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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

What Does It Mean to Eat Sustainably?

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

As someone who started off working in the slow food industry, eating is one of my favourite pastimes.

Unfortunately, food has an incredibly detrimental impact on sustainability - economically, socially and environmentally.

The good news is that there are many ways in which you can reduce your negative economic, social and environmental impact through the food you consume. For those working in the food and beverage industry, there are a number of options to ensure your organisation is doing its part for the environment and to ensure your organisation markets accordingly to consumers who want to eat sustainably.

The impact of food on sustainability


Let's start with my personal favourite aspect of sustainability: the economy. Food can impact sustainability when it is not bought through the local economy. Buying food locally and direct from the producers means cutting out the middleman (or woman), which in turn means that the producers can get full retail price for their produce. According to Local Harvest, a mere 18 cents in each dollar of your fresh produce purchase at the local supermarket goes to the grower. By purchasing locally, you're investing directly back into the local community.


Social sustainability is also incredibly important when it comes to which food we purchase. Unsustainable food includes food which has been produced in unfair working conditions, especially in conditions of slave labour. By purchasing food produced by workers who have been exploited, you are voting for unfair working conditions. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure you are purchasing ethically-sourced food, including through reading labels and looking for specific certifications, such as the fair-trade certification.

In order to sustain our society, it is vital to ensure the good health and well-being of our population. The key of living a healthy life is a balanced, nutritious diet. Therefore, unhealthy food impacts negatively on the sustainability of our society.


The third aspect of sustainability to consider when talking about the impact of food is the environmental aspect. It is estimated that somewhere between 15 and 20% of total CO2 emissions are due to the transportation of food alone (let alone the production and the selling of food). Buying food which is more sustainable means buying food locally, with lower food miles.

Furthermore, food is also a culprit of an immense amount of water consumption. Approximately 70% of water withdrawals are channeled to food and biomass production. Therefore, food produced in sustainable farms, such as Sundrop Farms in South Australia, will have less of an impact on the environment as traditional farms.

The use of some pesticides and herbicides also have a negative impact on the environment. Pesticides and herbicides can pollute not only the immediate environment but the surrounding areas, including oceans, through run-off into rivers and then into oceans. Organic produce is not only healthier for our bodies but for our environment as well.

Foods which have been packaged in unsustainable packaging, such as plastics, can be considered unsustainable, even if they are fair-trade approved, locally sourced and produced through sustainable methods. It is important that both producers and consumers are thinking about the packaging of all products they buy, including food products.

The last stage of the food cycle, unfortunately, is wastage. Globally, we currently produce enough food for no one to go hungry. However, we waste approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year, which is almost a third of our total food production. By buying only the food we will need, we will be able to minimise food wastage. Food wastage can also be minimised from a retailer's point of view by selling and buying "ugly" produce. In Australia, it is estimated we waste $1.7 billion of produce each year because it does not meet aesthetic standards. There are many online and in-store retailers which sell "ugly" produce, produce which is perfectly safe and healthy to consume but does not meet certain aesthetic standards.

How you can switch to a sustainable diet

1. Read the label. The label can indicate whether or not the food is organic, what number of stars health rating the food has received, whether or not it is fair-trade, where it has been produced, etc..

2. Source local produce where possible. Farmers markets are a great way to do this. Search for local markets in your area!

3. Look for the fair-trade symbol.

4. Regulate your food intake. Too much of certain types of food can be unhealthy for your body. Regulate your food intake, especially of foods high in fat and artificial ingredients.

5. Source organic produce where possible. Farmers markets will more often than not have an abundance of organic produce available for purchase.

6. Minimise food wastage. Buy non-perishable items once per week and shop for perishable items more regularly. Many types of food can be frozen before they need to be thrown out.

What your food and beverage business can do to improve sustainability

1. Source local suppliers

2. Source organic suppliers

3. Source suppliers with fair workplace policies

4. Source suppliers using sustainable agricultural practices

5. Transport food sustainably

6. Reduce packaging

7. Use sustainable packaging

8. Provide as much nutritional information as possible


If you have any further questions about any of the above information, contact a member of our team!

This article was originally published on the Strategic Sustainability Consultants website.

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