One common question J.P. and I get over and over again is about the problem of overpopulation—if human life extension is a humanitarian goal worth pursuing, won’t there be an inevitable environmental crisis? One worse than what we’re already facing?
When we covered the ethics of life extension we partially answered this question based on what we know about population and consumption trends now (tl;dr: we’re more likely to face a crisis of underpopulation than overpopulation). That said, it’s practically impossible to be able to fully forecast environmental trends 50, 200, and further years into the future. We noted, “Spanners actually need to address it because we will have to continue living through the consequences of climate change if we don’t.”
In other words, if you’re interested in indefinitely extending your own life, sustainable eating should be a priority today because you’ll most likely be alive in the trash-filled, resource-scarce world of tomorrow.
Naturally, sustainable eating tips aren’t going to solve the global problem of climate change, water shortages, or waste management. But it’s one way in which individuals can contribute to a healthier planet.
Let’s dig in. But first…
What is sustainable eating?
Sustainable eating is making food choices that are environmentally friendly. It is a mindful eating practice that asks consumers to consider where food comes from, how it’s harvested, how it’s packaged, and how it’s consumed, and if, at any of those points, that food harms or benefits the environment.
Sustainable eating acknowledges that there is no way to eat in a manner that has zero shock on the environment. It asks those interested in the practice to reduce the impact of their food choices as much as they can.
Here are five sustainable eating tips to get started.
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1. Change up your meat choices
Many sustainable eating advocates claim that veganism is best for life extension. And it’s true that animal agriculture substantially impacts the environment—it’s the second-leading cause of human-made greenhouse gas emissions behind fossil fuels, and is a major contributor to deforestation, drinkable water shortages, and habitat destruction.
All that said, some meat really is much more destructive to the environment than others. I know that it would be unreasonable to advocate for total veganism for longevity from our readers. So let’s see if we can reduce consuming the worst environmental offenders from our diets.
According to The Environmental Working Group, these animal proteins contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions. Though some take issue with how their study was designed, I have nevertheless arranged the animal proteins by order of impact:
- Natural cheese
- Farmed salmon
Look at how much greenhouse gas emissions you could reduce just by cutting lamb and beef from your diet!
Cutting these meats from your diet doesn’t mean the end of eating meat, of course, and a little biodiversity in your food choices isn’t a bad thing. Try some different animal proteins from the usual fare instead, like:
Of course, no farmed animals are going to be nearly as healthful for the environment as pure plant products, but they are a great alternative to the environmental disaster that is industrial beef and lamb farming.
2. Eat in season
It’s a little weird to nibble on watermelon salad in November or indulge in a barbecue in January (unless you’re Australian).
From Halloween pumpkin carving to dipping spring greens at Passover, every culture has traditions that celebrate local produce that comes in season at specific times of the year. Sustainable eating extends that practice to daily choices—there’s no reason to ship spinach from the other side of the country if it’s available right in your garden.
A quick dive into our readership numbers from 2021 reveals that a majority of you live in New York City, London, and Sydney (it’s so cool to have so many international readers!). Check out the linked advice to find seasonal recommendations, or search for “[your location] seasonal produce” in your favorite search engine to recommendations local to you.
3. Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms
Some produce is better for the environment than others. For example, mango, olives, and rice have a massive water footprint when compared to products like tomato, lettuce, and cucumber. But one crop is exceptionally good for the environment, and that’s mushrooms.
Mushrooms are incredible. They can break down plastic and clean up hazardous waste. The American Mushroom Institute (yes, that is a real thing) points out, “A serving of mushrooms is just 0.08 kg of CO2 emissions—only lentils have a lower per serving CO2 emission level.” Fungi are also particularly land-efficient in their production.
As an aside, it doesn’t hurt that most edible mushrooms are ridiculously good for you (and are particularly protective against cancer) and rich in longevity-boosting micronutrients like selenium and niacin.
Looking for where to start? Chanterelle, lion’s mane, and oyster mushrooms are particularly health-promoting and local to the U.S., but it’s hard to go wrong with what’s found at your local farmer’s market.
4. Cut ultra-processed foods
By “ultra-processed,” I mean foods that have gone through a substantial treatment to change them from their original state. Ultra-processed foods often have added fats and sugars, have been milled and manipulated, and tend to have added preservatives, additives, and artificial flavors and colors added to them. For example, tea is technically processed food, but soda is ultra-processed. We care much more about the latter.
Nutritional problems with ultra-processed foods aside, they’re super bad for the environment.
Ultra-processed foods also have long supply chains—it’s a long journey to go from Irish Moss (a red algae found in the British Isles) to carrageenan (an extract derived from the algae) to Yoplait Greek Honey Caramel Frozen Yogurt Bars (found in your local grocery store).
Further, ultra-processed foods tend to be derived from “monocropping.” Monocropping is the practice of using the same plot of land to grow the same kind of food indefinitely. The practice reduces soil nutrients, can cause soil erosion, and contributes to the destruction of biodiversity—the more we do it, the less nutritious harvests are over time. Ingredients derived from corn, soybean, and wheat are often found in ultra-processed foods, leading to our entire food chain becoming less nutrient-rich over time.
This is all to say that avoiding ultra-processed food should be a priority for anyone interested in sustainable eating.
5. Grow your own garden and buy local
There’s a good way to put the former four tips into action (reduce your lamb and beef consumption, eat in season, chomp on mushrooms, and avoid ultra-processed food): make and buy your own food locally. Moving a fresh picking from your backyard to your dinner plate is a whole lot more energy efficient than going the average 1,500 miles from industrial farm to consumption (in the United States).
Buying local and gardening also incentivizes eating seasonally, and it’s pretty tough to create ultra-processed food on your own (please don’t take that as a challenge). It’s also a possible way to improve your longevity through the type of low-impact, consistent exercise that centenarians in blue zones such as Okinawa do almost every day. In fact, of the five blue zones featured in Dan Buettner’s book of the same name, home gardening features prominently in every single one of them.
Don’t have space to have your own garden? Born without a green thumb? Consider hitting up sites like Local Harvest to find CSAs (“Community Supported Agriculture”—basically community-supported farms) or farmer’s markets near you, and look for locally-sourced items in your local grocery store.
More sustainable eating tips?
There’s a lot that spanners can be doing to care for the environment—sustainable eating is just a start. What other tips do you have for people passionate about human life extension? Would you add nuance to any of these suggestions?
I look forward to reading your comments!