These days, our food’s “story” is as important as its taste. And one of the most important parts of that story is sustainability.

Food sustainability is a topic of increasing importance as environmental concerns loom large. 

Dr. Gary Adamkiewicz, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health and Exposure Disparities in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, offers basic first steps to take for consumers looking to create more sustainable meals.

Read the full interview with Dr. Adamkiewicz featured on The Nutrition Source

1. Look for opportunities to educate yourself about the environmental impacts of our food system

You can start by using one of the increasing number of consumer-friendly tools and apps. For example, the EWG produces an annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, as a guide and app. The fruits and vegetables tested with the highest and lowest levels end up on their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, respectively. The Dirty Dozen list can be used as a guide for where the benefits of buying organic are more likely to be worth any extra cost.

2. Reduce the proportion of your calories derived from animal protein

You don’t need to go vegan to make a difference here. Reduce portion sizes or expand Meatless Mondays to a few more days of your week.

3. Educate yourself about seasonality of produce

Even locally-grown produce can have a significant energy cost and carbon footprint if growers are using heated greenhouses or cold storage to extend the natural growing season. Buy local and in-season when you can.

4. Learn more about the sustainability of seafood

In recent decades, seafood consumption and overfishing have depleted many species in fisheries worldwide. Again – an opportunity to learn more and make better decisions. Consult the seafood guides available from National Geographic, the Monterey Aquarium and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which cover both environmental and health issues.

5. Reduce your consumption of processed foods

 In general, this is a move toward a healthier diet with a smaller footprint. Again, even small steps toward whole-food, plant-based meals can help.

6. Find trusted, evidence-based sources for dietary advice

The Harvard Chan School's Nutrition Source and Healthy Eating Plate are good examples of advice that is current and based on the weight of scientific evidence.