Sustainability is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot in environmental discussions. At its most basic definition, sustainability is the ability to be maintained. But what does that mean in environmental context? Essentially, environmental sustainability is the idea that the technology and policies that we create should a) not harm the environment and b) be renewable and therefore readily available without fear that quantities run out. Of course, there will always be limited resources. However, sustainable design will limit human use of resources that cannot be obtained once used so that more people can have access to the resources they need. The model of sustainability can therefore be applied to any sector of human civilization that currently harms the environment. For example, sustainable energy revolves around designing technologies that limit fossil fuel usage. This manifests itself in how scientists manufacture car engines so that they can work with alternative fuels (not petroleum) and use less fuel per distance traveled.
At the same time, sustainability can be applied to more esoteric areas of environmental harm, such as agriculture. Because american farming methods have become so distant from american lives, the environmental ramifications of agriculture can often be difficult to discern. However, today, the EPA reports that agriculture emits nearly 24% of the extra carbon in America’s atmosphere. Between the grains grown and meat fed and slaughtered, America emits billions of tons of carbon. Clearly, the current methods used to create food are unsustainable. At the same time, the carbon used to grow food manifests itself in the nutrient composition of the corn, pasta, chicken, and vegetables we put in our bodies every day. Author Janine Benyus calculates that Americans consume nearly 13 barrels of oil each year in just the food they eat. These “normal” farming methods (which are definitely abnormal from a traditional standpoint) have brought about terms like “organic” and “GMO free.”
But what do all of these terms mean?
This is the main difficulty I believe Americans have when choosing to “buy healthy.” The methods in which we grow food are rarely related to the actual health of our food, despite the fact that the former directly changes the latter.
Eating sustainable, therefore, is not only eating food that is not grown with environmentally damaging practices, but also eating food that nourishes us in its most basic context.
Instead of obsessing over calorie counts, trendy diets, and protein/carbs/fats, eating sustainable allows us to eat food in its most natural and humanly favorable context. Although America has dubbed “healthy” as “organic” (which in its most literal sense means containing the element carbon) or “GMO free” (which, again, does not guarantee the food is grown without fossil fuels like petroleum), America has distanced healthy from sustainable, and in the meantime sent its people into a constant frenzy surrounding the food they eat. But food, and eating, is quite simple. It has to be. How else would we survive?
Healthy eating is eating food in its most natural sense. It is eating food grown with minimal synthetic additives, direct genetic manipulation, and petroleum. It is disregarding the nutrition facts label and buying food that has not been processed, or even heavily analyzed. And while many consumers do not necessarily care about the sustainability of their food, they do care about the health of it. Luckily, health can be understood only through the growth of the food itself.
Great reads on this subject:
- Biomimicry by Janine Benyus
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- Third Plate by Dan Barber (I personally have not read this, but a friend said it completely changed his outlook on sustainable agriculture so I’d give it a go)
Also be sure to check back for more introductory posts leading up to my new recipe PDF, filled with recipes and quick ways to incorporate sustainable foods into family dinners, meals for one, and parties.