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Headline: Eating for a greener planetHealthy Eating
Eating for
a greener
planet

Tips for supporting a
sustainable food system
Photo of Kerri CuthbertBy Kerri Cuthbert Summer 2017
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Canada is quietly emerging as a world leader in the production of sustainable food.

In fact, our country ranks third in overall food production sustainability, according to the 2016 Global Study on Nutrition, Agriculture and Food Waste - just behind France and Japan, but ahead of the United States, which finished in 11th place.

The survey was produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which is a division of The Economist magazine, and is sponsored by the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition.

So what is a sustainable food or food system, and how can you help build one?

Well, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sustainable foods are produced in a way that protects and respects bio-diversity and ecosystems, but they are also safe, healthy and affordable.

Canada's showing in the sustainability index - which was produced using 58 indicators across three themes: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges - is no small thing.

Some observers have estimated that the world's population could hit between eight billion and 9.6 billion by 2050, up from about 7.5 billion today. As a result, some experts have suggested that the global demand for food could grow by an estimated 40 to 45 per cent. Yet, there are estimates that food production, including everything from agriculture to packaging and transportation, accounts for about 30 per cent of the greenhouse gases, posing a significant threat to the health of the planet.

As a result, Canada and other countries are working to find ways to meet the demand for nutritious, affordable food while mitigating the environmental effects of agriculture.

Much of those efforts involve macro public policy issues such as water conservation, land usage and biodiversity. But while building a sustainable food system is complex, there are a few simple things you can do to help make your diet more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Here are a few examples:

1. Seek out more locally grown or in-season foods.
With summer just around the corner, one great way to reduce your impact on the environment is to access locally grown foods at a farmers' market. Even though our short growing season makes them more of a summer activity, most of the farmers' markets in Manitoba are open from June through October and offer a wide variety of food items and baking, handmade crafts and fresh, locally grown produce.

Farmers' markets provide many benefits, both to the consumer and the producer. They can be a fun weekend outing with family and friends, but they can also provide a wide variety of fresh, in-season produce for a very good price. Farmers' markets also allow for consumers to build relationships with the people growing their food. This can lead to an increased sense of community and can help teach children about where food comes from.

Buying directly from the farmer means that the farmer keeps more of the profits from the food sold. This allows farmers to continue to produce and sell food locally for a reasonable price.

Food sold locally is often handled less, transported shorter distances, and spends less time in storage and refrigeration. This can reduce costs to farmers and have a positive impact on the environment by decreasing carbon emissions.

Outside of the farmers' market season, you can also look for foods grown and made in Canada at your regular grocery store.

Choosing food grown in Canada over imported food can help to reduce your carbon footprint because food from another country will have to be shipped farther. All food products from outside Canada must show that they are imported, and a country of origin label is required on fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, fish and seafood, eggs and meat products. Next time you are shopping for groceries, take a moment to check out the country of origin of your food.

2. Reduce your meat consumption by choosing plant-based proteins more often.
Plant-based diets go hand in hand with sustainability. Meat (particularly beef) can have a negative effect on the environment; a report by the United Nations released in 2013 states that 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by livestock, and cattle farming accounts for 65 per cent of these emissions. To compare, this is equal to the global emissions from cars, buses, trucks and all other transport.

Beans and legumes, also known as pulses, are a much more sustainable protein choice. Pulses add nitrogen back into soil, which increases the health of the soil. They are also high in fibre and protein, low in fat and easy on the wallet. "Meatless Monday," or eating meat-free meals one day a week, is a great strategy to reduce your meat consumption and increase your consumption of pulses. Swapping kidney beans for beef in a chili recipe can help the environment and your health.

3. Reduce food waste.
Limiting food waste can have a huge impact on the environment. A 2014 report estimates that food waste makes up 47 per cent of the waste coming from Canadians' homes. In addition to environmental benefits, reducing the food waste from your home will also save money. You can cut down on the amount of food wasted in your home by planning meals ahead of time, buying only the foods needed to make those meals, freezing fresh food for later use (before it spoils), and making meals out of the food you already have at home before buying more.

4. Choose sustainable seafood options more often.
The fish and seafood industry is an area of concern in terms of sustainability. While it is recommended that Canadians consume at least two servings of freshwater fish and seafood each week to provide a wide range of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and protein, certain types of fish are more sustainable choices than others. Unsustainable fish and seafood choices are linked to improper fishing practices and the overfishing of certain species.

Kerri Cuthbert is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Top 10 sustainable seafood options

To help consumers select sustainable seafood options, the David Suzuki Foundation has teamed up with SeaChoice to create a list of the top 10 most sustainable seafood choices. To learn more about the Top 10 list and sustainable seafood, click here.