April – How Our Plates Affect Our Planet
- You’ve likely heard the term “sustainability.” It’s a buzz word in the news and on social media. What does sustainability mean, and how is it related to the food we put on our plates?
How Our Plates Affect Our Planet
You’ve likely heard the term “sustainability.” It’s a buzz word in the news and on social media. What does sustainability mean, and how is it related to the food we put on our plates?
A simple definition for sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” What we do on our planet right now will affect many generations to come. Sustainable practices allow us to provide for people today while ensuring that the same things can be provided for people in the future.
How Sustainability Relates to Food
It’s no surprise that the global population is growing at a rapid rate. It’s projected that the population will reach nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050. For perspective, that’s about 2 billion more people on this planet in less than 30 years. China, the most populated country in the world, currently has 1.4 billion residents. Imagine adding another country the size of China to our planet! When you realize the magnitude of these numbers, it becomes clear why sustainability is such a hot topic in nutrition. Nutrition is essential for life, and we need to secure the availability of food for our future, much larger population.
What does my plate have to do with the planet?
If we want to ensure the future of food in 2050, we need to start by looking at the sustainability of our food system.
The food system is the entire chain of events your food goes through before it ever makes it onto your plate, and what happens to food that doesn’t get eaten. Starting at the farm with production, all the way through processing and distribution to grocery stores, from your shopping cart into your kitchen, and finally into your stomach, the compost, or less desirably, the landfill. This entire process from start to finish makes up the food system.
Each chain link of the food system plays a part in the sustainability of the system, and therefore determines the sustainability for food production 30 years from now.
The food you buy, how and where it is produced, how it is packaged, and how much of the food is consumed versus composted or thrown away are all key factors when considering the sustainability of your plate. A sustainable plate is a plate that is healthy for the planet!
Building a Sustainable Plate
Securing food for the future starts with you. Here are 5 ways you can build a more sustainable plate!
1. Shop seasonally, and local if possible
Carbon emissions from food transportation contribute to nearly 20% of all carbon emissions in the food system. The farther your food travels, the less sustainable it is. Choosing seasonal and locally grown foods decreases your food’s carbon footprint and makes for a more sustainable plate. Additionally, seasonal produce is often more flavorful and nutritious as a result of being picked at peak ripeness and having a shorter time from farm to table!
2. Only buy what you need
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, the most preferred method for diverting food waste is source reduction, or reducing the amount of food waste generated in the first place. Buying only what you need from the grocery store is one way to practice source reduction.
- Planning your meals before heading to the grocery store, and taking inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what items you will need to purchase and which items you already have on hand
- Avoiding “impulse buying” food or drinks you see on sale but weren’t planning to purchase – these items may end up sitting in your fridge or pantry and could end up as food waste
- Incorporating leftovers into your meal plan – this will cut down on food waste and save you money on your grocery bill!
3. Consider purchasing foods with sustainable packaging
Plastic is the most widely used material for food packaging. However, most plastic packaging is designed for single-use, difficult to recycle due to food contamination or improper recycling practices, and takes anywhere from tens to hundreds of years to decompose. This is not the most sustainable option, yet it’s extremely common due to plastic’s affordability and versatility.
While completely avoiding plastic is nearly impossible, it’s good practice to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging whenever you can. For example, you may see some vegetables, such as zucchini or heads of broccoli, packaged on plastic trays and wrapped in plastic wrap. These vegetables do not require packaging to maintain freshness, so it’s more sustainable to purchase these without plastic packaging if available.
When possible, consider choosing foods packaged in glass, which can typically be reused and repurposed, or opt for packaging made with recycled or biodegradable materials.
Check out this webinar for more information on sustainable food packaging.
4. Reuse before you compost
While composting is more desirable than sending food to the landfill, it’s still not the ideal solution. Reducing the amount of food wasted is the most sustainable option, and one way to do so is to reuse your food scraps!
Here are some ideas for transforming your food scraps:
- Save up your vegetable scraps in the freezer and make a homemade vegetable broth
- Use fruit scraps to make homemade vinegar such as apple cider vinegar or strawberry top vinegar
- Use leafy greens and leafy vegetable tops to make sauces like pesto and chimichurri
- Save the water from a can of chickpeas (known as aquafaba) and use it to make a variety of recipes from chocolate mousse, to mayonnaise, or even whipped cream
- Save the juice from a jar of pickles and use it to pickle any vegetable of your choice – beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, green beans, onions, you name it!
These are just a few ways you can reuse before you compost. Get creative and find waste-reducing recipes that work for you!
5. Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint
Our last tip is to take your journey towards a sustainable plate one step at a time.
Shifting your habits to become more sustainable is not going to happen overnight. It is a long-term commitment you are making to yourself and your planet. Don’t let the journey overwhelm you – choose one or two habits to target at a time and wait until you’re fulling comfortable with those changes before adding in something new. There are many ways to approach sustainable eating, so enjoy learning about how you can use your plate to help the planet and find what sustainable plate habits work best for you!
Seasonal Foods and Recipes
Strawberry Ricotta Crepes
This decadent crepe recipe features juicy spring strawberries, creamy ricotta cheese, and the buttery sweetness of bourbon and vanilla. Each crepe provides 13 grams of protein, which will help keep you full and satisfied until lunch time!
Canned Salmon Pasta with Spinach & Lemon
Canned salmon is not only a budget-friendly protein option, but it is a nutritional powerhouse as well! This canned salmon pasta recipe uses only 9 ingredients, and comes together in just 35 minutes. It’s a great choice for a weeknight dinner filled with protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich vegetables! Watch a cooking demonstration for this recipe on the Healthy UC Davis YouTube channel.
Creamy Asparagus and Pea Soup
Two spring veggies combined into one satisfying soup! With fresh garlic and bright lemon, this soup tastes like spring in a bowl. Top it off with some homemade garlic herb croutons, and you have a no-fuss lunch or dinner, ready in just 30 minutes!
Roasted Pear and Cranberry Brussels Sprouts
These Roasted Pear and Cranberry Brussels Sprouts are a crispy and delicious addition to any meal. The sweetness from the dried cranberries and pears balances out any bitterness from the Brussels Sprouts and the sourness of the lemon. A flavorful and healthy way to eat your fruits and veggies!
Cherry Oatmeal Crumble
Celebrate cherry season with this vegan and gluten-free Cherry Oatmeal crumble! Fresh tart cherries, a hint of maple syrup, and a crumbly almond flour-oat crust makes this a satisfying dish that can be enjoyed as either a breakfast or dessert.
Pro-tip: Boost the protein in this breakfast by adding some Greek yogurt on top to help keep you full until lunch time!