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14.4: Food Sustainability

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    Learning Objectives

    • Identify food-related practices that positively impact food system sustainability.

    Sustainability is the ability to meet basic needs (now and in the future) without undermining natural resources and environmental quality. The term relates to the goal of achieving a world that meets the needs of its present inhabitants while preserving resources for future generations. It includes agricultural practices and processes, along with the choices that consumers make when they shop for their food. Ideally, sustainable practices include methods that are healthy, conserve the environment, protect livestock, respect food industry workers, provide fair wages to farmers, and support farming communities. When a practice or a process is sustainable, it can be maintained for decades, or even centuries, to come. In recent years, consumers have become more conscientious about the decisions they make in the supermarket, especially as they relate to sustainability.

    Sustainable Eating

    We often notice the monetary cost of food when we purchase it. However, there are other costs as well, including the economic, social, and environmental costs that impact the sustainability of the entire food system. Individuals interested in eating in a way that is more sustainable can follow the suggested solutions and sustainable alternatives provided by the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems1:

    • Eat less meat. Meat-based diets use more energy to produce and are associated with more greenhouse gas emissions than vegetarian diets.
    • Reduce waste. Much of household food waste is due to spoilage. Prevent food from going bad by buying smaller amounts, planning meals and sticking to shopping lists.
    • Buy organic foods. Organic farms don’t use chemicals that require large amounts of energy to produce, pollute soil and water, and present human health impacts.
    • Buy locally grown foods. Transportation accounts for approximately 14% of the total energy used in the US food system. Eating local, and consolidating shopping trips can reduce this impact.
    • Participate in community supported agriculture (CSA). CSA 'shares' are sold to the public; 'shares' typically consist of a box of produce from the farm on a regular basis. Learn more about community supported agriculture (CSA) at Local Harvest.
    • Participate in the slow food movement. The slow food movement advocates for nutritious, fresh food produced in ways that preserve biodiversity, sustain the environment, ensure animal welfare, and respects the dignity of all food laborers.

    Concerns exist about harmful toxins in our food supply, and the sustainability of our oceans. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's video below includes information about seafood selection to avoid contaminants and to eat "sustainably."

    "Make Better Seafood Choices" by Seafood Watch

    Key Takeaways

    • Sustainability is the ability to meet basic needs (now and in the future) without undermining natural resources and environmental quality.
    • Food-related practices that positively impact food system sustainability include eating less meat, reducing waste, buying organic foods, buying locally grown foods, participating in community supported agriculture, and participating in the slow food movement.


    1. U.S. Food System Fact Sheet. Center for Sustainable Systems. Accessed July 20, 2020.

    14.4: Food Sustainability is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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