Sustainable Eating

Sustainable Food 101

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Food connects us with our world view, our taste buds, and our wallets. It is an expression of our culture. Today, I am going to expand on my food philosophy. While my foundational knowledge of food comes from my science background, not all of my food choices are based on the nutrition they provide.

My balanced diet includes sustainable food. I work hard to eat a balance of fruits and veggies, whole grains, low fat dairy (and dairy substitutes),and lean protein with an emphasis on plant based protein.

Food from sustainable farms is not only a healthier choice for my needs, but it also creates a positive environmental and social impact. The US Department of Agriculture introduced food guidelines this month, and it includes a nod to sustainability.

So, how do you know whether a food is sustainable? Here are some terms that you might come across:

Sustainable Diet.

According to the US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report, “sustainable diets are a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being and provides food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.”

The bottom line. Pay attention to where your food is grown, and how it has been grown.

Tweet this: Food connects us with our world view, our taste buds, and our wallets.

Raised Without Antibiotics.

Because animals living on industrial farms live in close quarters, infection has the opportunity to spread rapidly. So, some animals on industrial farms are fed antibiotics–even when they are not sick–to prevent the rapid spread of infection. Therefore, you might see this label on chicken, beef, or pork in the grocery store. This tells you that these animals were not raised with antibiotics.

The bottom line. Unfortunately, the practice of using persistent antibiotics in growing livestock could contribute to the public health problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Choosing meat, dairy, or eggs raised without antibiotics is better for public health!

Grass Fed

Animals that are meant eat grass—like cows, sheet, goat, and bison—are not always fed grass. So, according to the US Department of Agriculture, “grass fed” on the label means that this animal forages for grass and/or is fed hay.

Animals that are “grass fed” are not fed grains like corn, and other items that their bodies were not meant to digest. Unfortunately, animals that are primarily fed corn do not produce as many omega-3 fatty acids than animals fed grass. 1 Therefore, the meat, eggs, and dairy that come from grass fed animals have been found to have a healthier balance of fats.

Side note: Curious about why animals are fed corn? A great resource to learn more about corn is the documentary King Corn“, which explains the reason behind our country’s use of corn.

The bottom line. If you eat meat, try grass fed next time. This not only perpetuates more sustainable growing practices, but it provides your meaty meal with more omega-3 fatty acids.


The term “organic” is more complicated than you might imagine. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the agency that defines and regulates organic food, the term “organic” indicates growing practices that

•“integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources,
•promote ecological balance,
•and conserve biodiversity.”

In addition, the term prohibits “synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering.”

Remember, however, that the organic label doesn’t mean that the food has never been exposed to pesticides. Certain chemical are allowed in organic food production.

The bottom line. Follow the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which recommends specific fruits and veggies to buy organic. This way, you can eat organically on a budget.

Need more help? Here are some resources that helped me developed my food philosophy:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Food Politics

Chicken and Egg

Fed Up


Food, Inc.

How do your food choices reflect your views? Let me know by commenting below!

© 2017 Caitlin W Howe, LLC
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  1. Ponnampalam EN1, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ. Effect of feeding systems on omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and trans fatty acids in Australian beef cuts: potential impact on human health. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2006;15(1):21-9.
  • Anne

    I am seriously eating less and less animal protein and increasing my consumption of veggies. Thanks for the tip on sustainability and how organic vegetables are determined! Trying hard to eat the recommended daily amounts needed for vegetable based protein.
    What are your thoughts on Almond Milk?

    • How fantastic! It’s great to hear that you are working to incorporate more plant-based protein. You know, I don’t have a particular stance on Almond Milk. The USDA does recommend it as a dairy alternative ( We choose unsweetened original almond milk it at our house–it has a wonderful flavor. What are your thoughts on almond milk?

      • Anne

        I read one woman’s reason for returning to raw milk because she was eliminating processed foods and thought almond milk was processed and she was concerned with the additive carrageenan. I personally have been drinking original almond milk unsweetened for the last 18 months, as
        my natural path provider recommended for my a+ blood type. I actually love it and would be dismayed to return to skim milk which probably has additives too. Planning to stay with almond milk unless I have a more compelling rationale!