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

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
pigs on farm cute

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

cute pig family on farm

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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. 

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

Congress Defines Sustainable Agriculture

Congress Defines Sustainable Agriculture

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Congress first addressed the practice of sustainable agriculture by issuing a law in 1990. According to the Huffington Post, this law, the Farm Bill, defined sustainable agriculture as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources, integrating natural biological cycles and controls where appropriate.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for both farmers and society as a whole.

 

Defining Sustainable Another Way

Defining Sustainable Another Way

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Anna Lappé, author and sustainable food advocate, spoke about sustainability in a piece published by Martha Stewart.

"'Sustainable' is a word that gets tossed around a lot… I like to say that sustainable agriculture is a production system that's good for the environment and for people, that's humane to animals and to food and farm workers, that supports thriving rural and urban communities. In other words, it's the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. It's a way of food production that generates abundance while ensuring future generations can do the same.”

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency

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By using energy efficienct methods, sustainable farms do their part to cut back on waste inspired by the use of nonrenewable energy sources (e.g. coal and petroleum). Sustainable food systems attempt to conserve energy by using renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. 

Environmentally Friendly Packaging

Environmentally Friendly Packaging

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Have you heard of the anti-packaging movement? This movement highlights the incredible amounts of waste produced by packaging foodstuffs, and it attempts to remedy it by removing packaging-related waste all together. Sustainability isn’t quite this radical, but it does incorporate fully recyclable packaging (such as glass containers) as well as eco-friendly ink.

Humane Treatment of Animals

Humane Treatment of Animals

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Sustainable livestock systems provide ample outdoor space for all animals on farms. This is done in an effort to have the animal graze, root, or peck naturally. In terms of animals’ indoor spaces, the goal is to provide them with a more comfortable environment than the horrible living conditions brought to light in documentaries like Food Inc. Additionally, it’s important to note that even organically raised livestock has no true comfort guarantees. If it’s humane treatment you want, sustainable farming is the best method.

Lower Emissions

Lower Emissions

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While choosing organic is great, there’s nothing about organic certification that means that the product hasn't been shipped thousands of miles. Ideally, a sustainable food system will provide organics that have been locally grown. Locally grown, sustainable food means less fossil fuels burned, resulting in a happier and healthier environment. There’s also a focus on using renewable biofuels when necessary and possible.

Measuring the Differences Between Sustainable and Organic

Measuring the Differences Between Sustainable and Organic

Photo Modified: Flickr / Bernard McManus / CC BY 4.0

A foodstuff can be certified as USDA Organic, whereas there is no official definition or certification of sustainability; it's more a practicable philosophy. USDA Organic food meets a series of protocols that can be clearly observed and measured — there’s no question whether something was produced organically or not. Some do argue that it seems sustainability can also be measured and observed via social benefits, economic profit, and environmental conservation, but thus far no official standards have been established.

Water Efficiency

Water Efficiency

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Our global water system is in danger. Sustainable farming attempts to remedy this by using reclaimed water, planting drought-tolerant crop species, and using reduced-volume irrigation systems.

We’re Fans of These Sustainable Companies

We’re Fans of These Sustainable Companies

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You’ll find that some sustainable companies are co-ops, founded and run by people who have passions for organic agriculture, social responsibility, and improving the environment for future generations. A great example of this is Frontier Natural Products. Other enviable sustainable companies include Numi Organic Tea, Lundberg Family Farms, and Eden Foods.

Why You Should Use the Whole Product

Why You Should Use the Whole Product

Photo Modified: Flickr / Jason Sandeman / CC BY 4.0

You now know why sustainability is important, so how can you incorporate sustainable practices into your own cooking? Starting your own organic garden is one of the easiest ways to start, and making a compost pile will also help cut back on waste. Speaking of waste, don’t throw away things like chicken bones and vegetable odds and ends — these can make a great base for soup. Consider the ways in which you can use what you’d normally throw away.

Your Wallet Will Thank You for Cooking Sustainably

Your Wallet Will Thank You for Cooking Sustainably

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In the grand scheme of things, home cooking is much cheaper than dining out — think about all of the money required to power restaurants, ship food to them, and pay their workers. By cooking at home with sustainable products, less fuel is used and money is saved all around.