April is Earth Month. You’re probably familiar with the term sustainability when it comes to environmental impact of reusable versus disposable products, transportation choices, and energy use. But what about food choices? With over seven billion people living, breathing, and eating on planet Earth, our daily food choices can add up to a big environmental footprint.
Reduce food waste.
About one third of food produced annually is wasted, with fruits and vegetables having the highest rates of waste. Some food waste occurs during production or transport and a significant portion (about 40% in wealthy countries like the US) occurs at the consumer level. We buy food and don’t eat it before it spoils, we toss out leftovers, or we put more on our plate than we want to eat. Reducing food waste also has an impact on your budget. Some tips for reducing food waste at home are:
- Meal plan! Set aside time to plan what you are eating and when. Use this plan to guide your food purchases and preparation.
- Split shopping into multiple trips. Buy dry goods or non-perishables in a larger trip and perishable foods like fruits and vegetables in smaller weekly or biweekly trips.
- Utilize a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables.
Eat from root to shoot.
Challenge yourself to use as much of a fruit or vegetable as possible. For example, instead of tossing carrot tops, make carrot top pesto. Save veggie scraps like onion ends or bits of garlic in a container in your freezer and once you get a good amount built up, make your own vegetable stock. Got scraps you can’t use? Compost them. Get started at home or look for a departmental composting bin on campus. UGArden also accepts compost scraps Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm at the garden on South Milledge.
Cut down on packaging.
Bring your own reusable or recycled containers to the bulk bins at stores like Kroger, Daily Co-op, or Earthfare. Just a warning, you’ll need to have the cashier tare the container, or record its weight, before you fill it (don’t miss this step, since it keeps you from paying for the weight of the container). You’ll save money by buying bulk items and will eliminate unnecessary packaging from boxes or plastic bags.
Choose plant based meals.
Center your plate around plant proteins like black beans, pinto beans, lentils, and other legumes. Animal products like meat and dairy tend to have greater environmental impact than plants, due to increased resources needed for production. You don’t have to go vegetarian or vegan to reduce your impact; choose a few meals or a day per week to go meatless. Meatless Monday is a campaign to eliminate meat intake one day per week to impact individual and environmental health.
Keep it simple.
Choose minimally processed and wholesome ingredients to cut down on the energy required to produce food. Cook and prepare food at home. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, beans, lentils, and legumes are usually good options to start with.
Did you know that food in the US travels, on average, 1200 miles from farm to plate? Transportation of food is a big contributor to green house gas emissions. Choose to purchase food grown or produce locally where possible. In Athens, we have options like the Athens Farmers Market, West Broad Market and Garden, and several different options for CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture. You can find local produce and goods highlighted in other stores throughout town as well. Get involved in local food production by supporting it with your spending dollars or volunteering with organizations like the hyper-local-to-UGA UGArden, which supplies food to the Campus Kitchen project.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Practice eating mindfully. Deliberately be more aware of your hunger and fullness cues when filling your plate and eating. Reuse leftover ingredients into a new meal. Did you cook more pasta than you really wanted to eat for dinner? Repurpose it into a cold pasta salad for lunch the next day, or toss into a frittata for breakfast. Got leftover veggies starting to soften? Roast them in the oven to give them new life.
Need more ideas? Check out this New York Times interactive quiz on food choices and climate change. Visit the UGA Office of Sustainability website to find out more information on how UGA is promoting sustainability throughout campus and how you can get involved.
For students in need of additional support resources:
The UGA food pantry is fully stocked and available for students in town. Students should call Student Care and Outreach to set up a time for pick-up (706.542.7774) or contact them via email at SCO@uga.edu with any questions. Information about emergency funding and Graduate Student emergency funding can be found here: Student Affairs emergency fund and Graduate Student emergency fund. Bulldog Basics is also still running for students in town. Students can request basic hygiene items here.
Written by: Beth Kindamo, Nutrition Education Coordinator, UHC Health Promotion