Today’s guest, Michelle Grant, joins us to share about sustainable eating. She’s a friend of mine from Zurich, and we’ve shared many great conversations about sustainability and food. Since she just published her new cookbook, this seemed like a great time to interview her!
Sustainable eating doesn’t have to feel restrictive, depressing, or miserable! How can you eat sustainably in a way that is also enjoyable and fun? Michelle has all sorts of ideas!
The core of Michelle’s work is as an educator. She explores making food (and living) more sustainable, and helps people understand the impact of what they eat. Having had a long-term concern for social and environmental issues, Michelle originally studied environmental engineering at university…and quickly realized that was not the path for her!
Instead, she wanted to work with people and be more hands on. Through a summer program, she learned about sustainable development, and then continued to narrow her focus to food-specific sustainability.
Michelle loves the idea of intentionally eating, living, and leading. Using sustainability, she believes we can build a better world while also improving our own lives. A win-win!
Fad Diets are Not Sustainable
Fad diets are unsustainable. They don’t help our bodies, and they don’t help our world! In addition to being unhelpful, fad diets and food trends are also really hard on the environment.
Food trends associated with single foods, such as cashews, avocados, almonds, or other suddenly popularized foods are often not sustainable. There are massive environmental challenges in the areas these foods are produced, as well as human issues. Often the people doing the work of farming the current trending foods aren’t paid fairly. Many also see their homes and land exploited for productivity.
A market that only sees profit, and consumer base that continually demands more of each new on-trend food combine to provide an unsustainable supply & demand cycle.
Some specific diets, like keto and paleo, encourage an increase in meat eating. This isn’t great for the environment.
For example, with bulk grains and veggies, it’s easier to bring your own bags or reusable containers. With meat, however, it’s hard to avoid additional plastics and other extra packaging. The environmental impact of raising and processing meat is also high.
Following trending diets and food fads can be really self-centered. When we put our own perceived “health” or weight loss above the world we live in, we risk causing harm that can’t be reversed.
What Really Matters When it Comes to Food
Michelle considers diets a massive distraction from what really matters when it comes to food. Rather than deciding for ourselves what nourishes us, we end up disempowered. Dieting pulls us away from thinking about our impact on the planet, and focuses us on ourselves.
I really wanted to make sure that we didn’t use this conversation to create restriction and rules though! Trying to eat a certain way can make me personally feel really stressed out, which isn’t the goal. Food shouldn’t be stressful and overwhelming. In the same way I don’t support dieting, I don’t want to support a legalistic approach to food consumption. So how can we pair sustainability and food freedom?
Michelle defines sustainability & food as eating in a way that supports your own wellbeing, the wellbeing of other people, and the wellbeing of the planet. She shares that 1 in every 5 global deaths is linked to an unhealthy diet. Over 1/3 of the world’s population suffers from a diet-related health burden. And the people most likely to suffer? Those involved in producing food to make a living.
Humans and the environment are struggling to thrive in our world because of the way food is produced and distributed.
Thinking about that can feel overwhelming! It can also help us shift away from only thinking about how food impacts us. We can shift our focus to not only our own bodies and feelings, but also world impact.
This starts with intentionality!
When we become more aware of what we’re doing, and what’s driving it, we can start to create change.
What impact does our consumption have on ourselves and others?
How can we approach that question (and its answers) with curiosity?
What would it mean to exercise compassion for ourselves and others when we think about food production and our own habits?
Mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness can go a long way towards helping us navigate this space in a healthy way! The ultimate goal should be to take action that is aligned with our values. This is much more helpful than overwhelming ourselves with guilt or shame.
Michelle notes that food is incredibly emotional. It connects us to our family, our culture, our religions, and our own habits of rewarding or punishing ourselves.
When we start to make changes here, we can experience a lot of blocks and internal resistant! It’s important to still make an effort, however, because underneath our relationship to food is our relationship with the world. If we have the courage to face it, we can uncover patterns and beliefs in ourselves that can change our lives.
Intuitive Eating & Sustainability
Intuitive eating and sustainability have lots of overlap!
Being gentle with yourself, exercising self-compassion, and having the courage to explore what’s really going on is incredibly powerful. At the end of the day, doing good makes you feel good.
Being more sustainable can make you feel really good, and move you beyond yourself and your own needs. I think that we are meant to give back and be caring, which is why it has such a positive on our lives.
Michelle shares that her own experience with dieting, exercise, and her body helped her get perspective too. When she chose to notice how food impacted and nourished her, as well as how it impacted the world, she started to see positive change.
She shares that when she reaches for her favorite snacks and foods, she thinks about her body and her needs. She also thinks about the resources that go into the creation of those foods. Considering the greater global impact of her food (along with her desires) helps her make choices she feels good about!
Sustainable Eating Can be Joyful
In addition to simply getting in the kitchen more, Michelle suggests you bring joy into cooking! Listen to a great podcast, put on music and do a bit of dancing, or even just let yourself mindfully engage with your ingredients.
Paying attention to what ingredients you use and where they came from can be a source of curiosity and questions. Where did these ingredients come from? What went into bringing them to your home? Were they fairly and sustainably sourced?
I’ve been having fun using Imperfect Produce, which delivers produce that’s perfect good…but a little imperfect. Often it’s a funny shape or size, and the grocery store as rejected it. Rather than let it go to waste, you can use it!
Try different stores, learn more about your food, and see what changes feel good for you! This isn’t about restricting, limiting, or passion judgment. It’s literally a chance to make the world around you a better place.
If you’d like to hear the full episode, listen in here!