Making sustainable choices in the grocery store is harder than it sounds–but it shouldn’t have to be. We all know how daunting it can be to stand in front of the egg or dairy section, wondering what all those labels really mean. When you’re pressed for time and thinking about dinner, it can be hard to make your shopping habits align with your food principles. But fear not! We’ve compiled a list of simple, easy-to-remember tips to make you a more sustainable shopper.
1. Buy less meat
Switching to a majority plant-based diet isn’t just healthier for you–it’s healthier for the planet. The easiest way to reduce your environmental impact is to simply eat less meat. Meats, especially beef and lamb, come with a huge footprint. The water wasted by throwing out a hamburger is the equivalent of a 90 minute shower. And lamb’s carbon footprint is bigger than any other food item—50% higher than beef!
Try to limit your meat purchases to once or twice a week (if this seems utterly unattainable, try eating just one less meat-meal per week–even that can make a huge difference!). Choose plant-based alternatives like lentils, beans, tofu, or nuts to pick up the protein slack. Legumes like lentils and beans are the smartest choice–these crops fix nitrogen in the soil, acting as a natural fertilizer for future crops. Plus, lentils have 56% more antioxidants than blueberries!
When you do buy meat, go for poultry, eggs, or fish–save the beef for special occasions (and choose grass-fed). Check out this helpful chart to see how different protein sources rank in terms of environmental impact (and also check out SeafoodWatch’s consumer guides to learn the most sustainable seafood choices). As for eggs, ‘pasture-raised’ is the gold standard.
2. Choose organic
Whenever possible, choose organic. Many people think organic farming is a luxury, and that only conventional farming can feed the world. But the UN just released a report explaining that small-scale organic agriculture is the best means to both feed the planet and address climate change. Organic farmers who avoid synthetic fertilizers and harmful pesticides are doing their part to help the earth. Show your support by choosing their products!
3. Plan ahead to prevent food waste
Planning ahead is a key strategy for shopping smart. Making a flexible weekly meal plan and an accompanying grocery list allows you to buy what you need–sticking to the list means you won’t end up tossing old produce you never got around to using.
Planning ahead allows you to avoid buying food that’s already in your fridge, as well as prompting you to think about how to use the food you already have.
Planning ahead also lets you research the best options before you get to the store. Check out this website to learn the carbon and water footprints of your groceries ahead of time.
For the extra-enthusiastic, planning ahead also means you can bring your own containers for bulk items like nuts, grains, and beans.
4. Make cheese a luxury
It surprises a lot of people to learn that cheese has such a big footprint–bigger even than pork. Thinking of cheese as a luxury, rather than a staple, is better for the planet and your waistline (not to mention your wallet!).
5. Think about buying local and seasonal food
Buying local isn’t always the best option–if you’re living in Arizona, it might be more efficient to buy produce and meat produced in a wetter region. But most of the time, buying local reduces the ‘food miles’ your food has to travel to get to you. As a bonus, local produce often retains more of its flavor–it can be picked when ripe because it doesn’t have to be shipped across the country–as well as its nutrients, because it doesn’t sit in a truck for a week before arriving at your grocery store.
Most grocery stores will label local foods as such, but you can also download a seasonal food guide to help you plan your meals for the week (see #3 above).
Furthermore, local businesses send more money back into the local economy–so if you want to help out your local farmers and grocers, this is the best option!
6. Buy products with as little packaging as possible
Buying products without excessive packaging minimizes your landfill contribution. The best option is to stick to unpackaged food, bring your own containers for bulk items, and avoid bagging all your produce. But if that sounds daunting, here are some easier-to-manage tips:
- Avoid individually wrapped items or ‘snack packs’–buy bulk instead and divide into reusable containers at home
- When buying packaged items, stick to recycled and/or recyclable materials (for example, avoid styrofoam, cellophane, and plastic wrap at all costs)
- Glass packaging is often easily reusable–glass jars or bottles can be upcycled into lunch packing containers or vases
- Bring your own bag! Keep a few reusable bags in your car or work bag so you’ll always be prepared.
7. Use the HowGood app to research individual products
HowGood’s (free!) app lets you scan or search for the best products in your grocery store. If you’re confused about an item you want, simply scan it or search for it in HowGood’s database. We take into account over 60 different indicators of sourcing, production, and organizational sustainability per product to give you one simple rating: no rating, Good, Great, or Best.
PS–have any tips for sustainable shopping you’d like to share? Hit us up on Facebook or tweet @howgoodratings to share! For more tips, check out this link as well as any of the links above. Happy shopping!