If you’re here you probably already have a good idea that our food system is messed up. And if you’ve had your eyes open in the United States you’ll have noticed that many us are not in the best shape physically. Most of us who have made these observations tend to pay the most attention to how food affects ourselves or our loved ones. That’s beautiful and utterly important but this article goes a few steps further than that. Here I lay out a simple guide on how to eat healthy not only for yourself but also for the earth, the other creatures and animals we share the earth with, as well as all the other people who call this planet home.
I’m not going to cover the why so much here as the how. But for those that want to learn more about our screwed up industrial food system I’ve included a little resource section at the bottom of the article.
This guide is designed to help you eat in a healthy manner, reduce your environmental impact, and eat ethically. It also stands to save you a lot of money. I’m very dedicated to leading by a positive environmental and social manner and have gone to great personal depths to do so. With this guide you can take it as far as you want. You can follow it to the depths that I do or you can practice it more moderately. The more you adapt into your life the healthier you’ll be and the more fair of a life you’ll be living. However doing something is always better than nothing. I’m a strong advocate of the 80-20 rule, which means doing what’s right 80% of the time. If we all did that we’d be in a vastly better place than we are today. I encourage you to take this as far as you can and pursue your beliefs and ethics with great passion.
- Ditch factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy. This is one of the greatest thing you can do to reduce your environmental impact and increase your health. In our current industrial food system, most people would benefit from eating much more nutritionally dense fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, and nuts and less meat, dairy, and eggs. There are more sustainable, ethical options of eating meat, eggs and dairy including regenerative farming, local small scale farms, raising your own, hunting and fishing. See My Thoughts on Veganism… and Why I’m Not Vegan for a deeper perspective on this.
- Stick to whole foods over processed foods. If it’s in the same shape as it was when it came from the earth you are good to go. This is going to mean more cooking, but time spent cooking nutritious food is time well spent. Whole foods are typically one ingredient where as processed foods can be dozens of ingredients. Don’t eat any ingredients that you don’t understand or recognize. It’s much harder to hide chemicals or add unnecessary ingredients to whole foods. A few simple examples are buying apples rather than applesauce, rice rather than boxed foods like Rice A Roni or ramen noodles, and adding lemon to your water rather than drinking soda. At some supermarkets a trick is to shop on the perimeter of the store and avoid most of the isles.
- Shop locally and purchase food that was grown locally. Farmers markets, CSA’s and co-ops are all good options for finding local food. Your ingredients will be much fresher, you’ll be supporting your community, and less fossil fuels will have been used in transportation. At the very least make sure to buy food from the country you live in rather than across the oceans.
- Purchase organic / natural food when possible. While the USDA Organic label is one way to find organic food you can also just talk to your local growers and ask them if the food is grown organically. This will keep chemicals out of your body, the farmer’s body, and all the creatures’ bodies. Organic food is far better for you and for the earth than most conventional foods. It should be noted that Big Organic has taken over much of the natural food world and the USDA Organic label by no means guarantees it is a safe or sustainable option.
- Buy unpackaged foods. By doing this you will not be creating trash and recyclables when eating. The bulk food section will become a good friend of yours. By sticking to whole foods you’re already on track to buying unpackaged; but some stores package everything, even whole foods like oranges, potatoes, onions, etc. Unpackaged is great for the environment but it’s also a safeguard for eating mostly healthy food as most unpackaged foods are also whole foods.
- Don’t waste food. Just do whatever it takes to make sure you are not wasting food. We waste as much as half the food we produce in the United States while 50 million Americans are food insecure. Make sure you’re not contributing to that mess. See The Food Waste Fiasco for more on food waste and to learn how to eat for free check out my guide to dumpster diving (which is very earth friendly).
- Compost. Even if you don’t waste any food you’re still going to need to compost scraps like banana peels, juice pulp, apple cores, etc. If you can’t do it at your place then give the scraps to someone who can do it for you. See my guide to composting to get started.
- Practice zero waste shopping. You’ll already have this most of the way down by only buying whole, unpackaged foods but another important step is to bring your own containers. The most obvious is to bring your own reusable bags, but don’t forget reusable bags for the produce as well. Also, if you’re buying whole, unpackaged foods in the bulk section then make sure to bring your own jars or bags to put this in.
- Eat with the seasons. This is a very fun way to eat healthy and save a lot of money. Just eat whatever is in season. If you are eating local then a lot of this is going to happen for you already. Joining a CSA is a great way to eat with the seasons.
- Prepare your own meals and eat out less. It’s much easier to control what you eat when you make it yourself. Not only to control the ingredients, but to control the proportions as well. You’re going to save a ton of money by becoming your own chef as well. And I’ll tell you from experience it’s really not as hard as you might think to prepare delicious and nutritious food. Nature’s already done most of the work for you, so just keep it simple!
- Grow some of your own food. This is arguably the most important tip of this entire guide. Growing food connects you the earth and changes the way you think about everything. By seeing your food grow from seed to whatever it becomes you can unravel all of the fallacies behind our industrial agriculture system in just a few growing seasons. If you don’t have room at your own place join a community garden or start Freestyle Gardening and grow food on empty spaces. You can start with just a few herbs on your balcony or a few raised beds in your patio or backyard.
- Don’t eat GMOs. Regardless of whether you think they are healthy for your body the companies behind them are destroying much of our natural environment. The good news is if you stick to eating whole, organic, and unpackaged foods than you’ve already steered completely clear of GMOs. Read Why I Don’t Buy GMOs for more on this topic.
If you follow those basic tenants you will truly be eating and living the Planet Friendly Diet. It may seem like a lot to change but don’t be overwhelmed. It took me about five years of transitioning to get to where I am today. My suggestion is to embrace where you are and rather than getting down on yourself get excited to live with more happiness, health, and freedom than ever before! Print this list out and hang it up in a prominent place in your house. Then take steps each week to improve. With each improvement the next task will become easier and within a few years you could find yourself where you never thought you’d make it!
Educate yourself with this resource section as well the links in this article. I’ve kept it very simple in this guide and these resources will give you more details and expand on the topics.
Watch: Food Inc., Food Matters, The World According to Monsanto, Fed Up, Fresh, and more at 23 Films that Changed my Life
Read: Food Rules: An Eaters Manual, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Healthful Food, Fast Food Nation
For tips on how to adapt this mindset into your entire life at home check out My House Guide to Simple, Sustainable, and Healthy Living.