10 Ways You Can Grow a Better Food System

Canning local produce at peak freshness is just one easy way to grow a better food system. (shutterstock)

Each day, eaters make countless individuals choices that affect our food system. Are you ready to make daily decisions that help support a more sustainable food system, but are done with the really easy stuff? Have you already started eating more vegetarian meals and developed an addiction to the farmer’s market? Are you ready to take more individual actions, but not ready to start growing your own food?

This week, Food Tank highlights ten extra steps eaters can take to support a more environmentally sustainable food system.

1. Dine Out, Locally: Most Americans buy food from a restaurant 5.8 times per week, according to the United States Healthful Food Council. Deciding to eat at a locally sourced restaurant once a month would ensure that at least five percent of the meals you eat out are made from local food. Check out Edible Communities or the Eat Well Guide for a list of restaurants who source local ingredients near you.

2. Spend Some Time With Your Oven: Baking bread at home is more sustainable and often healthier than purchasing store-bought bread. National Geographic notes that one slice of bread requires over 41 liters (11 gallons) of water to produce, a portion of which is used to transport and package store-bought bread in plastic. For a few extra hours a week, you can control the ingredients in your bread and reduce your water and plastic packaging consumption. See The Fresh Loaf for a primer on bread baking, or pick up a copy of Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey to learn more about artisan breads.

3. Buy Seasonal Local Produce: Buying in-season locally grown produce can result in environmental and economic rewards. Eating foods grown at the appropriate time of the year ensures that you get low food mile, flavorful food. Check out the Eat Well Guide for North America to learn what you should be buying each month.

4. Learn to Preserve: From 2008 to 2010, 3,000 people signed up for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) online course on home canning and joined a growing movement that is resurrecting this economical and ecological tradition in the United States. By preserving the abundance of summer produce in jams, pickles, and sauces, eating healthy, local food in the winter is as easy as popping a lid. The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning covers all there is to know about the craft of canning, while novice canners are best to start with Canning Basics.

5. Embrace the Dirt: Twenty-one percent of waste going into municipal landfills in 2012 came from food. Home composting can prevent waste from unnecessarily ending up in a landfill where it contributes to the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The internet is full of great resources about how to compost, both in your backyardand in your apartment.

6. Use What’s Already Growing: Foraging for wild food is not just about getting pesticide-free food for free, but is also about reestablishing human’s connection to nature. For Ava Chin, author of Eating Wildly and a Food Tank guest webinar speaker,foraging is also about finding joy in life. Be sure to check out Edible Wild Food’s resources and Falling Fruit’s global maps of foraging locations to know what you can and cannot eat before you head out to pick your dinner.

7. Do More Than the Dirty Dozen: For more than a decade, the Environmental Working Group has published their list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. If you have already been taking the time to buy organic produce for the top twelve pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables, why not go a bit farther and buy pesticide-free produce for the top fifteen or twenty items? And remember, plenty of small farmers practice organic farming, but not all have certification. Stop by your local farmers market and talk to local growers to find out how they cultivate their produce.

8. Find a Farm (or Butcher or Fisher): Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or box food subscription services are provided by over 12,000 farms in the U.S.,according to the USDA. Consumers who buy a membership with a CSA receive a box of vegetables or other farm products at regular intervals during the season purchased, while also providing a farmer with the certainty that his coming harvest has buyers. And the CSA model is now being adapted to appease carnivorous customers with rising numbers of Community Supported Fisheries and meat shares popping up from Bostonto San Francisco. Check out Local Harvest’s database to find a CSA near you.

9. Make a Calendar: Over one billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year across the globe. Wasted food means wasted resources: the land, water, and fuel used to produce that food product is squandered if the food is not consumed. Each American household typically throws out nine kilograms (twenty pounds) of food a month. Using atemplate to help with weekly meal planning and consulting the portion calculator fromLove Food Hate Waste before you cook can help decrease household food waste.

10. Get Off the Plastic: In 2009, 29.5 percent of waste found in municipal landfills in the U.S. came from containers and packaging. By actively choosing to buy food with little or no plastic packaging, less waste and fewer toxins will be produced. Some stores are supporting this transition by providing refillable stations for cleaning products and asmall grocery store in Austin, Texas has even gone package free!

These steps are small but effective ways we can all support a sustainable food system every day. What other steps do you suggest we take? Send me an email atdanielle@foodtank.com and let me know!