Twinkies aren't real food... and other ways to eat more sustainably

This week I read a stat that really made me stop and think. I read that

up to a quarter of our ecological footprint comes from food consumption.

Up to a quarter. Just from eating. Now obviously I was aware that our eating habits impact the planet, and I’d already committed to eating sustainably, but this stat really brought it home for me, because it put a figure to it.

The food choices we make impact on our planet through all the energy, water, land, chemicals and other polluting resources used up and spewed out during food production, processing, packaging, and distribution (food miles). Large factory farms and food manufacturing plants use more resources and produce more pollution than smaller, biodynamic and organic farms. In the end, air, soil, water, human, animal and plant health are impacted upon.

When I tell people that I’m eating only ‘real food’ to do my bit for the environment (and my health), most look at me like I just told them I’ve decided to cut off both my legs. They deem it completely unnecessary. I’ve realised most of us don’t understand how our individual food choices impact the environment. And it’s little wonder. With most people buying meat and carrots neatly wrapped in plastic trays off a supermarket shelf, few people ever see the factory farm their scotch fillet came from, or the effect years of chemical fertilising has had on the soil those carrots grew in.

By eating real food - food that is local, seasonal, unprocessed and ethical - we can reduce the size of the footprint we make on our beautiful planet. Here’s my sustainable eating plan:

  • I buy certified organic and biodynamic ingredients. Organic certification bans the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, and biodynamic farming methods ensure production is in harmony with the environment.
  • I’ve reduced the amount of meat I eat (I look at it as a small portion of the main meal). Aussies eat twice the amount recommended by health professionals (124kg vs the recommended 54kg per year). The University of NSW and the CSIRO estimated that halving our meat consumption (to the recommended levels) will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7,092.8kg CO2, reduce water use by 206,627 litres and significantly reduce land disturbance.
  • The meat I opt for has changed. I don’t buy meat from supermarkets anymore. I go for meat from small local farmers, organic/biodynamic, grass-fed (don’t be fooled by grain-fed… this means feed-lot). Yes it can be more expensive. I just buy less. I don’t mind paying a bit more for a quality product. I know the money is going to farmers who care about the health of the environment and of their livestock.
  • I try to buy only sustainable fish. I recommend this article from G Magazine for an insight into what’s really going on with fishing today.

  • I don’t buy processed foods, especially from big commercial manufacturers. As Michael Pollan puts it ‘if it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t’. That means no tinned fish, canned vegetables or beans, frozen meals, ice cream, biscuits etc (if I want that stuff I make it myself or buy from small organic local producers).

  • Because I buy mainly raw food I don’t tend to accumulate a lot of packaging (salad leaves don’t come plastic wrapped when you buy them from a farmers’ market). When I do buy something in packaging, I try to opt for the least amount of packaging, glass or paper instead of tin or plastic, and if plastic, I make sure it can be recycled.
  • I also do little things like buy loose leaf tea rather than tea bags, and buy honey from a local health food shop because I can take my own glass jar to refill each time.

  • I think about how far my food has travelled to get to my plate. I think of all the energy, water and other non-renewable resources consumed from transporting a bottle of tomato passata from Italy to Australia, for example. It doesn’t make sense to do that when we grow tomatoes in our very own soil. Needless to say, I make my own tomato sauce.

I also follow (loosely) the Yogic/Westin A Price/Paleo way of living. I don't think they all had sustainability in mind, but they certainly advise food choices that benefit the planet as well as us. Here’s a bunch of tips I’ve collected on how to eat sustainably + healthily, from foodie gurus around the globe:

Swami Sivananda’s Dietetic Rules

  • take a moderate diet: stomach ¾ full
  • eat only when hungry
  • abandon too many combinations
  • do not eat processed foods
  • buy foods in season
  • take food with the attitude that it is a health giving gift from nature.

  • “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • “avoid sugar… refined white flour is hardly different from sugar once it gets into the body.”
  • “avoid foods advertised on television.” Rare are the ‘bana-na-na-NA-na’ and ‘av an avocado’ ads.
  • “avoid foods with the wordoid ‘lite’ or the term ‘low-fat’.”
  • “eat foods that will eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food.”
  • “it’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”
  • “cook.”
  • And I like this: “For my mother, who always knew butter was better for you than margarine.”

  • eat meat from grass-fed animals
  • eat butter from grass-fed cows. Avoid margarine
  • drink full cream, unhomogenised milk
  • eat plenty of vegetables, but only if they are not laden with chemicals
  • make your own salad dressing.

And some real food snacky ideas from me:

  • whole milk yoghurt with raspberries and cinnamon (or ground cardamom)
  • activated nuts toasted with spices
  • smashed avocado with lemon and toasted seeds
  • chopped raw veggies with homemade hummus and preserved lemon dip.

That’s my style. What’s yours? Got any healthy and sustainable foodey tips?


  1. This certainly is a worthy read. Sadly I don't have any sustainable foodey tips to share but I certainly will take some of yours!! There are many lines of thought/suggestions to provoke changes which can only help to enhance the planet. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Val! Glad to hear you've been inspired!

  3. My sustainable food tip (that I actually read somewhere else on the interweb recently): Scrap Stock: save the chicken bones, carrot, onion ends you'd otherwise put in the compost, brocolli stalks, whatever you think would be good really. Keep them altogether in the freezer, adding to it as you use things, then when you have enough scrap bits use it all to make stock! It puts to use bits you'd either throw out or compost and saves you from buying the sugar and salt laden packaged stuff from the supermarket!

  4. Excellent tip A. Very excellent tip!

  5. This is a great article. I am slowly living a more sustainable lifestyle one step at a time and I know food choices make up a large part of that. My first three steps have been to buy local, to compost and to reduce packaging by buying more whole foods and make a lot more of my own. I have been amazed at the reduction in my rubbish output and my weekly grocery cost has actually gone down not up which really amazed me.

  6. I just dropped by from Tricia's 'inspiring reads' ....I love the messages you are putting out about simply eating well to save the planet as well as ourselves. We have just changed over to butter was food for thought last week when one of our kids said,'Mum, what is margarine made of... ?' and I read out a list of ingredients as long as my arm. Ingredients for butter -cream/salt....mmmmm , it's a no brainer!

  7. Kim, it might seem a strange thing to be passionate about, but I'm passionate about killing the margarine fallacy! That stuff is bad! I'll be posting an article about butter v margarine soon.



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