There’s no doubt that everyone is learning how to do something new right now. Whether that’s working from home, thinking creatively about how to help others, or learning how to use Zoom, we’re all in a season of flexibility and adaptation.
One question we’ve gotten frequently at Brightly is, “How can I feed my family and still make great choices for the planet?” We talked with Sophie Egan, a conscious eating expert, about how to make your grocery budget stretch and reduce food waste, while still doing the best you can for yourself, your community, and the world.
What is Conscious Eating?
Conscious eating is the intention to align your food choices with your values. It isn’t a diet, but rather a guideline that helps you take a more holistic view of what you are spending your hard-earned grocery or takeout dollars on.
There are three questions to ask yourself when you buy or order food to help you eat more consciously:
- Is it good for me?
- Is it good for others?
- Is it good for the planet?
The goal of conscious eating isn’t to only buy foods that get a resounding “yes” from each question—that would be frustratingly difficult! Our food is imperfect, and so are we. Instead, asking yourself these questions gives you a moment to reflect on your food choices and their impact.
Conscious eating is the pursuit of good rather than perfect. It’s impossible to have all the information on each item you put into your cart. Making the best choice you can with the information you have access to will mean a healthier planet, a healthier community, and a healthier you.
Lifestyle changes can make a significant impact on what is at the forefront of your consciousness. For example, having a child, moving to a new city, and switching jobs are all changes that can shift your answers to the conscious eating questions. A global health crisis is no exception.
Using Your Pantry + Freezer
Social distancing is vital right now, which means that grocery shopping trips should be limited. To eat more consciously during this time, Sophie recommends that you consider your freezer an extension of your pantry. Having your food last as long as possible and using the entirety of each item will help you limit trips to the store.
Your pantry and freezer are treasure troves of meal-building staples. For example, sweet potatoes last a long time in the pantry and can be loaded up with canned beans, shredded cheese, and seasoning as a delicious and healthy meal.
You can and should still “eat the rainbow,” as doing so helps your immune system stay strong. Foods that come from the ground tend to be not only the healthiest but also the best for the environment. They don’t have to be fresh-picked to be good for you, though. Canned beans, flash-frozen fruits and veggies, and other pantry/freezer-stable items hold lots of nutritional value.
When you do go to the store, be willing to branch out. If your favorite beans aren’t available, try a different, less-popular kind. Sophie likes to cook “greens and beans” as a toast topping or stand-alone dish. Any beans and any greens can work here, even if what you’re used to isn’t in stock.
Make sure to use seasoning to add variety to your dry-goods based meals. Trying out a new herb or spice is adventurous and necessary to break up any potential pantry monotony.
If you’re working from home, you might find yourself snacking more. Whether you’re snacking because of boredom, stress, or hunger, try to find a healthy snack to satisfy your cravings. Dried fruit (healthy sweetness!), popcorn (a whole grain!), or roasted chickpeas (delicious and filling!) can all do the trick.
Reducing Your Household’s Food Waste
If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States. And in the United States, 40% of the food produced gets wasted each year, while 40 million Americans go hungry. That’s why Sophie recommends taking the time to reconsider food waste in your household.
Food requires an incredible amount of resources to produce before it ever gets to you, including water, labor, harvesting, processing, cleaning, milling, packaging, and transportation. If the food is then thrown away rather than composted, it goes to a landfill and emits methane gas.
So how can you reduce your food waste? Start by planning out your meals, even if it’s just a rough guideline. Make sure to include leftovers in your meal plan so that every last bite of what you make gets eaten! This applies to leftover food scraps, too. If a carrot and some green onions didn’t get used the night before, cook those and add an egg for a delicious morning meal.
Having a plan means that it’s easy to make a list for your grocery store trip. You’ll buy less overall and reduce your impulse buys, too. When you consider what you buy, you will waste less food overall.
When you get home from the store, organize your fridge so that anything fresh, perishable, or close to expiring is easily visible. Sophie puts a note on the food that is prepared specifically for that day’s lunch, for example, so that it gets eaten rather than wasted.
Next, go ahead and freeze anything you won’t use within the next few days. For example, smaller families might not eat an entire loaf of bread in a week, so they can save half in the freezer for next week.
Lastly, make sure you cook any red meat right away and use it ASAP. Red meat has a very high environmental footprint, so try to waste as little of it as possible.
Where to Focus Your Money
Many people are on a tighter budget as workplaces have slowed down or shuttered completely. If you find yourself needing to cut back on your grocery spending, Sophie recommends splurging on just one local, in-season, organic produce item when you shop. This will have the least impact on both the environment and your wallet.
Organic, frozen produce is also an excellent option because it’s an easy way to buy organic affordably, and with the same high nutritional value.
And if you’re buying animal products such as meat or seafood, try to purchase items that are labeled as pasture-raised, wild-caught, organic, or other ethical production labels. These might be an indulgence for now, but the health and environmental benefits are even more critical during a health crisis.
Even though the pandemic is scary and stressful, there are silver linings to be found. People around the world are adapting to social distancing and changing their habits, which is a very inspiring outcome Our actions, in the aggregate, have a massive effect on ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
Resources We Mentioned
- Sophie’s book, How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet
- Sophie’s consulting firm, Full Table Solutions
- Menus of Change University Research Collaborative
- Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy
- Instacart for remote grocery shopping
- Ground Up PDX, delicious nut butters in creative flavors
- Brightly’s Changemaker Virtual Coffee Chats, every Wednesday at 12 PM PST
Other Great Resources
- No Grocery Challenge from Yes & Yes, currently at a pay-what-you-can price
- Plan to Eat meal planning app