On my endeavor to empower and motivate people to live sustainably and embrace healthier lifestyles, I have noticed one thing: sustainability is first a choice, then a practice. If someone does not recognize sustainability, nutrition and wellness as personal values, their actions and lifestyle will only eventually fall into a short-lived trend. How many times have you “dieted?” How many times have you vowed to exercise more? How many times have you given up processed food for a fast or religious holiday? What happened? You probably started all pumped up on a mission, and by the third day were dreaming about sugary carbs and skipping the gym at the end of a long work day. It is unfortunate that in our world, we are trained to eat what we want, find comfort in convenience, and consume how we do…until there is a problem. It is the norm in America to hit age 50 and be put on cholesterol medication, lose control of your body, and start complaining about what your health and body were like “before kids”, “before marriage” and “when you were younger.” It doesn’t have to be this way!
There is no lack of information out there about how to care for the environment, make healthier choices, and be consumer-conscious. If you really wanted to, you could spend a day
on Google and cover every major health topic in the news right now. It is simply the way in which that information is available and presented that deters people from diving headfirst into living more sustainably. Think about the last time you heard someone push for veganism or energy conservation or animal rights. What was your reaction? Did you roll your eyes and start thinking about how much you love bacon, fast cars and McChickens? Or did you stop to open up your mind and listen to what was being said? Why do you think that is? We resist anything that tries to prove us wrong. And so what? We were wrong. Fix it. If you think you can be living better, healthier and more sustainably for our food system and the environment, you are the only one stopping you. If you’re afraid to admit you were wrong or give up a lifestyle, just think about how much more admirable it is to make a positive change than to hold onto bad habits out of resistance.
To make change stick, you need to make it a habit. In order to make it a habit, you need to start slow in ways that are easily incorporated into the lifestyle you already live. The last thing I would want is for you to browse this website, eat organic for a week, decide you’re too busy to change, then develop the mindset of “it’s too much effort.” Change is incremental. You cannot train to run a marathon or completely eliminate garbage from your diet in a week. It takes time, baby steps, and small habits that will eventually transition you into an entire lifestyle. If you or someone you know is intrigued by, committed to, or has shown any interested at all in Green Life Wellness topics or the desire to live more sustainably, we have some tips for you! No, these are not a generic “eat your vegetables”, “drink more water”, “buy fancy light bulbs” suggestions. Sorry, but those things are hardly results of a sustainable mindset. Here are the top 10 things we think are easily incorporated into your daily routine that can get you thinking, truly thinking, about how you live your life. Start with one, or start with them all. Leave a comment and let us know which ones you will try and some others our readers can try too.
1.) Start reading food labels. Everything- pictures, words, claims, bold font- on a package that is not in the Nutrition Facts chart or ingredients list is MARKETING (read our Food Labels blog for more information and label clarification.) Not ready to give up that boxed mac ‘n cheese just yet? That’s fine. But just start reading. Awareness is the first step to sustainability. Our food system works so hard to blur our perceptions of ingredients, production, and what “healthy” is; it will shock you how unaware you are of what’s actually in your food. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, we all have smartphones here- Google it. If you want to continue eating the things you buy, that’s fine. Just be aware of what you’re putting into your body every day.
2.) Get in the kitchen. For Pete’s sake, learn how to cook! And no- toast doesn’t count. Learning how to prepare your own food will help you to think about what’s going into your body. Even at nicer restaurants, ingredients such as packaged sauces with preservatives, excessive amounts of sugar, and unhealthy fats can be hidden in your foods (yes, salads are included in this too). GMO’s and conventionally produced vegetables and meats are almost guaranteed to be on your plate (unless advertised otherwise on the menu). We’re not saying never eat out, but every once in a while, skip the Chinese takeout and make your own stir fry at home (it takes all of 20 minutes, we promise). Making your own pizza can be fun with kids or a significant other and you can control how the toppings are produced. We love this list by Laura Schwecherl of 74 ways to make an UH-mazing healthier pizza. If you have a busy schedule, spend 2 hours on the weekend baking fish, chicken or a potatoes and sautéing a few different vegetables. Portion them out and boom- you have lunch or dinner for the week. Download the Prep Hack E-Book "Rise and Shine" edition for ideas on low calorie, nutritious morning meal ideas. There’s breakfast taken care of too.
3.) Grow something. See those pots of herbs at the front of the supermarket with the basil and thyme plants? Buy one.
Find a sunny windowsill. Keep it alive. Re-establishing that mental connection of what it takes to grow food is more substantial than you think. If you are fortunate enough to have a backyard, plant something. Look up what grows well in your area and start with one plant at a time. Take 5 minutes before or after work to weed around your plants (by hand!) and water them. Simply growing a single plant will provoke your awareness about types of seeds, the nutrients that are in your soil, and how much energy it takes to produce agriculture. Plus, you get to eat what you grow! Nom.
4.) Feed your brain. See that tab up there titled “Resources?” Click it. The Office reruns will still be there when you get back. Take a break and read a 20 minute article while Dwight and Michael recover from their latest temper tantrums.
5.) Support small producers. We’re not telling you to only shop at farmers markets and buy from CSA’s. In some areas and on some budgets, that’s simply not possible. What we are saying is if you’re holding two cartons of milk in your hand, one supermarket brand and one produced by a farmer the town over, BUY THAT ONE. Yes, it will probably be more expensive but by what? Fifty cents? A quarter? You can come to my house and look under my couch cushions for that. Think about why local and small brand products are a little more expensive: Multinational brands are usually subsidized or buy subsidized ingredients to make their products. That means it’s cheaper for them to do so, which makes it cheaper for you to buy. But these products are usually conventionally produced with the people who make all the profit rarely overseeing the men and women on the front lines who actually produce their commodities. Support the little guys and buy local or regional when you can. The product is probably better for you, less processed, and the farmer needs your business!
6.) Reuse and upcycle. Have you ever bought an electronic, had clothes shipped to you, or had to replace an appliance? Can you honestly tell me that all that Styrofoam, cardboard and dyed plastic was 100% vital to the arrival of your product? Doubtful. Repairing and refurbishing furniture, trading clothes with friends, buying appliances from neighbors or yard sales, and using reusable shopping bags are all great, basic ways to reduce your material impact on the environment. Plus, they can all save you money- who doesn’t want that? Check out our favorite upcycling brand TerraCycle who is pretty much the king of awesome re-purposed products.
7.) Stop buying bottled water. Just stop. Buy a filtered pitcher or one for your kitchen faucet. Invest in a BPA free mug and refill it throughout the day at a water fountain or filtered water source. If you cannot drink the tap water from your home, call your town or city for recommendations on how to find free, community water sources to replenish your supply every week. There are so many filter gadgets and public water sources these days, there’s no reason to be putting all those plastic bottles in landfills.
8.) Visit a farm, any farm. Seeing first-hand how food is produced will open your eyes to what goes into your
food. Don’t want to get down and dirty? That’s fine. Take a tour or ask a local farmer if you can visit. Every farmer I’ve ever met also sees themselves as an educator, and is happy to teach their customers about food production. No one will say “no” if you ask! Many farms across the country participate in agritourism, meaning you can work on the farm for a weekend or longer in exchange for food and board .
9.) Green-ify your home. Okay, we said we wouldn’t harp on you about turning off lights, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a major difference in your energy consumption by updating your home. Only wash clothes with cold water. Hang-dry your clothes instead of running a dryer. Make sure your weather stripping around windows and doors is efficiently doing its job. Look into the benefits of solar panels if you own a home and are planning on being there for a while (check out this Washington Post article by someone who did). Many energy companies and hardware stores will provide a free walk-through of your home to inspect every nook and cranny and explain how you can improve the energy efficiency of your home. Spend a weekend investing in improvements and just get it done. Procrastinating now could cost you money and emissions in the future.
10.) Find answers. After decades of formal education and professional experience, I am still learning new things every day. If you are interested in something or heard a rumor and want to know more, take the time to find out! Talk to others about your interests. Email us! We love to talk. Don’t let your food system tell you what you want to hear. Find out yourself and spread the word!