Bloomington / Normal, IL

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What Is Meant by Food Sustainability?


Submitted by Green Top Grocery

The word “sustainability” has become somewhat of a meaningless buzzword – along with eco-friendly, green, natural, and earth-friendly. We often see or hear these terms used as they relate to food, but unfortunately, they are often used simply as a marketing tactic to make the consumer feel good about their purchase.

Sustainability is an extremely important, yet complex concept. What does it really mean? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sustainability is “the ability to maintain or improve standards of living without damaging or depleting natural resources for present and future generations.”

The USDA defines sustainable agriculture as, “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices that will, over the long term do the following: satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base, make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources, sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

If you apply these definitions to food sustainability, it means growing, producing, packaging, distributing, and consuming food in a way that protects the environment and the earth’s natural resources. Sustainability is important because today, far more resources go into our food system than come out of it. If we hope to have enough food for the current population as well as future generations, fundamental change is needed. Such change doesn’t mean an expanded agricultural system with mass scale food production.

You—the consumer—are one of the most powerful forces behind transforming our agricultural system and carving the path to sustainability. Every food product you choose says something about what sort of future you want to see. When browsing the aisles at the grocery store, think about more than just convenience and price. If we understand what makes food sustainable, everyone can make more informed decisions that are based on truth—not marketing jargon.

You don’t have to completely overhaul your shopping list. Making a few small changes each week or each month will make a difference. Following are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Purchase from local farmers who are implementing sustainable agriculture practices. Small scale farming is much more sustainable and there is a much smaller carbon footprint.
  • Purchase foods that have been produced closer to where you live. Think about all the resources that go into transporting food thousands of miles.
  • Eat less meat and more plant-based foods. You don’t need to be vegan, just eat one meatless meal a week. It’s not only good for the environment, it’s good for your health.
  • Eat foods in season when possible. Frozen fruits and vegetables are excellent options for out-of-season foods like berries.
  • Reduce your food waste. This is a huge problem in our country!
  • Reduce the amount of plastic that you use.

Food sustainability encompasses every aspect of the food system—resource usage, environmental impact, treatment of animals, health considerations, and social/economic impact. It’s a lot more than just buying organic, recycling cans, and shopping at the farmer’s market, although those are certainly good first steps. We can all do our part to help support agricultural production that is good for animals, people, and the ground they walk on.

Green Top Grocery, located at 921 E. Washington St, is a local full-service co-op grocery store that places a priority on supporting local farmers and producers to contribute to a sustainable food supply and help build a stronger, more local economy. They are holding a Community Market on April 22nd (Earth Day)  to kick off the start of the growing season, deepen the connection with our community, and highlight the benefits of choosing local. If you are interested in being a vendor at this event, email Be watching for more information about this event.