9 Rules of Thumb

9 Rules of Thumb for a Sustainable Diet

Many of these will be explored in later posts. 

  1. Local is sustainable.
  2. Certified is better than conventional.
  3. Research certifications and labels.
  4. Seasonality is important.
  5. Cut back on meat.
  6. Reduce your waste.
  7. Know food safety.
  8. Think how your choices impact change.
  9. Be aware of food policy.

It’s important to note that these are “rules of thumb” not rules of law. These are based on research, expert opinions, and common themes. Even so,hey won’t apply always, everywhere.

See something important that’s missing? Don’t agree? Please comment! These are not set in stone, and will likely change and evolve!

Here’s diving into each one a little deeper with explanations and tips.

1. Local is sustainable

  • Local is almost always more sustainable, while food labelled or with certifications might not always be.
  • Local is becoming easier to access- many grocery stores are starting to offer local products if you don’t have access to a farmers markets.
  • Tip: want to enjoy those farmers market strawberries come winter time? Freeze them! They’ll be good for 12 months.

2. Certified is better than conventional

  • When you can’t buy local, a certified product is typically better than its conventionally produced counterpart.
  • Not all certifications are created equal. See the blog post on labels and certifications, and when they’re better than conventional and when they aren’t always

for these first two, see “local vs sustainable” post

3. Research certifications and labels.

  • Many labels don’t require certifications- if you are buying based off of those it’s critical to do the research.
  • In the works are some tools that assess some of these certifications, and where they stand in terms of sustainability.

4. Seasonality is important.

  • Focusing on the types of foods you’re eating alone can improve sustainability, instead of certifications/labels that are often expensive and confusing.
  • Seasonality can be big, and even shopping regionally can promote sustainability and the domestic economy. If something is not in season, buy frozen. This can still support local or regional farmers- as they often freeze what ripens on farm or if they have too much.
  • This rule of thumb is also critical for fish, as healthy fish stocks change rapidly, across seasons and regions of the world.
  • If you can, pay attention to the company- and do a quick google of their production practices. Are they in the news for doing some terrible things? Better to avoid.

5. Cut back on meat.

  • Cutting back or giving up meat is often the single most impactful thing you can do when trying to improve the environmental impact of your diet, and improves your health
  • However, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re replacing it with.
  • Also replacing beef with poultry or pork can reduce your environmental impact, but to a lesser extent.

6. Reduce your waste.

  • Bring grocery and produce bags to the store, use Tupperware and reusable bottles, compost food waste.

7.  Know food safety.

  • If you know you want have time to make something- know when you can freeze it. Or if you’re full and something is going bad, cook it up anyway and put it in the fridge or freezer.
  • Use by/sell by dates are confusing. Use your senses! They most often will tell you if its good or Localbad. Of course, if you’re still uncertain toss it (hopefully in the compost).

8. Think how your choices impact change.

  • Actively think about how your food was produced, who produced it, and where did it come from. This bit of reflection before putting something in your shopping cart can make a huge difference.
  • Be conscious of the decisions you’re making, and if they’re going towards the sustainable food systems you want to see. For example, cutting back on meat is good for the environment but if you’re just replacing that with intensively produced soy- you’re not thinking about system change.

9. Be aware of food policy.

  • Many governments have local food policy or agricultural policy councils: subscribe to their mailing lists, go to a meeting, or get involved.
  • Do you know the Farm Bill? It’s the single most influential agricultural legislation in the US. Call your congressmen & congresswomen and let them know it’s important!


Mission: Enough with the labels.

(estimated reading time: 5 min) 

This first post explains the inspiration and thus mission of project.

Healthy, nutritious food that is good for your body, the environment, and the animal should be something that everyone can access. It should be something we can all talk about.

However, we have overwhelmed ourselves with labels: organic, fair trade, natural, hormone-free, grass-fed, gluten-free, sustainable, environmentally friendly, ecological, fresh, local, raw, eco, etc.

Even worse, we have gone even further, putting these labels on ourselves: vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian, freegetarian, and others that we can’t even keep up with.

What is most bothersome is that while we’ve been label-izing everything, we’ve lost sight of the one goal we’ve had since the beginning: changing our food system.

Moving from label to label ignores the fundamental and dramatic shifts that need to happen- it perpetuates an old system by simply replacing one product with hopefully a better one.

And yes, “sustainable” is a word that gets thrown out a lot, and put on labels without a second thought. However, above all others- this is the one word we should stand by. Because it implies a system that is holistic, resilient, and cyclical. It implies systems that are intertwined environmentally, social, and economically. Three legs of a stool which when missing one, topples over.

Yet, for all the critically beneficial things sustainability could do for us, our food system is far behind from achieving the fundamental changes that need to happen. The reasons can be boiled down to one:

We have been investing in the wrong kind of food system.

And while markets have been slowly changing, organic food has gotten cheaper, farmers markets are popping up everywhere in urban areas, these emerging products remain out of reach for billions of people (yes, billions), due to lack of access either financially or physically. This is because we continue to put subsidies, investments, policies, and incentives into systems that are not environmentally, socially, or economically sustainable in the long run.

Capitalism has allowed us to overrun ourselves with confusion, making it impossible to really understand what a sustainable diet and food system could really look like.

This is what this project aims to do- bring us all to the table. By offering a tool to make the most of your purchasing power and knowledge, you can help invest and steer the ship towards a sustainable food system. This, through the farmers, companies and politicians that are actively building it for us, and not just labeling that they are.

It’s time to put an end to all the confusing labels, and really bring to light the changes that you can easily make to contribute to the kind of food system that will work better for all of us.

Keep a look out for the next blog post that will outline this project!