A growing number of consumers are paying attention to how their decisions about food affect the planet's wellbeing.
Eating well isn’t about choosing what’s good for your body alone; it’s also about choosing what’s good for the planet. These two concepts have been separate for a long time, but are quickly becoming intertwined as more consumers realize the necessity of taking the environment into consideration when making decisions about food.
Indeed, pressure is on for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include environmental considerations in its new dietary guidelines that will be released by the end of this year. The USDA’s advisory panel recommended that the guidelines “factor in whether or not a food is good for the planet when deciding whether it’s healthy” (The Guardian). This advice has created uproar within the food industry, which says that the USDA would be stepping beyond its rightful jurisdiction with such recommendations.
“It’s all connected,” says American dietician Kate Geagan, author of Go Green, Get Lean. “You can’t tackle hunger and obesity and the paradox of the obesity crisis among hungry children without tying it to food waste, the farm bill and how the food system has been set up in this country.”
It is a good indicator of how consumer opinion is changing. Food affects so many aspects of our lives that it would be foolish and shortsighted to think that food-related decisions have no greater impact beyond what we’re putting into our bodies.
Whether it’s fighting obesity, incurring weight-loss, reducing one’s chemical burden, minimizing or eliminating wasteful packaging, supporting small-scale farmers and local businesses, saving water, defending animal rights, or simply improving one’s energy and general wellbeing, making informed decisions about what to eat, and how to source it and prepare it, all play a major role. The more these issues touch the lives of individual consumers, the faster people are willing to make changes in their own lives.
The Guardian cites Christopher Gardner, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, as saying that various aspects of sustainability work as useful drivers of behavior modification for many people:
“I spent decades doing all this research to show people what they should be eating and I had very little success getting anyone to change their diet. But when I started adding in discussions about animal rights or labor practices or climate change, I saw really meaningful shifts in people’s willingness to change.”
It’s a sort of “different strokes for different folks” situation. If you can pinpoint a single issue that resonates with a consumer, they’re more likely to change their consumption habits in order to make a difference. For example, I prioritize buying local, seasonal food and minimizing packaging whenever possible. Not everyone is going to care about the same issues, but these small increases in conscientious shopping add up to a big difference.