When I first met Stonyfield CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg two years ago, he made a comment about the current food system that really stuck with me: It took a lot of small steps to get us into this mess, but that means we can take a lot of small steps to get out.
I wholeheartedly agree, yet I often hear from readers and friends that it can be challenging to identify ways to change old habits and/or know where to start. I’m really passionate about the power of small, so today I wanted to share nine small food acts that can lead to big change.
1. Educate yourself. Explore current food system practices even briefly and you’ll likely find yourself running to the humanely raised meat section. Reading Fast Food Nation many years ago completely turned me off of fast food, and while I’m not a soda drinker, I recently read The Coke Machine and found it fascinating. If you only want to invest an hour and a half yet learn a lot about the current food landscape, watch Food, Inc.
2. Read labels. I know it can seem tedious, but start reading labels. Only buy items where you can pronounce the ingredient list (also, the less ingredients the better!). It will get easier as you go and you’ll develop a bank of trusted products.
3. Start with one department or item. One of the biggest complaints I hear about transitioning to organics is that it’s too expensive. However, if you cost compare at different grocery stores, it’s not always the case that natural/organic products are more expensive. If you’re just getting started, prioritize one department -- or even one, frequently consumed product -- for your organics. I’d recommend starting with produce or dairy (or humanely raised meat).
4. Bargain hunt. Keep an eye out for coupons or sales on organic items at your grocery store. The great thing about shopping sales is that you’re saving money and helping reduce general food waste, since items marked for sale typically represent excess stock or items approaching their expiration date.
5. Extend meat over meals. Instead of making meat the centerpiece of your meal, make it a complement to the meal. For example, we’ll grill one or two chicken breasts, chop it up, and extend it across a few meals (e.g., on salads, in quesadillas, on pizzas).
6. Go vegetarian for a week. This past spring, my 6-year-old daughter Laurel became very troubled by animal consumption and instituted vegetarian week in our house. Once a month we cook exclusively vegetarian for one week; it’s budget and animal friendly and also has helped us be better about meal planning in general. We also find that we’ve decreased our meat consumption outside of vegetarian week.
7. Source local. Support your local economy by visiting the farmer’s market or signing up for a CSA share. I’m convinced that being a part of a farm share has contributed to my (typically vegetable averse) daughter consuming more vegetables; it’s very meaningful to her to know the farmer who grows the vegetables we eat.
8. Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk is great for the wallet and for saving packaging waste. Visit the bulk bins for nuts, dried fruit, and grains, buy bulk bags in the cereal aisle, and/or purchase large yogurt containers and add fruit or other toppings instead buying lots of smaller containers.
9. Substitute the snack food. Typical processed food items can be really laden with junk. It will help your budget/diet to cut back on snack foods in general, but if sweet or salty treats are your vice, substitute in natural/organic versions.
What do you do to work towards change? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!