Sustainable eating: food for life, not for a season
February 2, 2022
I love food! I love eating food, watching programs about food, reading about food…you name it. If it’s food-related, I’m there! Food is a wonderful thing. It brings people together, informs you about different cultures, expands your horizons, and induces wonderful memories from days gone by. We cannot live without food; our bodies require so much of it to keep us well and strong, managing a delicate balance of nutrients. And yet for so many of us, this delicate balance is where the real struggle lies. Getting the right foods, keeping our consumption in balance, and maintaining a healthy relationship with food are all important aspects to be considered if we are to achieve sustainable eating.
What do I mean by sustainable eating?
For me, sustainable eating can mean a few things. The three I mentioned above are what I think are the most pressing issues around food that we are facing today. Eating the right foods, maintaining balance in our consumption, and our relationship with food. So much of what I see today regarding food is brought back to these aspects, and none of them are straightforward. Our world is at a tipping point. As a result, we must be proactive in how we can help, not just nature, but ourselves too.
Eating the right foods
Coming out of a pandemic we are in a unique situation. Either we have embraced the changes flung at us over the past few years, or we have struggled. If you fall into the latter category, you will be amongst millions whose mental health has taken a real hit. As a result of this, people’s relationship with food may well have changed, and not always for the better. It takes real strength of will to fight through a mental health crisis and our diet often suffers. Eating the right foods isn’t made a priority and we can develop eating disorders that can be challenging to break.
When we think of the right foods we can automatically think of carrot sticks and cottage cheese. And there is nothing wrong with either. They are highly nutritious foods. But if you are not accustomed to certain food groups, especially the ones you know are good for you, it can be a real challenge. So much of our diet these days is made up of ultra-processed food – food which has gone through a transformation to become something else – which is full of chemicals to improve taste, and shelf life. But at the cost of convenience, we are actually doing our bodies real harm. We are not designed to digest these chemicals, and as such, our bodies can store them as fat and even lead to serious health risks.
So how do we pick the right foods to eat?
When we are so surrounded by processed foods, what is best? Well, it’s all about balance, eating what you enjoy, and challenging yourself to try new things too. Developing good eating habits isn’t instantaneous, and it’s not always easy, but it is rewarding. If it is to be maintained as a sustainable eating habit, then there is no point in putting yourself through hell by eating foods you detest. Choose healthy foods that you can incorporate into your diet regularly, that you can look forward to and know they are doing you good. Additionally, you could develop your cooking skills to broaden your food horizons, pique your curiosity, and freshen up your repertoire of dishes. Bulk out meals with veggies, hide them if you have to, and avoid foods that are high in sugars, saturated fats, and additives. If you can make it from scratch it will always do you better. Plus by cooking it yourself you know what is going into it and you will find yourself developing a better relationship with food along the way.
Keeping our consumption in balance
The pandemic has also thrown more light onto how out of balance everything in the world really is. Our climate is out of kilter meaning our natural world is suffering as a result. Much of this unfortunately is down to some bad decisions made over the last 80 or so years. Our consumption habits have disrupted the natural ecosystems of many occupants of Earth and we’re realising that we cannot continue the same way. Of course, there are many different areas to point the finger of blame at, but we can alter a little of that chain of consumption by considering what we eat. By reducing the amount of meat, pre-packaged foods, or food that has traveled thousands of miles, we can not only do our planet good but our bodies good too.
Balance is also related to how much of each food group we allow ourselves. Food should be fun. But it should also be a balance between nutritionally dense foods, and a little of something naughty. Don’t cut out the treats entirely, but do keep a check on how often you allow yourself them. Too much of a ‘good thing’ isn’t always a good thing. Some people allow themselves cheat days, others a treat at the end of the week. It could be a takeaway, wine, or your favourite chocolate bar. Other people allow themselves something small each day whilst maintaining healthy meal choices. It’s all about keeping what we consume in balance.
Mix it up!
Furthermore, we really mustn’t eat meat every day. We are an ever-growing global population, one that cannot sustain the consumption of meat every day. Therefore, introducing healthy meals that are plant or veg-based, not only does your body good, but the planet good too. I was completely skeptical of tofu for years, but considering its health benefits and as a meat alternative, I gave it a go. And now it’s a part of my meal repertoire. Trying new foods, being adventurous, allows you to try foods that you might not have considered before, and turns boring things like tofu into delicious meals.
Sustainable eating is possible, not just for now, but for life.
A good relationship
Further to what I said before about eating the right foods and keeping our consumption in balance, we must develop a good relationship with food if we are to be successful. Too much, or too little, of a good thing can throw us off balance and put us into struggle mode. We feel the strain physically and mentally when we are not getting the balance right. Not enough and we risk, at worst, anorexia. Too much and we enter the realms of obesity. Either way, our bodies suffer, as does our mental health. So we must develop a healthy and sustainable relationship with food in order to keep the balance right. It can be done! By pooling together the knowledge and ideas about eating the right foods, and consumption, we can generate a habit of sustainable eating in our lives.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with food is one that many people struggle with. Today society feeds us lies about what we should look like if we are to be considered beautiful. Rake thin, bigger muscles, big boobs, curves in the right places, golden tan…I could go on. But none of it is real. None of it is you. The most important lesson in life is to be at peace with yourself. And you cannot do that when you are filling your head with nonsense that does nothing but bring you down.
Last week I blogged about a principle called Kaizen whereby we change incrementally every day by 1%. These small and manageable changes each day amount to a big change that does us good physically, mentally, or spiritually. Introducing change can be difficult, but if we make one little change, make one better choice, each day, we will see huge improvements down the line. Nothing worth doing is instantaneous. It takes effort, force of will, and the desire to see change. That includes how we see ourselves and how we see food.
Sustainable eating for life
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I LOVE FOOD! But it is something I have to manage each day. Some days I’m better at it than others. But if I don’t make conscious choices about what I eat I’m not only doing myself harm but the planet harm too. Sustainable eating is for life. Fad diets only discourage us, either by not working at all or by working in the short term and then failing in the end because they are not sustainable. Healthy eating, healthy living, is a daily choice that must be worked on but must also be enjoyed. Otherwise, it won’t last. And what is life if it is not enjoyed?