Where does your food come from? What happens to the scraps in the trash can?
Although we enjoy meals several times a day, we often don’t take the time to really consider the full life cycle and environmental impacts of them.
Given the extra time we’re spending at home due to social distancing, many of us are finding ourselves in the kitchen a lot more than we’re used to — opening up a new opportunity for us to take a look at our relationship with food.
The small dietary decisions we make every day really add up over time, and this holds true for our environmental footprints as much as it does for our health.
Here are our top 5 ways to eat more sustainably in Arizona.
1. Try Eating Seasonally
Choosing to eat seasonally is one of the most fun and effective ways to make your eating habits more sustainable. By eating produce grown close to home, we can reduce our carbon emissions and reconnect with the land.
When you’re eating seasonally, you get to experiment with different vegetables and have a variety of ingredients to choose from all year long.
The easiest way to do this is to shop at our local farmer’s markets. Check out this list of farmers’ markets in the Greater Phoenix Area by the Phoenix New Times.
Our farmer’s markets are filled with plenty of local vendors that sell a variety of foods like bread, beans, mushrooms, fruit, cheese, eggs, pasta, salsa, honey, and even cocktail mixes. We love shopping at our farmer’s markets to help support our local economy and enjoy everything that our community has to offer.
Due to social distancing measures, our farmer’s markets are a bit slower than usual right now but they’re taking all of the necessary steps for health safety.
In fact, they might be a great solution for those who would prefer to have as minimal contact as possible during grocery shopping. Many farms offer CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, which connect the farmers directly with consumers through a subscription to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms. Although these programs are typically closed to members that join during the sign-up period, several of the farms in Phoenix are now offering a-la-carte boxes online.
These boxes are packaged up on-site at the farms and are available for pick-up at the local farmer’s markets and individual farm stores. For more information about our local farms, click here.
If you’re curious about the seasonal fruits and vegetables Arizona has to offer, check out this list by The Spruce!
Lastly, our Help-A-Farm project might be something to check out if you’re curious about our Sustainable Food Systems initiative. We’re always looking for new volunteers to support our efforts to make Arizona more sustainable!
2. Opt for Plant-Based Dishes
Even if it’s just on Meatless Mondays, replacing the animal products on your plate with plant-based proteins can make a significant dent in your carbon footprint.
Maybe you’ve heard this statistic before: Worldwide, livestock accounts for between 14.5 percent and 18 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the exact numbers are debated by scientists, we know for certain that animal agriculture has an immense environmental footprint is due to the large amounts of water, grain, land, emissions, and wastewater that are involved in farming.
Seafood isn’t much better — industrial fishing accounts for over 40% of ocean plastics and countless bycatch casualties each year.
Luckily, there are plenty of delicious alternatives that could take the place of meat or cheese on your plate. Beans, nuts, and hearty vegetables are great substitutes — a variety of which can be found at our local farmer’s markets.
If you need a reliable source for delicious plant-based recipes, be sure to check out the Minimalist Baker blog!
3. Try Composting
Composting isn’t just for gardeners and farmers anymore.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, composting is the process of turning organic food waste into what’s basically plant food. Gardeners add compost to soil to improve its physical properties, and sometimes even use compost instead of soil to grow plants.
Turning waste into compost means less trash gets buried in the ground in landfills. By composting, you’re closing the loop on your food’s lifecycle by growing new plants from the remains of old ones.
Here are a few cool things compost can do:
• Augment the structure, porosity, and density of soils, making them richer places for plant growth.
• Improve the water-holding capacity of soils, reducing water loss, erosion and leaching
• Control or suppresses certain soil-borne plant diseases and also binds up or degrades certain pollutants.
• Improve the pH levels in soils.
• Add more microorganisms that improve the quality of soils.
If you live somewhere with a backyard or gardening area and want to try out composting yourself, check out this guide by the EPA to get started composting at home.
Live in an apartment complex with no garden? Composting is easier than ever thanks to local businesses like the weekly compost collection service Recycled City, which just so happens to be at the farmer’s markets!
4. Check the Labels
Thanks to the rise in consumer demand for better products, plenty of helpful product labels have popped up over the last few decades.
Labels to look out for include: fair trade, b corp, vegan, rainforest alliance, cruelty-free, and organic. These are all there to let you know what steps were taken to ensure that the product’s impacts are more positive than negative.
Aside from certification badges, another important thing to check is the ingredients themselves. Palm oil is a major driver of the deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of several already endangered species. It can be found hiding in a variety of packaged products from tortillas, to chocolate, to toothpaste.
By taking the time to intentionally purchase ethical and sustainable products, you can lessen your environmental impact and help fuel the change to a sustainable economy.
5. Limit Shopping Trips
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned over the last few weeks, it’s how to consolidate shopping trips.
By planning out your shopping trips to include ingredients for the whole week, you can save some time and lessen your driving emissions.
Luckily, the vast majority of produce items last well over a week — especially if they’re fresh from the farmer’s market.
Our favorite way to plan out our meals is by relying on a weekly CSA box for our greens and then adding a few well-keeping staples like onions, potatoes, dried beans, and bread to keep later into the week. If stored properly, some produce can last two weeks or more, most notably cabbage, apples, citrus, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, beets, broccoli, and cauliflower.
If you end up taking our advice and grab some ingredients or a CSA box from the farmer’s market, be sure to take a picture and tag us on Twitter or Instagram with your harvest!
Written by Deanna Pratt for the Arizona Sustainability Alliance