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 made the decision to eat healthier? 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 what processed foods you would reward yourself with after your next milestone. 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, give up on additional movement throughout the day, 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 more consumer-conscious. If you really wanted to, you could spend a day on Google and cover every major health and food system topic in the news right now. It is simply the way in which that information is presented that deters people from diving headfirst into living more sustainably. Changes to our everyday lifestyle are typically presented as extremes. Many advocates pressure others to conduct a complete lifestyle overhaul while chastising those who may not have known any better this whole time. In response, humans tend resist anything that tries to prove us wrong or that makes us uncomfortable. And so the cycle of denial and procrastination begins. If you think you can be living better, healthier and more sustainably for our food system and the environment, you must make that choice for yourself in your own time. 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, start to feel inconvenienced, then develop the mindset of “it’s too much effort.” Change is incremental. You cannot train to run a marathon or completely eliminate lifelong habits in a week. It takes time, baby steps, and developing new 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. 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 the one that is most convenient for you, then commit to which one you will adopt after that one is mastered. Before you know it, you'll be our next guest blogger!
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. Learning how to prepare your own meals will help you to think about the origin of your food and how you are connected to multiple ingredients you would never recognize in prepared meals. Even at nicer restaurants, ingredients such as packaged sauces with preservatives, excessive amounts of sugar, and unhealthy additives 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 containing 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 the easiest plants to grow on this list from my friends at Happy DIY Home 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.) Commit to the perimeter... of the grocery store, that is. If you've never noticed, the whole, less processed foods in your grocery store tend to be stocked in the perimeter aisles of your market. When you stick to the outer edge, and avoid the inner-aisles, you will be less tempted to purchase conventionally produced, highly processed, and less nutritious food. Make a list of things you need each week, especially if they're found in those middle aisles. If you need things like condiments, spices, nut butters, or beans, make sure you have a list handy so you can make your way down the aisles without wandering or being distracted by appealing labels. Learning how to make your own soups and sauces are great skills to have and can save you a ton of money and unnecessary ingredients. If your budget or even a recipe calls for frozen veggies, we'll call those the "outer perimeter too"... just beware the frozen pizzas! Those'll get ya.
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 the latter. It may be more expensive to support local since that farm is probably smaller, less mechanized, with high costs of production. 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? All of those packing materials and the energy it took to arrive at your front door is contributing to your carbon footprint. Repairing and refurbishing furniture, trading clothes with friends, buying appliances from neighbors or yard sales, and using reusable shopping bags are all great 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. 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 available no matter where you live. 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 the production of 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, I said I wouldn’t harp on you about fancy light bulbs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a major difference in your energy consumption by updating your home. Only wash your 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 to make it your "forever home" (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.) 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. 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 me! Don’t let your food system tell you what you want to hear.