Sustainable eating means choosing foods that are both nutritious and safe for the natural environment. Expanded definitions may include the phrases “culturally acceptable,” “affordable,” “available,” and “accessible.” It’s about choosing a diet that helps ensure future generations will have a healthy and ample food supply.
Sustainable eating begins with a shift in thinking on what we eat and its consequences. Consider the following:
Environmental impact. It requires a significant amount of land, fertilizer, fuel and water to raise, process and package livestock for the commercial food supply. This is rapidly depleting natural resources and is devastating to the soil, water supply and ocean environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cultivation of livestock uses 77% of agriculture land and is responsible for 25% of global gas emissions, which leads to global warming. On the other hand, vegetable and fruit crops require far fewer resources and are friendlier to the planet.
Health impact. One of the hidden costs of non-sustainable eating is health care, as this diet is low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. People with unhealthy diets will ultimately pay more for medication, doctor visits, medical procedures, lost wages from missed work, and possibly reduce their lifespan, robbing their ʻohana of precious time together. One study estimated that one in five deaths can be prevented by eating a healthy diet.
Cultural impact. The typical Western diet is not pono in any way. Native Hawaiians traditionally practiced sustainable eating and farming. They ate a primarily plant-based diet, farmed and fished in cycles or by season, and cultivated techniques that minimized land use and preserved the environment while yielding enough food for their community. One acre of kalo can yield up to 30,000 pounds. One-third a pound of kalo yields 1 pound of poi. Choose foods that allow opportunities to teach and preserve traditional practices, foster cultural pride and longevity for our people.
Financial impact. Consider the cost savings from drinking water versus soda. From stretching meals with frozen vegetables versus more meat. From buying a $5 coffee drink versus using that money towards buying local or organic. How much money is wasted when you forgo leftovers to buy lunch instead? How much money would you save just by changing what you eat? Could the extra money be better used or invested for the future?
Generational impact. This is where all these factors come together to help us make informed decisions. Think about how your food choices will affect your keiki, moʻopuna, and those in the generations to come. Do you want to ensure they have fresh water to drink and clean oceans to swim in? What type of health habits do you want to teach them? How will they learn to identify with their culture? What spending priorities do you want to model for them? How can you promote their future financial security?
Eating sustainably may be one of the best legacies you can leave for your ʻohana.
Born and raised in Kona, Hawaiʻi, Dr. Jodi Leslie Matsuo is a Native Hawaiian Registered Dietician and certified diabetes educator, with training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook (@DrJodiLeslieMatsuo), Instagram (@drlesliematsuo) and on Twitter (@DrLeslieMatsuo).