food sustainability

What Does Food Sustainability Really Mean?

As we navigate the supermarket aisles looking for our favourite products and culinary inspiration, food sustainability is not always at the forefront of our minds.

Decisions to buy particular foods are based on convenience, taste and price, even for those of us who wish to live more planet-friendly lives. Understanding what makes food sustainable ensures that we can assess products and brands quickly and more accurately, so we can make better food choices that align with our values.

The trouble is, sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword that is used (and often abused) in many different contexts. It’s a hugely important concept but one that has started to lose its meaning. Let’s fix that by looking at what food sustainability really means.

It’s Not Just About The Food

Sustainable food isn’t only about the food itself. It’s a combination of factors including how the food produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s consumed.

Food sustainability is often described in terms of food air miles, but it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.

When considering the sustainability of food there should be some consideration of resource usage, environmental impact, animal agriculture, health considerations as well as social and economic impact.

food sustainability - land usage

Factors of Food Sustainability

There is no one truth when it comes to defining food sustainability, though most definitions cover the following factors:

Sustainable Farming Practices

Sustainable farming aims to maintain or increase output, while increasing environmental benefits. Such farming requires an understanding of the surrounding ecosystem in order to protect the diversity of our native plants and animals while meeting the needs of the farm and its production system.

Farming that aims to be sustainable has to be beneficial to, and protect, the biodiversity of our plants, animals and the environment, and provide soil fertility for future food production.

Thankfully an increased number of farms and farmers are willing to move to more sustainable farming practises.

Sustainable agriculture typically promotes organic and low carbon food production and avoids the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides as well as genetically modified organisms.

Sustainable farms also tend to incorporate a higher level of sustainable farming practises such as crop rotation, planting over crops (two crops inter mixed), integrated pest management, reduced plowing and livestock/crop integration.

food sustainability - crops

Low Environmental Impact

Sustainable food aims to avoid damaging or wasting natural resources as well as keeping it’s contribution to climate change to a minimum throughout the production process.

There should also be minimal use of the earth’s resources, and minimal energy usage when related to transportation and storage methods.

When considering the impact on the environment factors such as the impact on the surrounding flora and fauna, waterways, as well as air and sound quality should be considered. Ideally any negative impact should be kept to a minimum while aiming to produce food in the most efficient and economical way possible.

sustainable food, energy

Upholding Animal Welfare

Farmers who treat animals with care and respect, use livestock husbandry techniques that protect the animals’ health and wellbeing, provide pasture grazing and allow animals to move freely rather than confined to cages or restricted holding pens are included in the sustainable food movement.

Such farmers also aim to reduce, if not remove entirely, the pain and suffering that animals may be subject to as part of the food production process.

sustainable food - animal welfare

Protection of Public Health

Sustainable food is food that is safe and healthy, produced without hazardous pesticides and chemicals, non-essential antibiotics or growth promotion supplements.

Nutrition is also playing an increasing role in defining sustainable foods with a movement towards plant-based foods, with a greater emphasis on whole foods and fewer processed and packaged foods.

Good Employment Practises and Community Support

Sustainable food practices support providing workers a livable wage alongside safe, hygienic and fair working conditions, and support local and regional economies that offer jobs and build stronger communities.

How to Make Sustainable Food Choices?

Knowing what is and what isn’t sustainable food is the first step to leading a more sustainable lifestyle. The second step is using that knowledge to make more informed choices.

When choosing to eat and live more sustainably, there are many ways that you can choose to be more sustainable:

1 – Reduce the amount of meat, fish and dairy you eat
2 – Choose to eat foods that are in season
3 – Buy foods that are made locally
4 – Keep your food waste to a minimum
5 – Reduce the amount of plastic that you use
6 – Choose fair trade products
7 – Eat meat, fish and dairy from sustainable sources
8 – Grow your own herbs, fruit and vegetables

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