Sustainable food and agriculture systems can play a big role in preserving the environment by helping to improve soil health, protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change.
Earth Day is a great opportunity for eaters, farmers and food businesses to make changes in their diets, shopping habits and production practices that will promote sustainable, healthy food throughout the year.
Food Tank: The Food Think Tank makes these recommendations:
1. Eat more colors.
The colors of fruits and vegetables are signs of nutritional content. A richly-colored red tomato has high levels of carotenoids such as lycopene, which the American Cancer Society reports can help prevent cancer, as well as heart disease.
The relationship between nutrients and color is also true for other foods. Eggs that have brightly orange-colored yolks are also high in cancer-fighting carotenoids, and are more likely to be produced by healthier chickens.
2. Buy food with less packaging.
Discarded packaging makes up around one-third of all waste in industrialized countries, with negative impacts on the climate, and air and water quality.
3. Choose seasonal produce.
Many farmers markets offer guides about which products are in season. Locally sourced, seasonal products can also be found at major grocery stores. Another way to get seasonal foods is to sign up for a weekly CSA, which provides a mix of fresh, seasonal produce throughout the year.
4. Get in touch with agriculture.
Book a farm-stay through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which runs networks around the world, offering individuals and families the opportunity to directly support small-scale family farmers. Participants spend a few days or weeks living with a host family and helping with tasks around the farm in exchange for free food and lodging.
5. Get creative in the kitchen.
Shopping at farmers markets can prevent “food ruts” by helping consumers try new foods. Also look for ways to reuse leftovers to reduce food waste.
6. Invest in perennial crops.
Perennial plants — plants that grow back every year — tend to hold water in soil more effectively than annuals and help prevent erosion. Researchers from the University of Illinois found that perennial prairie grasses are up to four times as water efficient as row crops such as corn and wheat.
7. Reclaim abandoned spaces.
As populations continue to expand, especially in cities, reclaiming unused land and buildings for food production can help meet growing demand. One new model is The Plant, a former meatpacking plant in Chicago that has been converted into an indoor vertical farm.
The Plant currently runs an aquaponics farm, growing plants without soil using waste from its man-made tilapia pools. It also offers shared kitchen space for small businesses, and other services.
8. Build local and global food communities.
A great way to get involved in food and agriculture issues is with Slow Food International, an organization with more than 1,300 groups around the world called convivia.
Many do-it-yourself (DIY) food projects are easy and fun. Turning old T-shirts into produce bags to save plastic, starting seeds in eggshells, which can then be crushed for transplanting into the soil, and DIY foods such as homemade oat or almond milk can all add a creative twist to healthy eating and sustainable agriculture.
10. Cook in batches and freeze for later.
Planning meals in advance can help reduce stress around cooking. It also helps reduce food waste. Cook large batches of a single meal, such as soups or curries, which can be frozen and reused on short notice later in the week. This saves energy during cooking, while freezing helps prevent nutrient loss in fruits and vegetables.