What are Sustainable Ingredients?

What are Sustainable Ingredients?

By EXO Team on Jan 22, 2020

What happens to make that almond milk pourable into your glass? How does vegan cheese actually become melty and delicious? Where exactly did those organic free-range chickens come from? Are the methods used to create the foods we consume in pursuit of health truly good for everyone in the long-haul? This is where the idea of sustainability comes in.

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We all just want to do the right thing when it comes to feeding ourselves and our families. As consumers, we now ask for more specific attributes from our food, such as certifications for gluten-free, non-GMO, keto, low-carb, vegan, and so on. These choices might represent our desire to be eating healthy for inside the body. What if that’s not enough?

What if we should also be asking about the health of everything outside our bodies, as well as inside? Let’s talk about long-term global impact and food and where they come together. Because choosing items only based on the labels we have associated with "goodness” can sometimes divert attention from another extremely important attribute: sustainability.

What Is Sustainable Food?

What happens to make that almond milk pourable into your glass? How does vegan cheese actually become melty and delicious? Where exactly did those organic free-range chickens come from? Are the methods used to create the foods we consume in pursuit of health truly good for everyone in the long-haul? This is where the idea of sustainability comes in.

Sustain, the UK's “alliance for better food and farming,” has a great set of basic attributes that cover nearly every base when it comes to the long-term viability of food products. According to Sustain, a sustainable food will:

  1. Contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods – both [locally] and, in the case of imported products, in producer countries;
  2. Protect the diversity of both plants and animals (and the welfare of farmed and wild species), and avoid damaging natural resources and contributing to climate change;
  3. Provide social benefits, such as good quality food, safe and healthy products, and educational opportunities.

Now that we’ve talked about what makes a food sustainable in some pretty broad strokes, let’s reel it in with a few examples and discuss how this can be simplified into YOUR life. Keeping our purchasing choices on the simpler side, we can ensure—even without labels or needing to do a ton of research—that we are erring on the side of positive impacts on the world. 

hose watering a garden of plants

Sustainable Ingredient Win: Bananas For The Healthy Body

As just one example of the above, it is not only important that your bananas are grown without pesticides on land that wasn’t clear cut out of the rainforest, but it is important that the folks who tend and pick the bananas are of legal working age and paid a fair wage, AND that the shipping methods from farm to you are reasonably minimal in their impact on carbon emissions and global warming. It’s the whole chain, from method to mouth. 

Sustainable Ingredient Win: Sustainable Protein from Cricket Flour 

Another example is that of choosing a food that is MORE sustainable than the status quo. Let’s say you are an avid consumer of protein powder for athletic performance or post-workout needs or just meal replacement inside your busy life. Right now you might be using whey protein, which is not a terrible choice given that it is the byproduct of many dairy production activities. However, the dairy industry is not entirely sustainable and CAFO (concentrated agricultural feeding operation) animal farming has a very high impact on the soil and pollution levels. Instead of cattle-based whey, choosing cricket flour can mean (on a gram-for-gram of protein basis) a reduction of emissions by 90% and a substantial reduction in required land acreage to grow crickets vs cattle. That’s a great step, especially to receive a highly-absorbable animal protein in your smoothie.

Finding sustainable ingredients/food products

Now, how do you actually incorporate this idea into your daily life? It’s not that difficult after all. Rather than a monster list of specific products, here’s a quick couple of tips for how to procure sustainable ingredients on your own and become a smarter consumer.

farmer's market

  1. The most “obvious” sustainable pathway is to grow your own, without commercial pesticides. A garden of your favorite fruits and veggies (not fertilized with RoundUp or the like) is a fantastic way to know exactly what’s happening on the whole chain!
  2. Local as much as possible. Your farmer’s market is a good place to start, but with the ways we are connected over social media, it is often easy to find tips and sources in your town or in your neighborhood. It’s likely you know someone who knows where to buy fresh eggs or has the lowdown on fruit trees that are available for surplus harvesting when ready. Community is a great way to reach out to your fellow humans while also keeping your food buying local. 
  3. Check out Fair Trade products: a Fair Trade certification is meaningful and somewhat comprehensive in its inclusion of many of the sustainable attributes above. Go here to find out more about Fair Trade and to search for certified products

Where To Go From Here

Sustainable food ingredients are one of the many ways that we all can become better global citizens. The side effects can also be better health, greater community involvement, and even the joy that comes from making a contribution to a sustainable future—not just in food but in the entirety of human existence. 

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