What is sustainable food?

Sustainable food is simply food that is made in the most efficient manner, with the least effect on the environment.

What we eat has a direct effect on the environment. Food production necessitates use of energy, water and large areas of lands. But there is a massive difference in how different types of food effects the environment.

What is sustainable eating?

Sustainable eating is choosing products that put less of a strain on earth. In this process, it’s not just about the growing of the food, but also about transport, health to animals and the humans that eat the food.

By making better choices, we can lessen the impact of the environment. But we still need to eat, so we’ve compiled a guide on what impact different types of food has.

Sustainable seafood

Seafood, naturally, is a better source of food for your health. Seafood is quite low in calories compared to most meat, but food is so much more than calories.

  • Calories. If we take a simple comparison between salmon and beef, beef has about 40% more calories per ounce. Compared to chicken however, salmon has about 10% more calories. Shrimp on the other hand contains about 25% less calories than chicken, so there are options here that are much lower in calories.
  • Fats. Seafood contains fat, like most other types of food. But there are good and bad types of fat. Fish is loaded with Omega-3, which is a healthy kind of fat. This is a type of fat you will not get from eating beef, chicken or any other type of meat.
  • Vitamin B12. This is a type of vitamin that helps with your metabolism and brain function. It is recommended that you consume 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B-12 per day. Just 1.5 ounces of salmon will get you to this number, while you would have to eat 50 ounces of chicken to get the same amount.

What is MSC Fish?

The Marine Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization which sets the standards for sustainable fishing. In order to get the famous blue tick from MSC, the fisheries have to adhere to certain ecological standards.

With governments refusing to set these standards and push them on a global level, the MSC is the best way to be certain that the fisheries adhere to a certain standard.

As you would expect from an organization that is self-governed, it has to balance on a fine line between being conservationists and the interests of the fishing industry.

Is Fish Farming sustainable?

Fish farming, or aquaculture when we are talking about all seafood, is a practice similar to farming any type of animal for food. It’s nothing new however, as it has existed for a number of decades already.

In fact, in 2012, it overtook capture fishing as the primary source of seafood production in the world. That means the fish you find at your local supermarket is more likely to come from factory production.

In many ways this is a good thing, as overfishing has been an issue for the last few decades, and numerous species have diminished or even gone extinct.

It does however have a flip side. The food product itself usually is of near the same standard when it comes to nutrition, but it has causes significant environmental impacts. There have been many instances of farmed fish escaping and making its way into the ecosystem. Salmon escaping and mixing with the fish in the ocean is a big problem, as farmed salmon has a higher fat percentage and is bread to be as big as possible.

Like factory farmed animals, there is a concern over the use of antibiotics, as well as the source of the fish feed often coming from the ocean, thus not really helping with the overfishing issue as much as it could.

All in all, however, factory farmed fish is better than factory farmed meat, both in the impact on the planet, as well as nutritionally. Ensuring that your fish is produced with the correct food int he right areas might minimize the chance of getting subjected to microplastics as well.

What is sustainable meat?

There are numerous factors to determine what exactly sustainable meat is. But in generally we are talking about farms which lower the impact on the environment. So how do they do this, and why are these meats the best choices?

Most meat production is not good for the environment at all. But 86% of use still eat meat, so it’s key to ensure that this is done in the best possible way.

Meats produced at large factory farms will usually have the worst impact on society. They are often fed poor quality food to maximize profits, and the animals are often caged in very small areas. These factories are also serving larger areas, meaning that food will have to be transported further until it reaches your plate.

The type of grazing the animal does, what it eats in terms of feed and antibiotics, grain or grass-fed? There are many, many different areas you should note before you choose your next piece of meat.

What’s the difference between organic beef and grass-fed beef?

Grass-fed beef is made from cows who are only raised in open grass pastures and have the freedom to roam. There are no antibiotics or growth-hormones used in the food the cows eat and are generally happier animals. In America, you can know whether meats are grass-fed by looking for meats that are certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA).

Organic beef is the second-best option. In America, these standards are regulated by the USDA. They are lesser than the standards for grass-fed beef, but still hold a higher standard than those who are not certified by the USDA.

Organic meats require the animals to graze on grass, but can be fed a diet also containing corn and grain. The animals cannot be confined to small spaces over long periods of time, and they are not to be subjected to any dangerous antibiotics or chemicals. All the animals eat must be 100% organic feed, meaning no GMOs or synthetic ingredients.

Lab grown meat

Lab-grown meat, or cultured meat as it is also known, is quickly becoming an industry in its own right. Costs of these meats have dropped significantly, and it is expected that lab-grown meats will be the same price as traditional meat by 2025.

This means that it quickly becomes an option for those that eat meat regularly, and even those who have chosen to abstain from meat on ethical grounds. With changing from traditional meat to lab-grown, it will significantly lower greenhouse emissions, as these require a lot less resources to produce.

Eat less meat

Eating less meat is perhaps the best point to start with eating sustainably. Today, the livestock industry contributes to more than 14% of all human caused emissions of greenhouse gasses. That is a massive number, and the only way that number is likely to significantly go down is for people to eat less meat.

This does not however mean you have to go vegan or vegetarian, but making better choices in how you combine your meat with vegetables and other food groups, can make a change. Not to mention it’s also much better for your health.

Perhaps you can go meatless for a day or two a week? Or perhaps you can find vegetarian options to replace your favorite dishes? Vegetarian lasagna can be fantastic!

Another increasingly popular way to do it is to go meatless before dinner. This concept was popularized by cookbook author Mark Bittman, which he calls Vegan Before 6. That means breakfast and lunch and anything before dinnertime is plant-based, but at dinner, you can have whatever you want!

Here is a list of some of the most sustainable foods:


Mussels are quite unique when it comes to seafood, as it can be produced sustainably. Mussels are mainly farmed, but unlike fish it does not damage the ecosystem. Long lines are laid out into the water, and they grow along these without much assistance.

They are great sources of protein, and the meaty taste and texture makes them an excellent sustainable alternative to other kinds of seafood and meat.


Despite the image of large rice field bathed in water that we see a lot; rice does not take much water to grow. That water keeps pests away from the rice and is not required in the actual production. It’s easy to use, versatile and will last you forever. You should always have some rice laying around.


Compared to cows, bison contribute a lot more positives to the ecological systems. When bison graze, they trample the vegetation in such a way that it helps restore it. If you want a more sustainable red meat, try to find some bison. Warning: It might not always be easy to find, but if demand goes up, it could take a chunk out of the livestock industry.

To sum it up…

We can all do our part. Every little helps in ensuring that we reduce emissions and make sure we leave a better world for the next generations. But perhaps the best source of inspiration is that it can help you become healthier.

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