Five ways to eat more sustainably

A student peels a cucumber at the Sustainability Office's event.
Reduce your environmental impact while eating fresher, healthier foods with these tips from U of T Scarborough's sustainability office (Photo by Dylan Toombs).
Article Date

Alexa Battler

Climate change is an issue on the front burner, and the foods we choose can balloon or shrink our carbon footprints.

Here are five tips to help you eat more sustainably, courtesy of Claire Marshall, an ambassador in U of T Scarborough's sustainability office.

"We can find comfort and fulfillment in changing our consumer habits to lessen our impact on the planet," says Marshall, who once advised customers on organic and local produce as a Whole Foods employee.

1. Shop local and in-season 

Locally grown foods create fewer emissions getting to the grocery store and can be more nutritious, often hitting shelves within 24 hours of harvest. To find what’s growing here, look for what’s growing now.  

Choosing in-season foods and checking labels is a great way to shop local, Marshall says. Check Foodland’s guide, which shows when popular fruits and vegetables are in-season in Ontario. Marshall recommends challenging yourself to make meals using only foods harvested that month (Foodland also lets you filter their recipe catalogue by what’s in-season).

To practically guarantee you’re buying local, go to a farmer’s market, Marshall advises. As restrictions ease, check out returning farmer’s markets, including U of T Scarborough’s upcoming weekly edition

“You also support the local economy whenever you buy at a farmer’s market,” says Marshall, a master of environmental science student. “You’re paying for your next-door neighbour to pay his kid’s tuition, you’re not paying some corporation’s tax break.”

Claire Marshall

Claire Marshall has also helped track and support honey bees and sea turtles as an environmental technician (Submitted photo).

2. Incorporate plant-based, no matter your diet

Marshall knows this tip screams “go vegetarian or vegan,” but that’s not the case. It’s as simple as occasionally swapping meats with any non-traditional protein sources, from plant-based meat substitutes to beans, soy and lentils. 

Canada’s food guide states fruits and vegetables should make up half our daily food intake, while protein sources should total a quarter. Eating more plants boosts heart health and reducing meat consumption, particularly beef, is one of the most effective ways to cut your carbon footprint. 

“That’s always a good idea for our own health and, fortunately enough, what’s usually good for our health is also good for the planet.” 

3. Eat organic, wisely

Organic foods are generally those grown without synthetic pesticides. They may also come from farms supporting local biodiversity, while large-scale industrial farms often mass produce a single crop  a huge threat to sustainable agriculture

When trying to eat sustainably, Marshall says no method is better than another and you shouldn’t feel guilty if organic foods are out of your price range. However, “supporting local farmers is always going to be best, whether it’s organic or conventional foods.”

Keep an eye out for deals, Marshall advises. When organic, local options are only a few cents more, snap them up. She cites a bag of organic white rice on Instacart  which costs 20 cents more than the non-organic option but is 150 grams larger and recommends picking foods with a longer shelf life to get more bang for your buck.

Culinaria Test kitchen

Marshall's tips were presented at the sustainability office’s recent event, hosted in the Culinaria Research Centre, U of T Scarborough's hub for food studies (Photo by Dylan Toombs).

4. Reduce food waste

Imperfect fruits and vegetables have it rough in a world of high food beauty standards. But many people are challenging notions of what makes produce “good,” says Marshall. Picking a slightly lumpy apple reduces what the grocery store ends up tossing. 

“It’s like a cultural revolution looking at food for what it is, which is imperfect but still really delicious,” Marshall says.

Try to buy only what you’re going to eat don't go grocery shopping while hungry and keep best before dates in mind, she adds. Store perishable foods in obvious places, instead of drawers where they may be left to rot, and make sure they’re sealed airtight with reusable wrappings or containers. 

Take advantage of foods you need only buy once, Marshall says. Green onions, leeks, celery and potatoes can all be grown from their own scraps, and an indoor garden needs only a tiny window.

5. Use sustainable supplies

Eating sustainably also means acting sustainably. At the grocery store, this usually hinges on bags, Marshall says. Place your produce in reusable bags instead of the available plastic ones and bring the same energy to the register. 

Use compost bags for food waste, beeswax wraps instead of plastic ones and mason jars or reusable containers instead of disposable packaging. While single-use coffee pods can be helpful for accessibility needs, choose a waste-free option for your caffeine if possible, such as a French press. 

Students in the Culinaria Research Centre

Students honed their cooking skills by chopping, frying and rolling up a vegetable-packed meal (Photo by Dylan Toombs).

Marshall shared her tips at the sustainability office’s first post-pandemic in-person event, where students cooked up cold rolls stuffed with tofu, carrots and cucumber in the Culinaria Research Centre.

Food waste from the meals was then composted and sent to campus farming initiatives, such as the UTSC Campus Farm.