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Eating Green: Beginners Guide to Sustainable Food Choices

Vera Churilov
May 2, 2011
Vera Churilov
Written by
May 2, 2011

News on climate change and species dying can be so discouraging. Since movie releases like An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc. and Fresh, many of us feel a personal duty to save the planet through individual actions. But you don't have to go as extreme as No Impact Man to make a difference! A great way and one of the most important is making sustainable food choices.

I invite you to revisit your grocery list and eating habits to lower your carbon footprint at the dinner table. If you’re skipping processed junk food packed in plastic bags for real food at the farmer’s market, you’re on the right track! Here’s more that can be done:

Eat what’s in your fridge and compost: Food that goes into landfills releases methane gas, one of the worst for global warming -- 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Did you know that in America we have so much excess food we dump about half of what’s produced in landfills? In just 2009, we threw away 34 million tons, and of all solid waste, food is the biggest contributor. So get cooking! And please compost spoiled food from your kitchen. You don’t need your own worm bin, just collect food scraps and demand composting in your city.

Join the locavore moment: Buy local above any other label or certification. Build a relationship with the people selling you food, and they become accountable to you, your community, and the planet. A farm near you may sell high quality produce but may not yet have finished the rigorous process in getting organic certification. As organic moves into the mainstream and stores like Walmart sell organic crackers, our relationship to our food source becomes more distant.

The Locavore movement goes beyond to establish healthy communities. Since 1994, more than 3,000 new farmer’s markets have sprung up across the nation. East and West coasters have their picks from various neighborhoods throughout the week.If you must have tomatoes in cold seasons, choose Eden canned tomatoes, which are BPA (toxin) free or, my favorite: rehydrate sun-dried tomatoes. Check out this seasonal food guide here.

Remember food miles: Gas prices might remind you of the cost associated with transporting groceries to your local supermarket. Avoid air freighted food as much as possible to reduce CO2 emissions. This includes the transport of tropical fruit. If you love your bananas, for example, like I do, support Earth Farm at Whole Foods, or at least buy non-sprayed organic ones. Develop a walking and biking lifestyle to make up the difference in your carbon footprint.

Treat meat like a luxury item and eat more veggies! Agriculture is responsible for a third of global warming gas emissions. But livestock production specifically generates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases and 18% of global warming gases -- more than transportation. These ruminant animals -- cows, sheep, goats -- are built with long stomachs that produce methane gas in the digestion process, a gas largely responsible for warming the atmosphere. Livestock is also responsible for N2O, Nitrous Oxide, which like methane is far more potent than CO2 in global warming.

Lower your cheese consumption: Next time you think of Brie with French bread for that dinner party, think Tapenade or Hummus instead. Try vegan cheeses like Daiya or Annie’s Cashew cheese, but consider that processed food also have their carbon footprint. Read my beginner’s guide to a plant-based diet.

Avoid factory farm-grown food: Manure waste from factory farms is also responsible for polluting huge sources of fresh water, so choose your meat and dairy from responsible sources. Avoid farms that maintain horrible conditions where animals can hardly stretch their wings or turn their necks. Support farming that allows moving creatures to live how they were meant to, buy cage-free and free-range. Watch The Meatrix to learn more.

Try fish that reproduce quickly: Experiment with fatty fish like sardines and anchovies. These omega-3 rich varieties add so much flavor and nutrition to a loaf of crusty bread, grains like Couscous, pasta, or salad. Treat wild salmon as a delicacy, it still comes from far away. Skip the tuna unless it’s caught responsibly. Follow Seafood Watch to see what fish is endangered and which is not.

Think “No Impact” in packaging: Switch to green products that prevent waste, especially plastic. Learn how to make your own yogurt, get a compost bin, and reuse glass creatively – it’s one of the healthiest ways to store your food. At home, we reuse Trader Joe’s Raw Almond Butter jars to carry our smoothies to work. Our extras store chia seeds, cacao, and quinoa in our pantry. This is a great way to reuse without spending money for just “more stuff”.

Try To-Go Ware’s utensils at a discount with code SAMPLE or carry your own. If you love soda, check out SodaStream to make your own healthy version without accumulating waste. Skip plastic straws. Demand that businesses still using Styrofoam switch to companies like Worldcentric. Styrofoam will sit in landfills for eternities and plastic pollutes oceans.

Get gardening! Visit an urban farm or garden to grow a relationship with your food. Start with a simple herb garden on a raised bed in your own home. You can be as creative as Curt Ellis, producer of King Corn, and creator of the Truck Farm!

Vera Churilov author page.
Vera Churilov
Vera is a holistic health counselor and writer on wellness, and sustainable, plant-based living. Her site, is a healthy guide to events, products, and tips for conscious living. She teaches classes on Green Smoothies at 18 Reasons and sustainable nutrition in San Francisco