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Food & Hunger

10 Food Rules to Eat Sustainably This Holiday Season

“I’m a sucker for overconsumption at Christmas time. It’s the one time of the year where it’s acceptable to eat more than your share of all the delicious things on offer. You don’t have to be a Grinch to be mindful of the waste you’re creating.” - Cassie Duncan, Co-Founder, Sustainable Table.

It’s important to think about sustainability as we head into the festive season. But what does that word really mean when it comes to our food?  The innovative, non-for-profit organization Sustainable Table, empowers consumers to vote with their shopping dollar for a fair food system. There is no doubt that the food we choose to buy and eat is intrinsically linked to many of the environmental issues we face today. In fact food makes up 60 per cent of our personal eco-footprint. So if you want to live a fair, humane, healthy and eco-friendly life, there is really no better place to start than with what’s on your plate.

In the lead up to the holiday season we asked co-founder of this Australian organisation Cassie Duncan to share with us her food rules for eating sustainably.

"For me eating sustainably means following these food rules," Cassie said.

1. Make plants the hero

"According to a 2009 World Watch report livestock and their by-products account for a whopping 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Even more conservative estimates put it at around 20%. Livestock grazing is a huge cause of deforestation and land degradation, and that’s before you factor in the methane emissions created by the animals themselves, the impact of grain production, transportation for feed... the list goes on. Excessive meat consumption has also been linked to diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, Type-2 diabetes and some cancers.

A diet made up of mostly plants, especially green ones, is better for you and the planet."

Cows oli.jpgImage: Flickr - Oli

2. Make meat a treat and when you do indulge ensure it is truly free range or organic

"Over 600 million animals are raised indoors in factory farms each year in Australia alone. Our modern-day farming practices put profit above the welfare of the animals and it is shocking to see. Housing animals in such tight confines not only adds to their stress levels but it also makes our food system more reliant on antibiotics and increases the risks of effluent runoff contaminating local waterways. When you do choose to eat meat, source it from local free range and organic farms who have high animal welfare standards and who raise animals as part of a regenerative agriculture philosophy. Farmers’ markets are a great place to start!"

Celebrating the weird and the wonderful - weekend goodies from @melbournefarmersmarkets YUM 😋 #freshproduce #grow

A photo posted by Sustainable Table (@sustain_table) on

3. Eat sustainable seafood

"Our oceans are in crisis due to a combination of overfishing, plastic pollution, and climate change. Many popular species such as tuna and shark are on the brink of collapse; however, there are ways to consume seafood more mindfully. In general, eating lower down on the food chain (smaller fish) is a good idea, as these species regenerate more quickly and don’t take as long to reach sexual maturity. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has a great smartphone app to help you select the right species when next at the fishmonger. It’s also good to know that Australia is deemed as one of the most responsible when it comes to their fisheries management, so prioritise buying Australian caught seafood (this isn’t always easy when considering a whopping 72% of seafood consumed here is imported)."

4. Avoid plastic packaging

"Like diamonds plastic is forever. It never goes away; it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles and chokes up our waterways and kills marine animals and wildlife. The vast majority of plastic waste comes from food packaging, so one thing we can do as consumers is to avoid it by purchasing mainly wholefoods and seeking out bulk food stores where you can take your own containers."

5. Reduce food waste and compost

"The UN has estimated that if food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China. In Australia we throw out one in every five bags of shopping we buy, which is not only a huge waste of money, to the tune of around $1,200 a year, but it’s also a criminal waste of all the resources that went into growing and transporting the food."

6. Eat seasonally and source food mainly from the state you live in

"Food is now transported all over the world, which significantly adds to its carbon footprint. Shop mainly at farmers’ markets that only stock what is grown in your state. Embrace the seasons and take in the joy of the first-season tomatoes, asparagus, berries or stone fruit. It’s a beautiful and connected way to eat and learn about what grows when and why. Also try to grow a little yourself; it’s the best education in appreciation. Once you’ve seen what goes into gaining a successful harvest you’ll respect our farmers a whole lot more."

7. Stop to enjoy what you’re eating and try to sit down with friends and family as much as possible

"Part of eating sustainably is also developing a healthy relationship with food. It fuels our bodies and our relationships. Stop to take the time to break bread with the ones you love, it’s often where the best memories are formed."

8. Be thoughful about leftovers to reduce food waste.

"My recommendation is to get creative with leftovers. Don’t expect your family to eat turkey sandwiches for a week, instead turn it into something new like fried rice, or cook up some grains or cous cous and create a salad out of leftover vegies and meat. Send your guests home with a doggy bag full of goodies to spread the food around."

Check out the BBC Good Food site for 48 recipes to make use of Christmas leftovers.

Also be mindful of how you store your leftovers. There can be the temptation to use kilometres of gladwrap when storing in containers or simply placing a plate over a bowl to keep it airtight does the trick. Glad wrap is another single use plastic item that never goes away, so it makes absolutely no sense to use it.

9. You can serve a meat-free meal to a non-vegetarian family.

"First up, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing because I knew it would be met with groans of disapproval. I went to a lot of effort to ensure each dish was super tasty and a little bit special, so it still felt festive. I think it took until the end of the entree for my father-in-law to exclaim, 'Hang on, there was no meat in that!'"

I wrote a blog post on the topic: A Christmas of “Surprise, There’s No Meat in This!”, which also includes my menu.

Read more on Etheical Omnivores here.

10. You can still eat sustainably, even if you don't go meat-free.

"I totally understand that meat and seafood comes hand-in-hand with Christmas, so if you’re not ready to break with tradition, then what I ask is that you source truly free range meat where the animals have lived outdoors and had a good life. Also consider seafood options such as oysters and mussels, which are actually filter feeders and improve the quality of the water they grow in. If buying prawns, look for MSC certified ones from Australia, as imported prawns have one of the most damaging environmental and human rights footprints going around.

I have developed some handy guides for sourcing free range turkey, ham and sustainable seafood."

Navigating the murky waters of food labelling and ethical food can often be tricky. We hope that Cassie’s handy hints and sustainable food guides help you and your families enjoy a sustainable and happy holiday season. Learn more from Sustainable Table.