It's something that we should think about every day of the year, but most of us think about it especially on April 22nd: Earth Day. There's no better way to care for the planet than by trying to live more sustainably—but what does sustainable mean?
People throw the word around a lot, but the idea is simple: Our parents and grandparents just called it not being wasteful. We're being sustainable when we repair something we own instead of just junking it. We're being sustainable when we throw on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. And we're being sustainable when we use tools and products that last (like, say, Grandma's cast-iron pan) over cheaper stuff that has to be tossed out when it breaks or stops working.
The way we eat, too, can be more sustainable. Given that 30-40% of the food we grow ends up in the landfill where it causes environmental problems, we can help simply by eating most of our leftovers (or composting them).
What we choose to eat can also make a big difference. Here are four groups of foods that, if we start to eat them more often, will have positive effects on the planet. That way we can keep enjoying nature—and our kids (and their kids) can too.
Beans and Legumes
Whether you're talking canned black beans, dried lentils, or field peas fresh from the farmers' market, adding these guys to your plate on the regular is a great way to work more sustainable foods into your meals. Beans grow fast, are often good for the soil, and pack a ton of protein and vitamins, so they're good for you too. Vegetarians know how important beans are to their diet, but all of us can benefit from them. The more we eat, as the saying goes, the better we (and the planet) will feel.
Try a recipe: Instant Pot Lima Beans with Smoked Pork
Specifically mussels, oysters, clams, and other bivalves. Why? These sturdy guys are actually a bit of a sustainability three-fer. Not only are they nutritionally dense, growing fast and requiring very little space, but they also help clean up the sea wherever they're growing by eating up all kinds of microscopic stuff that would otherwise cloud the water and make it harder for fish and other creatures to breathe. Thirdly, the shells they grow actually pull carbon out of the water, which we need to fight climate change.
Try a recipe: Oyster Pie
One of the most sustainable things you can do, of course, is to grow your own vegetables. Whether you have a few containers on the porch, a whole backyard raised bed, or you rent a spot in a community garden, the food you grow yourself is naturally more sustainable: It doesn't have to be shipped across the country or stored in a grocery store, and it isn't grown with unnecessary pesticides or herbicides. But the biggest benefit? It tastes amazing because it couldn't possibly be fresher!
Try a recipe: Spring Crudités Board with White Bean Dip
If you want to eat more sustainably, one of the best things you can do is cut way back on (or cut out entirely) your meat consumption. Factory farms produce giant lakes of animal waste, and simply feeding the animals that we raise to eat requires a huge amount of resources. However, meat is delicious, and it doesn't always work to cut it out entirely. You can do a lot by eating further down the food chain, choosing animals that aren't as resource-intensive, and sourcing meat from farms that focus on sustainable and regenerative practices (know your farmer!). One of the best choices: pasture-raised chicken. Chickens grow fast and require less water and food per pound of meat, and when they are pasture-raised, they don't cause near the environmental damage. If you eat less of it at each meal, it helps even more.
Try a recipe: Greek Chicken with Tomato-and-Rice Salad