process can be challenging as mass production of food can go against the health and safety of animals and the environment to increase profitability. Sustainable farming supports organic crops and low carbon food production. The absence of fertilizers, chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) protects biodiversity.
Three Primary Benefits of Sustainability
- Health benefits include access to healthy and nutritious foods, which can assist in the prevention of chronic illnesses, and potentially reduce the need for medications and unnecessary hospitalizations.
- Environmental benefits include a reduction of carbon emissions which reduces pollution and improves air quality. The lack of deforestation makes a positive impact on the environment by protecting natural habitats, maintaining a healthy water cycle, and preventing soil erosion.
- Financial benefits include less expensive clean and fresh foods due to resource conservation, less expensive operating costs on farms, and increased income in local economies.
Making Food Choices with Sustainability in Mind
What you put on your plate can impact the future of our planet. Increasing fruit, vegetable, and nut consumption is just the start. Reducing the demand for red meat and sugar can play an impactful role in reducing carbon emissions. Making changes in the way we plan our meals can help push towards a healthier, more environmentally friendly future.
Transitioning to a More Sustainable World
The transition to a more sustainable world includes increasing awareness in three main areas:
- Eating local food and focusing on foods that are in season. When you consume foods that are produced in your local area, less energy is required overall. Fewer resources are needed to package, transport, and store food items. Choosing foods that match the season you are in also helps with energy conservation.
- Reducing food waste is key. In the United States, it is estimated that 40% of the food supply is disposed of. This means all the resources that went into the production, packaging, transportation, and storage of the food were wasted, resulting in millions of dollars lost.
- Including a variety of foods in your diet benefits the environment by preserving soil fertility and reducing land erosion.
It’s especially important as health care professionals to educate the public on the effects and benefits of food sustainability to ensure our planet a bright future for the generations that follow. Encouraging local sustainable farming and community-based food sources, reducing the consumption of animal-based products, and minimizing the amount of food wasted can all contribute to a healthier, cleaner, and longer lasting environment.
Sarah Hammaker, RDN is a clinical dietitian working primarily in long term care and acute rehabilitation hospital settings in PA. She holds certificate of trainings in the areas of Adult Weight Management as well as Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves running and being outdoors. Her hobbies include reading, planting and shopping.
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