6 Not Extreme Habits for Eco-Eaters

Writing the Clean and Green Ingredients portion of my new book, which I just finished, was one of the hardest parts to write. That was in part because there is so much controversy and misconception around the idea of eco-eating, not to mention stigma, good or bad, depending on where you come from. I can see my dad's face every time I bring up the topic. I think he believes I'm going to tell him to line dry his paper towels and use them again. Lord knows I'm not. I'm a bit of a hippie, but moderately so. 

I admire folks like Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Everyday, and my smart friend Louisa Shafia, who wrote Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, who really broke down food labels like organic and fair trade. I admire Louisa for pushing us to ditch our paper towel habit for good. I'm still working on that one.  

Still, even after 10 years working and training in food, nutrition and sustainable issues, I find all the labels and bylaws of eco-eating can make my head spin. They are important to try to understand, but here's what's most important--DO YOUR BEST. Do your best to eat mindfully, for your health and the health of everyone around you.

My best is committing to this super simple eco-eaters creed, which I hope you'll adopt, too. 

Six Not-Extreme-Habits for Eco-Eating 

  1. Cook. Plastic take-out containers along are enough advertisement for cooking at home most days and nights of the week. It's tastier and healthier, too. 
  2. Shop local. Opt for the food less traveled, which is often cheaper, full of vital nutrients and fresh-picked flavor. 
  3. Buy and cook in season. Commit to eating what nature intended, when nature intended. All foods are the most nutrient-dense and flavorful in season.
  4. BYO-everything. Bring your own wheels (bicycles rock!), your own water bottle, your own market bag, your own lunch to work. Bring your glass milk bottles back and buy olive oil in refillable jugs. Every little bit helps.
  5.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Everything from storing leftover soup in recycled (sterilized) apple sauce jars to turning tin tomato cans into herb planters is a service to every other eater. Find new uses for old things in the kitchen and the garden.
  6. Grow something. Anything. Trees, herbs, vegetables, even a house plant. One grown up tree can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. A 8-Square-Foot garden can provide a great many vegetables for two adults. Herbs grown in a window box save the shipping and storage of cut herbs that might otherwise go bad in your fridge. {Join our 8-Square-Foot Challenge this year!} 
I'm not going to win a Pulitzer prize for this basic list, and for sure, no one is winning one for bringing their recycled canvas lunch sack to work each day, either. But we can all use reminders that our efforts mean something. I hope our best gets us all closer to the point of all the labels and eco-efforts in the first place--cleaner, more delicious, more sustaining ways of eating we can look forward to enjoying again tomorrow. 

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.