Whether you’re buying reusable shopping bags or taking your own coffee cup into your local café, there are many easy switches we can make to be more sustainable. And the time has come to introduce sustainability to your diet.
Put simply, sustainability and sustainable practices are methods of living that fulfil the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations, all while balancing environmental care, economic growth and social wellbeing.
Many sustainable practices are expensive and not accessible to the majority of people. But sustainability is not about buying new things to help you live a new, environmentalist life. In fact, you don't need to buy anything in order to be sustainable. We need to refrain from thinking of sustainability as huge gestures, such as installing solar panels to our roofs, and instead, start incorporating small, feasible changes into our day-to-day lives which, when done by many, make the biggest difference. The most notable is food.
The Impact of Food on the Environment
When it comes to food and sustainable diets, its one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint in a way that doesn't cause the most stress or anxiety.
It's easy to underestimate the impact that our food system has on the environment, since it's not something we need to think about day-to-day. However, the toll it takes is staggering. All our food must be grown, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, preserved, prepared, consumed and disposed of. Each step in this chain creates greenhouse gases which we know contribute to climate change. According to Nature Food, a body of researchers dedicated to optimising and securing food systems for the future, about one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are linked to our food system.
Barriers to Sustainable Eating
There's no denying that living in Cayman, an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, makes sustainable food practices more difficult. We rely on the transportation of our food from thousands of miles away, arriving here by boat or plane. This contributes significantly to the Islands carbon footprint before it even reaches our supermarkets. So there is no wonder attempting a sustainable diet can feel daunting. But living on an island is not the only barrier to sustainable eating.
As mentioned, adopting a sustainable diet means eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts, which are all essential for you and your family's health. Yet, the obstacles to eating this kind of diet are psychological, physiological, social and cultural.
Many plant-based foods lack the basic tastes of sweet, salty and umami flavours that humans, over an evolutionary timescale, have come to crave (most of us would choose a pizza over a salad!). Hence, this diet can be seen as less desirable than one that gives in to the flavoursome cravings. Also, meat is often strongly linked to social and cultural traditions across the world, which means removing it from your diet can be difficult.
The trick is to get creative in the kitchen. You don't have to look far to find fantastic plant-based recipes that are easy and affordable. Start on Instagram or TikTok, following content creators who make cooking and eating plant-based foods fun and tasty. You'll soon realise that plants can be delicious when prepared with the right ingredients.
Practising Sustainability Through Food
So what can we do to be more sustainable in Cayman?
Prioritise Plants Its widely acknowledged that shifting towards a plant-based diet helps reduce fresh water depletion and deforestation. Meat production is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and is simply not sustainable for our growing population. Switching to plant-based meals a few nights a week makes such a difference.
Look Local Simply by buying your produce from a local farmer, you are cutting down immensely on the level of greenhouse gases it has taken to get food on your plate. Not to mention you'd be supporting the Islands' farming industry.
Select Seasonal Like buying from your local farmer, buying seasonal produce helps reduce carbon emissions. There are also so many deliciously exotic fruits and vegetables to choose from in Cayman; it's a great reason to try something new! Have a look at our roundup of Cayman's seasonal produce on the opposite page.
Try a New Seafood Though seafood is a healthy choice, some fish are at risk of being overfished, and the production methods can harm the marine environment. Here in Cayman, the best choice is lionfish, followed by wahoo and then snapper. Grouper, the puppy dogs of the sea, should not be eaten as they are more valuable alive.
Reduce Waste By reducing waste, we limit our contributions to the landfill, preserve resources and also save money. In Cayman, we have the George Town Landfill as a constant visual reminder of how much waste we produce. Let this be a catalyst for change.
Pass on Palm Oil Palm oil is found in many products on supermarket shelves and is responsible for large-scale deforestation. However, avoiding palm oil altogether can create bigger problems, with some alternatives needing up to nine times more land to produce. Instead, look for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.
Begin Composting Composting involves the natural biodegradation of organic materials and is a good way to recycle your leftover food and food scraps. Compost is primarily used as a fertiliser in soil and can be useful to farmers, landscapers and nurseries. If you enjoy home gardening, making your own compost will certainly save you money on mulch and potting soil, and it is relatively easy to manage.
Find Fairtrade - Fairtrade promises reasonable working conditions and a fair wage to people around the world who source and produce our food. Buying Fairtrade helps producers become more income-secure and less vulnerable to poverty.
Why Eat Sustainably?
Aside from its positive impact on our environment, sustainable eating has many other benefits.
Community Engagement Buying from your local farmer helps you connect with Cayman's community. Farmers markets and farm-to-table events are abundant in Cayman and attending them gives us a stronger appreciation for locally-grown food and a better understanding of how our food gets to our plate.
Enhanced Cooking Skills Buying whole foods encourages home cooking and helps develop new skills. You can also ask your local farmer for advice on the best way to prepare your ingredients for the tastiest meal!
Supports Local Economy Growing food that is processed and distributed on-Island generates jobs for our local community. This stimulates the local economy and the revenue generated can be reinvested to support more local businesses in Cayman.
Protects Resources Eating sustainably helps promote the welfare of wildlife, waterways, soil and ecological biodiversity by putting less pressure on our natural resources.
Influences Agricultural Practices By adopting a more sustainable diet, you help to influence agricultural practices across the globe. As people shift from foods grown using unsustainable practices, the entire production line is forced to adopt sustainable operations.
Empowers the Consumer With the above in mind, it gives the consumer more say in what goes into their food. If we turn away from unsustainable foods and practices, the food production line will be forced to change and adopt sustainable operations.
The bottom line is that there has never been a more important time to start living sustainably, and food is a great place to begin. Whether you choose to incorporate all these ideas into your diet and lifestyle, or just one, you'll be helping to cut down your carbon footprint and contribute positively to the fight against climate change.