What Is 'Sustainable' Food and Why — and How — Should You Cook It?

We do our best to define sustainability, a complex term, and tell you why it’s important
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Not all farms crowd their animals into too-small feedlots. Sustainable agriculture allows pigs to root with plenty of space as they would naturally.

When shoppers enter the grocery store, they’re assaulted by all sorts of marketing schemes and propaganda intended to get them to buy products. Seeing phrases like “GMO-free,” “Guaranteed Green,” or “Certified Local Sustainable” is great, but it isn’t always easy to know what these words actually mean and why or how they affect you. In order to get a grasp on the current world of food-related sustainability issues and pin down why “sustainable” is a good thing, we need to take a glance at our past.

Click here for the What Is 'Sustainable' Food and Why — and How — Should You Cook It? slideshow.

Our planet has undergone an incredible shift in focus when it comes to food and, specifically, its impact on the environment over the past few decades. Gone are the days of ignorance, the days when older generations were able to pay a penny for a piece of candy and to have their milk delivered to their front doorstep from a man whose sole job was to do just that: deliver milk. A lot has changed since the days of one-cent candy and milkmen, and it all starts with Earth’s population.

Get ready for some numbers: In mid-1960, there were approximately 3,039,451,023 people on our planet. By 1980, this number increased to 4,453,831,714 and, in 2000, Earth’s population met an unprecedented high of 6,082,966,429. Today, as this story is being written, the world’s population stands at an astounding 7,317,779,020 people, and it's increasing each minute. On July 4 of last year, 2015, the United States population alone was 321,442,019. Are you getting the picture here? Each and every year, our planet is producing more and more people, and each person not only requires space but also comes equipped with a mouth that needs to be fed.

What do sustainability and our world’s current population have to do with milkmen and cheap candy? It’s not necessarily a simple answer, but we’ll do our best to explain the way that we see things, here and in the accompanying slideshow. As the population has increased, our planet’s climate has changed. You can try to say it hasn't, but simple science (read as observations) will prove you wrong. The changing climate has brought about a relatively new emphasis on producing and purchasing products that have been made with the environment’s health in mind, but this doesn’t always come at a low price tag.

The value of the dollar isn’t what it used to be (if you can find penny candy somewhere, please let us know), and with that we are paying often ridiculously high prices for organic foods that are healthiest for us and the environment. Additionally, with an increase in focus on the planet’s health comes an increase in focus on the humane treatment of animals. While some people have given up eating animals and their byproducts altogether (shout out to all of our vegan friends out there), others are seeking animal foods that are raised humanely, with labels like "free-range," "wild-caught," or "cage-free." We’re not sure where your grandma’s milkman’s milk was sourced, but there’s a chance that contemporary animal rights activists wouldn’t have approved.

With all of this in mind, we’re going to do our best to define some key terms related to sustainable food, identify the key reasons why sustainable practices are good for both you and the environment, and teach you a little bit about how to use foods in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

Click here to learn about sustainable agriculture.

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