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Sustainable Choices: What You Eat

It can sometimes be overwhelming to read the news and see the damage being done to our planet. The destruction of forests, the growing list of endangered species, and the raging storms and wildfires caused by our changing environment can all seem like insurmountable problems. But hope is not lost! One of the biggest drivers of environmental damage is food production. By making more informed choices about what you eat every day, you can help animals and the environment by reducing your impact on ecosystems and creating a healthier world for wildlife.

  1. Eat less meat and more plants. Meat has a huge environmental footprint. Nearly 80% of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock grazing and feed production. Meat also requires much more water, with 2,046 gallons of water required to produce one pound of beef compared to 320 gallons required for one pound of tofu. Project Drawdown, a comprehensive research-based compilation of climate change solutions, lists “plant-rich diets” as their third most impactful solution, estimating that if everyone in the world suddenly became vegetarians, our climate emissions would drop by 63%. But you don’t have to become a full-fledged vegetarian; start by swapping out a few meals per week with meatless options.
  2. Reduce your food waste. A third of the food we produce does not ever make it to people’s plates, which wastes all of the resources that went into producing that food. Try a produce subscription service like Misfits Market, which reduces food waste by selling “ugly” produce that grocery stores won’t put on their shelves.
  3. Eat local. Eating food that is produced in your local area can reduce food miles, which are the distance that your food travels to reach your plate. The further your food travels, the more greenhouse gases are emitted through packaging and transportation fuel. Instead, try shopping at your local farmer’s market.
  4. Choose sustainable options. Look for products with “ecolabels,” which indicate that an item meets a certain level of environmental sustainability. For example, the RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil label signifies that the palm oil was produced in a way that reduces the impact on rainforests and local human livelihoods. You can also use sustainability guides, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide, to choose food options that have a lower environmental footprint.

Some people say that your individual choices don’t matter, but that is far from the truth. Your individual choices influence the people around you, which can build social momentum that eventually leads to policy change. Your choices also create demand for more environmentally-friendly food options in the economy, and companies will respond to that growing demand. There was no government policy that forced Tyson Foods or Burger King to offer meatless options – they chose to do that based on growing demand. So go out and start making sustainable food choices; they do make a difference!

⦁ Hawken, P. (Ed.). (2017). Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. Penguin.
⦁ Prescott, M. (2018). Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World–80+ Recipes for a Greener Planet and a Healthier You. Flatiron Books.
⦁ Wirsenius, S., Azar, C., & Berndes, G. (2010). How much land is needed for global food production under scenarios of dietary changes and livestock productivity increases in 2030? Agricultural systems, 103(9), 621-638.
⦁ WWF (2017). Appetite for Destruction. Retrieved from:

Danielle Linthicum
Youth and Family Programs Supervisor

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl