An orange tree with lots of fruit growing


Food is essential to life, use these tips to find the most sustainable food choices for you.


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Think about the ethics and actions of the place that you buy food from; do they care about their employees, the planet, or the types of products they sell? Understanding the business you’re supporting with your money is important; shopping is a powerful form of endorsement.

  • Switch to a more sustainable version of the products you buy. If you're unsure about what might be more sustainable, ask yourself some of these questions:

    • Is it highly processed/energy intensive?

    • How far did it have to be shipped?

    • Does it have a lot of packaging?

    • Were the people who produced it treated and paid fairly?

  • Observe how much and what type of food you throw out. Is there something you consistently buy and throw out before eating it?

  • Buy local products or from a local grocery store.

  • Go to a farmer’s market.

  • Check out Market on the Move, which reduces food waste by selling excess produce at a $10 cash donation for up to 60 pounds of produce.

  • Plant a garden, or even just one plant that you’ll use a lot of. If you need space, check out the UA Community Garden.

  • If you live off-campus, start a patio garden.

  • Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or farm, such as Tucson CSA or SouthWinds Farm

Being healthy has a lot to do with sustainable living; some argue that it’s an integral element. Highly processed and unhealthy foods usually have more packaging and are made in more efficient but far less sustainable ways (such as using pesticides and fertilizers, paying low wages to farmers, incurring more shipping and handling, and adding preservatives, chemicals and animal-based additives). Conversely, eating a more plant-based and simpler diet can work wonders for your health and happiness.

Many diets come and go with the seasons, but the most sustainable diets include very little meat. Beef and seafood arguably have the highest impact on environmental systems through land use change (e.g. deforestation for cattle pastures) and through overexploitation of fisheries. The four guidelines below can lead to a more sustainable and healthy diet:

  • Understand your foods impact (take this quiz) 

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.

  • Eat less animal products (meat, dairy, eggs), especially cow and fish products.

  • Eat less processed foods.

  • Choose foods made via sustainable practices (see Labeling, below).

Food packaging is ubiquitous, hard to recycle or reuse, and often unnecessary. Not only that, many products now come as single servings, which produces yet more trash that goes to the landfill as soon as you you're done with it.

Peoples’ diets vary greatly, and one of the best ways you can customize your own packaging reduction challenge is to perform a waste audit on yourself. Before taking your trash and recycling to a bin, go through all the waste you generated. What are the most common items? Are there any single servings or unnecessary wrapping materials? Are there disposable items that have reusable counterparts (bottles, pans, cups, etc)?

  • Buy larger containers of food instead of single servings

  • Buy products at farmer's markets as they are minimally packaged and/or you can bring your own container for them (peel > plastic).

  • Use reusable food ware (utensils, tupperware, dishes) instead of single-use products.

  • Buy bulk! Who doesn’t love a trip to Costco...

  • Bring reusable grocery bags (or use your backpack) to carry what you buy.

Not all labels are created equal. Some labels don’t have reliable definitions, so if you really want to buy sustainable products, know whether their claims can be backed up with facts. Many companies advertise their product as “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because it is popular, but not necessarily because it is a sustainable product. Be sure to find third-party verifications that products really are as advertised.

Reliable common labels:

  • Certified Humane: “Animals are allowed to engage in their natural behaviors, have sufficient space, shelter, and gentle handling to limit stress, and have ample fresh water and a healthy diet without added antibiotics or hormones”.

  • Organic: “Food cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or sewage sludge, and cannot contain genetically modified organisms or be irradiated. For meat labeled organic, the animals must be fed only with organically grown feed without animal byproducts, and should be free of hormones and antibiotics.”

  • Fair Trade Certified: “Ensures that farmers receive fair prices, workers receive fair wages, and enables more direct access to the global market.”

  • Marine Stewardship Council: “Seafood bearing this logo comes from fisheries that have been assessed by an independent certifier and found to meet the Marine Stewardship Council environmental standard for sustainable fishing.”

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: “This label from an independent certifier shows that crops have been grown sustainably and workers were treated justly.”

Unreliable common labels (these labels are often unreliable because they do not have standardized requirements, definitions, an independent monitoring system, or any reliable regulation system):

  • Natural/All natural

  • Vegetarian diet

  • Cage-free

  • Free range

  • Grain fed

  • Grass fed

  • No added hormones

  • Without antibiotics

  • Pasture raised

Whether it’s brunch, a BBQ or a late night get-together, parties can rack up quite a bit of waste. Here’s how to host sustainably:

  • Wash or recycle any single-use dishware.

  • Even better, avoid disposable dishware all together. If you don’t have enough reusable dish ware, make it a BYOPAC (bring your own plate and cup) party.

  • Have a visible recycling bin with clear instructions about recyclable items and that they need to be rinsed.

  • Coordinate carpooling to your party. If the party involves alcohol**, always coordinate a designated driver for the evening or get a cab and split the bill with your friends.

  • Encourage partygoers to walk, bike, skateboard, or take the streetcar to your party to save on carbon emissions. Be sure to do this safely and never encourage someone to walk by themselves if they do not feel comfortable. Keep in mind that if you're planning to consume alcohol**, wheels are out of the question. You can still seriously injure yourself or others and get a DUI on a bike or a skateboard.

  • If you’re the partygoer, encourage the host to do some of these things. Or just bring your reusable mason jar, complete with thick-rimmed square glasses, plaid flannel shirt and Teva sandals to set the tone.

  • Throwing parties in the Residence Halls is strictly prohibited. Please check with your landlord and your lease to see if you are allowed to host parties and what restrictions might exist at off campus residences. Be aware of the Red Tag Law.

**To consume alcoholic beverages you must be over the age of 21.