When it comes to an eco-friendly lifestyle, you may already be ticking plenty of boxes: recycling, drinking from a reusable water bottle and making an effort to walk, cycle or take public transport instead of driving everywhere.
But if you really want to help the planet, pay attention to what’s going in your shopping basket.
“The biggest impact most of us can have on the environment and our own health is through the foods we eat,” says Sandy Murray, accredited practising dietitian and lecturer in food, nutrition and public health at the University of Tasmania.
Here are some of the best ways to eat more sustainably – and you’ll do your health a favour in the process.
Prioritise plant protein
Eating less meat and filling up on legumes, lentils, tofu, nuts, tempeh and other plant proteins instead is a win for the planet.
“From paddock through to plate, animal sources of protein require a lot more resources to produce and create a lot more greenhouse gas emissions,” says Murray.
into vegetarian diets found they produce 29 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than standard diets, while even semi-vegetarian diets make a positive difference, with 22 per cent fewer emissions.
Maybe start by introducing a meat-free day into your household, or experiment with vegetarian versions of your favourite dishes.
Scan food labels
Choosing local over imported foods where possible will help reduce food miles.
New country of origin food labels currently being rolled out in Australia will make it easier for you to tell where food is grown, produced, made or packed, and what percentage of the ingredients come from Australia.
As well as checking food labels, shopping at farmers’ markets will ensure you’re buying mostly local, fresh and seasonal produce, plus it gives you the opportunity to talk directly to the farmers about how their food has been produced and stored. Find your closest market at farmersmarkets.org.au
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Avoid packaged foods
One of the simplest but most effective ways to make your diet more sustainable is avoiding food that’s sold in wrappers, tins, boxes, cartons and other packaging.
“If it doesn’t have a package then it probably hasn’t travelled that far, and even if it has travelled a long way, at least you’re saving on landfill, which is advantageous for the environment,” says Murray.
Bulk food co-operatives (food co-ops) are a great place to stock up on pantry staples such flour, pasta, rice, legumes and cereal, without the packaging.
Choose sustainable seafood
Sustainable seafood is a hot topic these days, accounting for 14 per cent of global production in 2015 – compared to just 0.5 per cent in 2005, according to the State of Sustainability Initiatives Review
As a basic rule, smaller fish tends to be more sustainable (in terms of the impact on fish populations and the wider marine environment) compared to larger fish.
To help you make ocean-friendly choices, download
the free Sustainable Seafood Guide.
“Also, make sure you ask your fish merchant where the fish came from and whether it was sustainably fished,” advises Murray.
Reduce food waste
Australians throw out
a whopping 20 per cent of the food they buy, which works out to be $1036 worth of discarded food a year for the average household.
As well as being a waste of the water, fuel and resources that it took to produce the food, organic waste emits greenhouse gases in landfill.
“To reduce your food waste, do some menu-planning before you go shopping, so you can go armed with a list of the ingredients and quantity you need,” suggests Murray.
Also, get creative with kitchen “scraps”. Celery leaves, broccoli stalks and herb stems can be tossed into soups and stocks, citrus peel adds flavour to salad dressings, while dry bread can be blitzed up into breadcrumbs or made into croutons.