Living Sustainably


The choices we make about food are highly individual, and while there is no single “right” way to eat, your eating and food purchasing habits have a great impact on sustainability. It is easy to consume food without stopping to think about where our food comes from or what the environmental costs of producing that food are.

In this section you'll learn how to: Make Sustainable Food Choices and Reduce Your Food and Packaging Waste

Become Better Informed

Back to top

Watch Food-Related Documentaries: Several good documentaries that will give you an introduction to the way our food system currently functions include Food Inc., and King Corn, both of which can be rented for free at the Wells Library or the Monroe County Public Library.

Read Food-Sustainability Related Books: Many food writers in the last several decades have focused on the impact of the conventional food system on human health and the environment-check out this list for some of the best reads.  

Examine Your Diet’s Impact: Calculate the environmental burden of your diet on the planet by using the Green Eating Calculator.

Eat Real Food

Back to top

Sustainability food-writer, Michael Pollan, recommends that you “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” But what does this mean?

Avoid Packaged and/or Highly Processed Foods

Much of the “food” that is sold in the U.S. is highly processed and modified in the industrial manufacturing process.

  • Read Labels
    • How safe are the ingredients in your food? Most packaged foods contain all sorts of additives and chemicals that help to “prolong shelf life and maintain flavor.” Try to eliminate or reduce your consumption of foods that contain any of the following food additives:
      • Artificial colorings (for example: FD&C Blue No. 1 or FD&C Red No. 40, etc…)
      • High fructose corn syrup
      • Aspartame
      • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
      • Sodium benzoate
      • Sodium nitrite
      • Trans fat or partially-hydrogenated oils
  • Opt for Unpackaged or Minimally Packaged Foods
    • You’ll cut down on the amount of waste that you generate. Furthermore, even if a food container is recyclable, consider the fact that many potentially harmful chemicals (like phthalates and BPA) are found in most plastic and metal packaging, and that studies show that such chemicals can permeate the foods they contain.
  • Buy In Bulk
    • Purchase foods like beans, grains, and rice in bulk at any number of groceries in town, including Bloomingfoods, Kroger, and Sahara Mart. By doing this, you reduce the amount of packaging that goes into your food purchases.
Avoid Bottled Water

Stop buying bottled water; instead, purchase a re-usable bottle or bring a cup with you to fill up at the tap. Bloomington’s water exceeds all safety standards and is more highly regulated than bottled water.

Eat Local

Back to top
Eat Seasonal

Back to top

Strawberries in January? Because of today's global marketplace, you can buy foods grown virtually anywhere in the world all year round.  However, these options are not the most sustainable because if it’s not in season in your area, that means it is getting shipped over long distances to reach your plate. 

Instead, opt for seasonal fruits and vegetables that are grown locally. Not only do you eliminate the environmental damage caused by shipping food thousands of miles, but your food dollar goes directly to the farmer, and your household will be able to enjoy the health benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. 

Buying seasonal produce also provides an exciting opportunity to try new foods and to experiment with seasonal recipes. And it simply tastes better!

Eat Organic

Back to top

Organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, a process that is better for the health of the farm workers, the soil, and also you-the consumer!  If you can’t afford to buy all organic produce, attempt to buy the following produce that have the highest pesticide residues:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Collard Greens

Read more here.

Reduce Meat Consumption

Back to top

Eat Less Meat

Industrial meat production takes a heavy toll on the environment, both in land consumption and in high water use (click here to calculate how much water it takes to grow a hamburger.) If you aren’t willing to give up meat entirely, consider joining in the practice of Meatless Mondays or eating meat only on special occasions.

 When you do consume meat, figure out where your meat comes from, and try to buy locally.  When you know where your meat--and everything you eat--comes from, it’s easier to make sure it’s safe and that the livestock are treated humanely.

Become Vegetarian or Vegan

Eat lower in the food chain whenever possible by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet--even if it’s just for a day or two a week. The benefits of vegan and vegetarian eating habits go beyond benefits to your own health:  the energy involved in producing just 2.2 lbs of beef generates the same CO2 emissions as the average car emits driving 155 miles. Realizing the energy use that goes into producing your food is a good first step to changing your habits.

Reducing Our Food and Packaging Waste

Back to top

Why Reduce? | How You Can Reduce Food Waste 

Why Reduce Food Waste?

A 2011 BSR report stated, “At the household level, 25% of the food we bring into our houses ends up in the trash”.  This reflects costs on the consumer end of the spectrum, but also costs in waste removal. The process is not cost efficient or energy efficient.  There are financial losses for the consumers, producers and vendors.  In terms of energy loss, the energy contributed to growing, processing, packaging and transporting the food is diminished as restaurants and grocery stores throw out food.

Food waste contributes to climate change as the waste gets disposed in landfills, where it releases methane gas through decomposition.  “In the United States, 34 million tons of food waste is generated each year. With 97% ending up in landfills or incinerators...”  As this waste is decomposing and methane gas builds up in the atmosphere, more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. Methane gas is even more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is.  Therefore, it’s important to be aware of your consumer behavior when you’re purchasing food and discarding its waste.

To live more sustainably, we want to decrease our food waste and increase habits like composting.  Some property managers offer composting for their residents to make this behavior easier.  Besides considering what your renter can provide, we can alter your purchasing choices at the grocery store and farmer’s markets.  Buy appropriate amounts of food that will not go bad before you use it all and buy from farmer’s markets that provide locally grown produce. This kind of food production decreases the average distance traveled, from 1494 miles to 56 miles, for fresh food making it to the dinner table and supports the local economy.  

How You Can Reduce Food Waste
  • Be conscientious: Plan your menu and shop with intent, and buy in quantities that you will actually use so as to reduce the chance of food spoiling before you can eat it. 
  • Reuse: Eat leftovers! If you make more food than you can eat at one meal, don’t just throw it away- instead, wrap it up and save it for another time. If you don’t like eating the same thing twice, get creative and turn your leftovers into something new
  • Donate extra food:If you’re moving out of your apartment or house, go through the cupboards and collect all of the non-perishable food that you never ate during the year, and which you aren’t likely to use in the future. Donate it to one of Bloomington’s local food pantries, such as Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Monroe County United Ministries or Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard- just be sure to check the expiration dates before making a donation!
  • Compost:Turn your food waste into compost. If you’ve never done it before or think that you don’t have enough space to compost, consider these tips.
Meet Your Food and Farmers

Back to top

Join a CSA Program

A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a subscription program where you pledge to support a farm or group of farms by paying a fixed fee for a weekly box of fresh produce or other farm products. Check out this extensive list of CSA’s that serve the Bloomington community. If you don’t want to purchase a full subscription for yourself, consider joining up with a couple of friends to buy a share in a CSA! You’ll be eating, seasonal, local (and oftentimes organic) food all year long.

Grow Some of Your Own Food

If you are fortunate enough to have a yard, consider planting a garden of your own. If you’ve never grown anything before, planting an herb garden is a great introduction to gardening. If you are limited on space or don’t have a yard, you can rent a plot in one of Bloomington’s community gardens, use patio planters, or get involved with the IU Campus Garden. AND Mother Hubbard's Cupboard now has a tool share program in which Bloomington residents can check out tools to use in their gardens and yards! Find out more on their website.