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5 foods that pass the sustainability sniff test

March 5, 2024
January 24, 2022

Want to eat without harming the planet? Add these sustainable foods to your diet.

Some things we know to be true: climate change is the issue of our time, renewables are the future, a KeepCup a day keeps the plastic at bay.

But how do the contents of our kitchen cupboards contribute to the health of the earth? Good question.

As it turns out, our fridges are a direct link to some of the environment’s biggest issues (we’re talking things like deforestation, biodiversity loss and carbon-heavy food miles). And when it comes to eating sustainably, not all foods are created equal.

But how do we maintain a diet that’s good for our health and good for the planet? According to Jade Miles, author and National Program Manager at Sustainable Table – an environmental not-for-profit focused on improving Australia’s food system – it’s all about making conscious choices (just like we do when we’re banking or buying clothes).

“Knowing where your food comes from is the most important. If you can’t grow it yourself, find a farmer who can grow it for you,” says Jade. “We have to all be really mindful that food is not a commodity product. It’s become one, but it’s not.”

For David Powell, a Melbourne-based chef and restaurateur who is passionate about ethical eating, it’s all about refining your grocery list to reap the rewards. “I always tell people that even if you don’t care about buying better products for moral and ethical reasons, do it because your food will taste infinitely better!”

We sat down and picked Jade and David’s brains for sustainable eating inspiration. Here’s what we found:

1. Aussie seafood

Oysters laid on top of a bowl of ice

Seafood tops David’s sustainable eating list, but he recommends doing a bit of research into where it’s coming from.  “It’s not hard these days because there are so many great resources available,” he says, “plus, good fishmongers love nothing more than telling customers how they source their products!”

Australian sardines are a fast-growing species that’s considered ‘sustainable’ in Australia. The main fishing sites (in SA and WA) are deemed safe for the surrounding marine environment while the sardines themselves are packed with omega-3 oils, protein, iron, zinc, vitamin D and niacin.

Mussels and oysters are also nutritious options. Bivalves, including other molluscs like clams and scallops, also sequester carbon and purify seawater, and don’t actually need to be fed; they live off microscopic organic matter, turning waste into goodness.

2. Organic flour

A jar of flour being spilt over a kitchen counter

In the Morso kitchen, where pasta reigns supreme, David uses organic flours. “We go through so much of it with Morso and the other restaurants,” he says. “But when you start looking into flour, it’s horrible to realise how much awful stuff is out there.”

Certified organic flour products should be grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or genetically modified organisms.

3. Seasonal fruit and veg

Vegetables being sold at a farmers market

According to Jade and David, one of the best things we can do is eat seasonally, which means eating produce at the peak of its growing season. “Eating asparagus in May means that it’s been grown in Mexico or Chile, then thrown on ships or planes to get here a week or two after coming out of the ground,” explains David. “We’re so lucky to have different climates in Australia that we can grow most things year round. But when we can’t, just eat seasonally.”

If you’re not familiar with growing seasons, trust your local farmer or grocer. Jade also recommends seeking out an urban food hub, such as a rooftop or community garden.

4. Oats

A bowl of porridge and blueberries

In general, oats have a moderate water footprint and a low carbon footprint, with next to no known significant damage to air, water, land, soil, forests etc.

Just make sure to grab a bag that’s non-GMO and free from nasties, like chemical pesticides. David recommends brushing up on your oat knowledge. “Just five minutes of research results in a huge payoff – you’ll not only end up with a more ethical/sustainable product, but you’ll ALWAYS end up with better food in your body!”

5. Seaweed

A plate of seaweed with chopsticks laying on the side

Seaweed is known just as much for its nutritional properties as it is for its environmental perks. Did you know that seaweed actually absorbs carbon dioxide? It also reduces the acidification of the ocean too, making it a healthier place for sea life. It’s easily farmed, quick to regenerate and delicious on a plate.

If there’s anything that both David and Jade are united on, it’s that eating sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive. “I think the key to eating sustainably on a budget comes down to Michael Pollan’s maxim – eat food, not too much, mainly plants,” says David.

“Eat food – use real ingredients, not things from a packet. Not too much – self-explanatory really. Mostly plants – we’re so used to eating 200-300g of meat per serve in the western world, which is just bonkers! Spread this out over two to three meals and enjoy it.”

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