Ethical Food Choices to Consider the Next Time You Shop

hands holding blueberries
hands holding blueberries

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I’ve been a bit of a journey lately. One that began with me paring down my wardrobe to just the clothes I truly wear and feel comfortable in to help me manage more anxiety. This, probably inevitably, led me to learn about capsule wardrobes which in turn led me to learn more about minimalism (turns out it’s not just a home decor thing!). And then minimalism led me to learn more about living a zero waste lifestyle. I’m sure by now you have heard about the girl who could fit two years worth of trash in a small mason jar. For the uninitiated, click here. But guys, my mind was blown when I learned the why behind the actions of these people making such seemingly drastic lifestyle changes. When I found and read through a list like this one on how long it takes for different items to fully decompose I felt rocked by the gravity of the information. We hear about how items take a long time to decompose and that we should recycle when possible but I’ve never heard or thought to look further into just how long it takes for these items to break down. I also wrote a paper for a class last semester on the impact the food industry has on deforestation of the rainforest and again I had no clue and felt compelled to change my habits to ones that can have a less negative impact. Along the way I’ve found that a lot of these habits relate directly to our food choices and have been slowly making changes where I can.

Below are some ways you too can switch up your daily food choices to ones that have a more positive impact. Don’t feel like you must do all of these or make a serious diet change. Slow, steady steps are what lead to the greatest, sustainable change after all. Just one small action really can make a big difference!

Support small businesses and Farms: Buy locally sourced products from farmers markets and small businesses. Switching your purchases from big chains to local shops helps build and support your community. When you choose locally grown and/or processed foods you also cut down on the amount of transportation necessary to get the crop from the field to your table. Buying local increases the chances your dollars funneling back into your community and supporting other small businesses and further strengthening your community in turn. By buying local you can create a unique one of a kind community that isn’t overrun with corporations.

Protect the Rainforest: Food production is a major culprit of deforestation of our planet’s rainforests. Food products like palm oil, soy, corn, chocolate, and coffee are all top crops that are eating up our rainforests to make room for land to grow on. By tearing down these precious ecosystems that house many animal species unique to the rainforest we are hurting our planet. Look for foods containing responsibly sourced ingredients and boasting the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade labels.

Reduce Your Trash: With food-shopping comes packaging. Lots and lots of packaging. From the packages you buy them in, to the containers you store them in, to the plastic and paper bags you put them in to lug them home. An easy proactive step you can take, and probably one you have heard of a million times, is to start using reusable shopping bags. You can take this one step further and pick up some reusable produce bags as well. Say no to single use items as much as possible. Think items like forks, knives, plastic snack bags, coffee cups, and water bottles. Speaking of water bottles bring a reusable water bottle with you everywhere. This will help you avoid being out and about and thirsty and having to fall back on a plastic bottle from the store. To reduce packaging buy from bulk bins if you live by a store that has them and use your own containers to store them instead of the plastic bags offered. Cooking from scratch instead of buying premade goods or pre-portioned snacks is another great way to cut back on packaging, and you’ll save yourself some money too!  

Prevent Food Waste: According to this report from The Natural Resources Defence Council in the U.S. up to 40 percent of our food supply goes to waste. That’s a damn shame. And while as consumers we aren’t responsible for the total of the waste we can still do our part to lower that percentage. How often have you thrown away still safely edible food? Perhaps more than you think since we are conditioned to eat the best and most visually appealing items. Foods are literally bred and manufactured to appeal to our senses. Tomatoes, for example, have been bred to be a bright shiny red orb. However, a perfectly ripe tomato used to have swirls of green in it. Next time you are in a store, buy only what you need and buy the exact amount you will need for a recipe when possible. You can also plan out recipes that involve similar ingredients for the week to eliminate waste. Do some research and gain a better understanding of “use-by” and “best by” dates. These dates are suggested guidelines from the manufacturer and not the hard and fast deadlines we treat them as. Don’t be afraid to purchase the ”ugly” fruits and vegetables when at the market. Just because they aren’t a vision of perfection doesn’t mean they aren’t as nutritious and delicious. At home make the most of leftovers and store food wisely so it doesn’t go to waste before its time.

Cruelty-Conscious Choices: Yes, I’m sure you knew it was coming and I saved this point for last since it can be so controversial. For the record, I eat a 99% vegetarian diet and would never/have never tried to “convert” someone. However, no matter what your stance is on meat, the incredible impact the meat industry has on the environment is clear. With that said, I say this: try some more meat-free meals throughout the week. You may even be surprised to find how many meat-free meals you regularly eat or which can easily be made into one. It’s as simple as choosing cheese pizza over pepperoni or eggplant parm instead of chicken. You can make this a one day a week habit, a once in awhile one or a lifelong commitment. The choice is always up to you (and what your body needs, we are all different and some people truly can’t go 100% meat-free healthily).

So I get that that’s a lot of information and each point could easily be their own elaborate blog post. However, don’t feel discouraged if you are overwhelmed. Taking small steps beats taking none every time. Do what you can with what you have and before you know it you may even begin inspiring others to take similar action as well!