What is Sustainable Food?

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  • Written By: B. Schreiber
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Sustainable food is food that is grown in ways that generally protect the environment. Sustainable means that humans will be able to grow enough of the food in the future without depleting the resources agriculture depends on. These resources could include clean air, water, and soil, among others. Some traits of sustainable food could include that it is organically grown, eaten in season, or produced locally. More broadly, it could refer to sustainable agriculture, which embodies similar ideals.

The concept of sustainable food is sometimes contrasted with conventionally grown food or conventional agriculture. It can be seen as a reaction to the synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides that are used in conventional agriculture. These practices are often seen as contributing to erosion, water pollution, and loss of animal life and habitat.

In many countries, the label of organic food requires that the food isn't grown with pesticides or man-made chemicals. In the United States, organic meat must be raised on organic feed and without synthetic hormones. Food that is grown locally requires fewer resources to transport, which reduces air pollution. Also, seasonal foods are more likely to be eaten locally because otherwise they must be grown somewhere else. Sometimes crops grown out of season have special requirements, like greenhouses, that also use more resources.


Members of the sustainable food movement are made of growers and consumers. Some countries have seen an increase in sustainable farming practices where consumers have created demand for its products. Sustainable food is sometimes associated with local eating habits like community-supported agriculture or farmers' markets. These both feature local foods as they become available during the changing seasons, like cold and warm-weather vegetables. This is often seen as an alternative to food industry products that are always available in different times and places.

Some personal practices may be related to the idea of sustainable food. This could include composting and home gardening. The compost can be used as a fertilizer, soil improvement, or growing medium. Home gardening also combines local and seasonal eating.

Sustainable agriculture is sometimes defined in social terms. Still, a common principle is that it should provide enough food for a population, often in a developing country or area. Ideally it allows farmers to make enough to support a decent standard of living. This also means improving the overall welfare of rural communities. Sustainable agriculture still includes ideas like resource conversation and protecting the natural environment.



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