Conservation at the Supermarket


5 Ways to Green Your Grocery List

As the saying goes, we are what we eat. And that doesn’t stop with our bodies: the food choices we make greatly affect our environment, as well. But when we push our carts into the supermarket every week, the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming. How can we go green without turning our food-shopping trips into odysseys of agony and indecision? Here are five key tips:

Bring Your Own Bag

Bringing your own bag to the supermarket is not only good for the environment and wildlife (which often eat or get entangled in plastic shopping bags), but also for your wallet. Many supermarkets now offer bag discounts, meaning you can get money back for each reusable bag you bring.

Reusables, which are often made of sturdier material such as cloth, protect your products better from breakage and, since they’re bigger, also require fewer trips from the car to your kitchen. And when you get home, you’ll get to skip the dilemma of throwing out vs. stashing all those plastic bags.

Shop the Perimeter

The perimeter of a supermarket is where the fresh products tend to be – fruit and vegetables, meats and dairy – as opposed to the processed foods that fill the shelves of the inner aisles. Processed food takes more energy to produce, jumping in recent years to 16% of the total energy used in the food system. Which means, of course, a lot more fossil fuels. And with stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods investing more in fresh produce, the perimeter is “sexier” than it’s ever been before.

This should not be overgeneralized: there can be plenty of snack food lurking around the outside while healthy foods like cereals, nuts and beans can be on the inner aisles – but as a general rule, the perimeter is an area to prefer.

Check the Label

In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, food expert Michael Pollan offers some common-sense rules for selecting what goes in the cart…without requiring an advanced degree in chemistry to decipher the label. Eat food your grandmother would recognize. Don’t eat foods whose ingredients you can’t picture in their natural state. And most importantly, if you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it.

Preservatives and artificial colors entail health risks ranging from asthma and hyperactivity to increased risk of certain cancers. And if you don’t want them in your body, nature doesn’t want them in hers, either.

Eat Less Meat

Surprisingly, almost nothing holds greater weight for the environment than the decision of how much red meat to consume. Meat production is a driver of global warming, deforestation, contamination, and the mistreatment of animals—and that’s on top of the myriad health risks. In fact, it has been argued that reducing red meat consumption – especially beef – is a better way to reduce your carbon footprint than giving up your car!

Buy in Bulk

The amount of packaging – and packaging within packaging – of supermarket food has reached the crazy level. And of all that unnecessary plastic is bad for the environment. So instead of individually wrapped foods, buy in large quantities that you can then divide into meal-sized portions at home, storing or freezing the rest.

Bulk buying saves money, cuts waste, reduces the expense and emissions of multiple trips to the store. Best of all, you’re much less likely to run out of food in a pinch!

Although breaking with old habits may sound difficult, the good news is that small changes in our food habits can have big benefits for the environment. And it couldn’t come too soon. “Taking back control of our diet in every possible way is a vitally important project for our health, for the health of the environment and for the health of American agriculture,” says Michael Pollan. So happy shopping – just don’t forget to bring your bags!

Student Conservation Association