Bridging Sustainability and Nutrition

I just returned from the annual conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This fall ritual, which attracts countless food manufacturers and others from the industry along with over 5,000 dietitians, offers a sneak peek at what’s to come in the following year in the world of food. From the immense exhibit booths to the seminar topics and more, it is easy to see what the industry believes you care about most. If they have it right this year, it is the environment, sustainability and corporate responsibility that is top of mind for you.

5-Minute Multigrain Cereal
5-Minute Multigrain Cereal uses ancient grains that can help farmers maintain the health of their land.

Of course, sustainability is one of those words that can take on many meanings and be defined broadly…even when it is connected to food. Take seafood, for example, where it means not only branching out to explore the culinary potential of fish we haven’t previously brought to our plates, but also finding ways to enjoy and still preserve the seafood we already love. To a farmer, sustainability takes on the critical role of literally sustaining the land–land that may have been passed along for generations and is intended to be passed along to future ones as well. Of course, it also means protecting the environment, reducing carbon footprint and engaging in innovations that increase production year round while also using less energy.

While we all want to protect our land and sea, you may be wondering just how this works into a major conference for dietitians. When viewed through the right lens, you can actually see how it fits quite well.

Just like the food industry (including farmers, manufacturers and fishermen) has its sustainability challenges, we dietitians have ours. Let’s start with farmers. If we want to truly support their efforts, we must accept that there is no “off season” for farmers and consume the cover crops that are produced to maintain soil and decrease the need for chemicals. We need to embrace the grain they may be growing to supplement their income and make use of less popular produce. In order for us (and by us I mean you) to do this, dietitians will need to bridge the gap between farmers and the public with information, recipes and excitement about using these foods. Our webinar on ancient grains touched on this and is quite relevant to this conversation, as many ancient grains are examples of crops farmers may be growing to maintain their soil.

Sustainable seafood requires dietitians to educate the public on the truth about our resources and also help them feel confident about purchasing fish they aren’t familiar with by providing cooking tips and more. Whereas it used to just be our goal to encourage greater consumption of fish, we now need to ensure that we are recommending the environmentally “right” fish.

A sustainable diet goes beyond grass fed beef, local, organic milk and a weekly trip to the farmers market. It is about embracing new foods and viewing the foods you choose not just at the moment you purchase them but rather the greater impact they have on the environment. Resources, tips and strategies for how to implement a diet that highlights sustainability will make all the difference. Keep an eye on this space in 2016…this conversation is just beginning.