- Date: October 09, 2020
The way in which we produce and consume food—the food system—is pushing our planet to the brink. This global system is a major driver of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of habitats and wildlife.
We need a food system that conserves and restores nature while ensuring there is enough to feed current and future generations, nutritiously. Achieving this will take a transformation across the board, from fishing boats to crop fields, farm to market, kitchen to landfill.
Luckily, there’s something each of us can do, something we already do several times a day. Adopt a diet that’s good for your health and for nature.
WWF has released Bending the Curve: The Restorative Power of Planet-based Diets, a global research report and calculator to help people understand the health and environmental impact of their diets. And yes, you read that right: a ‘Planet-Based Diet’ is one that is high in human health benefits and low in environmental impacts. Shifting our eating patterns can help us reverse nature loss, halt deforestation and conversion of other habitats like grasslands, reduce water use and pollution, and fight climate change.
Around the world, or even across the street, everyone’s diet looks different. It depends on our bodies, our budgets, our cultures, our geography, our seasons, what’s available or accessible.
Here are five ways you can think about eating for our planet:
1. Choose more sustainable ingredients
There’s no ingredient that is universally sustainable or unsustainable—it all depends on how and where it is farmed or fished.
Sustainably produced ingredients have minimal impacts on nature; they are produced responsibly and don’t threaten wildlife populations or their habitats. Nor do these ingredients pollute water or leave soil less healthy, because they aren’t reliant on excessive fertilizer and pesticide application.
The best way to know if your ingredients are sustainable is to learn more about where they come from or, if possible, get to know the people who produced them. But you can also look for science-based certification labels that tell you foods are being produced with more responsible practices. Here are some labels to look out for in the store.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables and moderate animal intake
One way to improve your environmental impact is to balance the amount of fruit and vegetables with the animal products you eat. Meat, poultry, pork, fish, eggs, and dairy are all important sources of nutrition, that also have a high environmental impact. In many places there’s no need to moderate their consumption because some people don’t get enough of these crucial nutrients.
But where possible, for both our physical health and the health of the planet we can moderate our animal product consumption and up our intake of fruit and vegetables. The dietary guidelines for Americans are a good place to start.
No matter what, the animal products we do eat should be more sustainable. WWF is working with partners on the production of meat, poultry, dairy, and seafood, and what they are fed, so we can produce enough protein to feed a growing population while supporting livelihoods, and minimizing environmental impacts. We are also working alongside partners on production practices that can benefit nature. Using cover crops can build soil health and store carbon, and well-managed cattle grazing can help restore and regenerate North America's grasslands.
3. Diversify your diet
Your mother may have said there can be too much of a good thing. This is true for what we eat for our health and the planet! Our bodies need a variety of nutrients, and the planet benefits from crop diversity. Soils are healthier when different types of crops are grown together, and fertilizer use can be reduced by integrating different crops and livestock with trees and other plants. Cultivating a wider variety of foods also helps us be more resilient to shocks like pests, diseases, or extreme weather.
A balanced diet can include many things but tend to have lots of whole grains, fruit and veg, and less sugar, oils, and fats. You can also try to eat different grains, produce, nuts, and pulses like chickpeas or lentils to achieve as much balance as possible.
4. Eat minimally processed, nutritious foods
The more processed a food is, generally the greater its environmental impact will be because more energy is used during its creation.
Products also often lose nutritional quality during processing, meaning more food must be produced to deliver minimum nutrition, though some value-added processing (such as freezing and canning) helps to alleviate food loss and waste. Try focusing on fresh, frozen (especially fish), and canned fruits, veggies, and foods that are minimally processed and have fewer additives.
Some of the other products that we overconsume in the US can have a high environmental impact but are low on nutritional value. For example, most coffee, cocoa, tea, spices, and some sugar are imported from tropical regions high in biodiversity, and their mass production can cause tropical deforestation and wildlife loss. It’s perfectly OK to enjoy occasional treats in moderation, and look for brands that work toward more sustainable practices.
5. Watch what you waste!
Wasting food wastes environmental resources like energy, water, and land, and unfortunately, in the US we waste nearly 40% of what we grow! By reducing food waste, we can ease the burden on our resources and work ensure more food is available to those in need.
There are so many ways to reduce food waste at home—learn how here!
When it comes to diet, there is no one-size fits all approach. There will be times in life when you need more of one food than another. It is important that diets are flexible and respect local cultures. But people all over the world can eat different foods in different amounts while still following these steps. Trying to make these healthier, more sustainable choices will help us create a future in which our planet can feed everyone.