Tasty, nutritious food is the cornerstone of a good diet. But the notion of eating well has, in the last few years, expanded beyond taste and nutrition to include environmental concerns, and eating responsibly is essential in our day and age. Sustainable eating factors in the social and environmental aspects of food, all while striving to achieve economic viability and healthiness. When we make sustainable choices, we give back to the earth and promote healthy ecosystems, which benefits the environment; we provide healthful foods and foster healthy communities, which positively impacts our society; and we encourage economic viability.
If the entire population of the Earth lived like we do in Canada, it would take 4.7 Earth-like planets to sustain global consumption. A change in our food habits is vital if we want to ensure the well-being of the generations to come. All good things have to start somewhere, and this one begins with us. Here are a few ways we can develop sustainability within our own lifestyles and contribute to the creation of a new food system:
1. Eat no more than you need (small portions), in order to reduce over-consumption and food waste.
a. Consuming more food than is necessary uses up excess energy resources (oil) and natural resources (water, land), and contributes to pollution and the overuse of resources.
b. Whenever food is grown, processed or otherwise prepared for consumption, then served, uneaten and thrown out, the energy used at each step of its life cycle is wasted.
2. Eat more vegetarian products and choose your animal products well.
a. According to a study by Sprigman et al (2016), in 2050 the world population will be 9.7 billion; if all of them were vegetarian, health care and environmental impact costs would go down, equalling roughly $1180 billion in savings per year. With a balanced diet containing less meat, the savings would still amount to $1227 billion per year.
b. Growing plant products uses less water, less land, and less energy for producing the same quantity of proteins.
c. Choosing meats from breeders who value animal well-being encourages local, small-scale production.
3. Know the origin and production methods of the foods you eat.
a. Being well-informed means we are more aware, which impacts producers and suppliers.
b. In turn, informed, sustainable choices can be made.
4. Choose fish from sustainable fisheries and avoid fish from overfishing practices (see seachoice.org).
5. Consume organic foods or foods from responsible farming practices (CSA organic baskets, small local producers).
a. A certified-organic product has different production techniques from those of a regular product; they are more respectful of our health and of the environment. For example, they don’t use synthetic inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) or genetically modified seeds.
6. Reduce packaging (shop at zero-waste grocery stores, in bulk).
a. Packaging is waste, and therefore it is eventually thrown out, recycled or composted. Each step of its life cycle is a waste of resources.
7. Choose locally produced foods to reduce transportation, a major source of pollution.
a. Local seasonal products use less energy, as they are often found naturally in our environment and they travel smaller distances to our table.
8. Find out what the true costs of your food are, to make sure you are paying a fair price.
a. Assess the taste, safety, nutritional value, social risks, environmental risks (as regards labour), production equipment, and waste management.
The Nourish Innovators are already contributing to the creation of this new food system:
- The CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l’île-de-Montréal, in Quebec, participates by increasing the share of plant products on its menu, by choosing fish species that are not endangered, by considering the source when choosing ingredients, by adjusting the choices on residents’ trays to their actual consumption, while maintaining both quality and quantity.
- The CHU Sainte Justine has switched to room service, which greatly reduced the waste of tray returns and the production of meals for patients, as everything is now made to portion size. Before, the hospital threw away 25% of every tray (which went uneaten), and that number is now down to 6.1%. That is an impressive decrease.
- For several years now, the CIUSSS du Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean has partnered with a local company to process its vegetables. By doing so, it encourages the local economy and curbs its environmental impact by reducing transportation.
- Meanwhile, the CHU de Québec-Université Laval (CHU) has implemented a number of strategies to achieve sustainable development and to comply with the health ministry’s framework, which requires the sustainable development principles be integrated into food service operations. For instance, by planning and computerizing production work plans, the CHU cuts down waste at its origin. Of course, surplus does happen occasionally, and it is then passed on to a local community organization, free of charge. Changes have also been made to the procurement processes, particularly by introducing more stringent food quality and source standards. For example, the CHU sources its berries locally, thanks to a partnership with the a South Shore farmers’ association, which supplies the CHU with over 660 kg of raspberries, 420 kg of blueberries, and 245 kg of strawberries during the growing season.
- The CHU has also made available organic vegetable baskets to their employees during the summer season. From July to October, local farms make a weekly delivery of over 100 vegetable baskets to several pick-up locations inside the CHU. By buying local organic products, CHU employees support local organic agriculture development, help create jobs, and protect the environment–– a choice that makes all the difference!
Our land and our oceans can no longer meet our nourishment needs. It’s up to us to eat well, if we want to keep enjoying what they have to offer us! Buying local is a good idea, but imagine what tomorrow could be like if we also focused on the health of our farmers and asked them to use low-impact sanitary products, not only for their own health and the health of their customers, but also for the quality of the soil and the water we consume.