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The Sustainable Plate: A Closer Look At Sustainable Food

Just like certain foods are good for your body while others do more harm than good, certain foods are better for the environment and others, well, are not.

This goes beyond whether something is labeled as “organic” or not, though that can also play a role.

Many of us never really think about sustainability when it comes to choosing our food, but it may just be time to start.

Here are a few ways you can do just that!

Steer Away from Top Offenders

The way that they’re manufactured today, some foods are just hard on the environment. Examples of some carbon-intensive foods include:


  • Lamb- Sitting down for a nice lamb dinner can significantly up your carbon footprint- just as much as a 90-mile drive! Some of this CO2 comes from the shipping process since half of all lamb in the US is imported, but a lot of it comes about during the animal’s lifetime. 
  • Beef- Beef is right behind lamb when it comes to carbon-heavy foods. The main drivers here are the methane produced by cows and the amount of water and land they require.
  • Cheese- Cheese has about half of the greenhouse gas emissions by weight when compared to beef, and a significant part of that comes from the import and export processes.
  • Pork- Yeah, it’s not looking good for the meat lovers out there. Pork products are about on par with cheese when it comes to carbon footprint.


Some other foods producing more than their fair share of greenhouse gasses include turkey, chicken, farmed salmon, canned tuna, potatoes, eggs, and nuts.

While that’s not to say that you need to cut all of these things out of your diet entirely, you may want to be more mindful about how much you eat of them and how often.

Embrace More Sustainable Options

If you’re feeling severely limited after reading that last list, don’t worry.

There are still plenty of foods to choose from that won’t weigh on your conscious.

Some of the most sustainable foods available today include:

  • Lentils- A beloved staple prized for their availability, affordability, and nutrition, lentils are also an extremely sustainable food. Adding some lentils to your meal is a great way to get a quick protein boost. How can one food do so much for us?
  • Tomatoes- Whether you buy them from the store or grow them on your balcony, tomatoes have a pretty low carbon footprint. Obviously, it’s even lower if you grow them yourself, so if you’ve got a sunny spot outdoors, give it a try!
  • Tofu- Organic tofu produces three times less greenhouse gas from farm to plate than beef. You could only drive one mile on the emissions from 4 ounces of this stuff.
  • Mussels- If you want a seafood fix, try mussels instead of salmon or tuna. They’re another great source of protein and omega-3s and mussel farms typically consist of mussels growing on ropes hung in the ocean, so the environmental impact is very minimal.

Do What You Can When You Can

Sustainable food can become a bit of a rabbit hole. There are those who would tell you that you need to go vegan asap or might as well not even bother. Truthfully, it’s better to do something sometimes than to get overwhelmed at the thought of doing it perfectly and never do it at all.

So, instead of mourning the fact that you’ll never be able to eat lamb again and then swearing off the whole idea, just make little changes and swaps whenever you can.

If this is your first time considering the topic of sustainable food, just ease yourself into it. As you learn more, you may get more invested in changing your diet, but for now, make things easy for yourself.

Keep this list in mind as you go through the aisles of the grocery store, peruse the menu at a restaurant, or sit down to plan out your meal plan for the week.

A few simple swaps here and there can lead to a much more sustainable plate overall!

Kayla Robbins
DoneGood Contributor

Freelance writer working with bighearted businesses who want to better our world.


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