To create a truly sustainable world, we need to rethink the food we eat. In a report from the United Nations (UN), it was found that food production contributes around 3.3 billion tons of carbon every year. From intercontinental transportation to artificial harvesting, the food industry is guilty of a lot of harmful practices. However, corporations and factories aren’t the only ones at fault. The same UN report informs that, globally, people have wasted more than 1.3 billion tons of food, simply because they rotted or ended up exceeding their shelf life.
To remedy this, we can take our cue from a time when sustainability in food came naturally: during ancient times. In these eras, people didn’t use pesticides, chemicals, and other harmful substances to grow their crops. Plus, ingredients weren’t put to waste, and instead consumed immediately since they didn’t have the technology to preserve them.
There are plenty of diets that have survived the test of time, and they have the potential to help us live healthier lives and repair the planet’s state.
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at some of them.
The Paleolithic diet—or simply, Paleo—refers to how our ancestors ate back in the stone age. That is, only consuming foods that can be hunted (like meat and seafood) and plants that can be harvested (like nuts and vegetables). Dairy products and other processed ingredients, such as grains and bread, are off-limits. Honey is also the only sugar that can be consumed. By eliminating all traces of processed food and chemicals in our body, studies show that it’s effective in losing weight, promoting heart health, and boosting immunity against most chronic diseases. No factory processes mean it’s eco-friendly as well.
Shokuyojo is a Japanese holistic diet that has been passed down since the Meiji era. This advocates the Buddhist concept Shindofuji, which states that the body and soil cannot be separated. It eventually evolved into the idea that eating locally produced ingredients brings health to the body. For Japan, this translates to eating a lot of rice, which is something that’s native to their land. Traditional Japanese rice, or uruchimai, has a consistency that turns sticky when cooked, so there’s a very distinct way of preparing it. Although many locals like to use a pot, you can also rely on modern rice cookers for an easier and more convenient option. It’s best if it has a non-stick surface so you don’t leave a single grain behind. Since the idea behind Shokuyojo is using locally-produced foods, this means a healthy serving of basmati and dosa for us.
Speaking of local foods, India, too, boasts a 5,000-year-old practice that promotes wellness and sustainability: a holistic way of treating the body, called Ayurveda. In Ayurveda medicine, there’s a concept called ama or toxins. Generally, this refers to anything that doesn’t completely leave our body, like unprocessed emotions and dark thoughts. In regards to diet, ama is the slop that accumulates when foods aren’t completely digested in our bodies. This normally comes from processed foods, canned goods, and deep-fried dishes. Desserts made out of refined sugar like ice cream and milkshakes can also leave ama. Ayurveda diet reminds practitioners to stick to organic products and ingredients.
Blue Zones are places in the world where people live the longest, like Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica. They house the greatest number of supercentenarians (or those that live over 100) in the world and the residents’ average life expectancy is around 85 years. This longevity has been attributed to the kind of food locals eat. Their age-old diets are primarily plant-based, with as much as 95% of their daily food intake coming from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. Meat and dairy are usually avoided, but not entirely banned. Sugary foods and beverages are only taken as a very occasional treat.
The Mediterranean diet reflects the ancient eating habits of locals in countries that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea, like Italy, France, and Morocco. Far away from the forests, their diet mainly consists of poultry, fish, and plants—all of which they usually catch and grow on their own. These foods are very limited in fat, but the Mediterraneans turn to adding olive oil into their dishes to meet their fat requirements. However, olive oil loses its antioxidants when heated up, so some prefer to drizzle it on the dish directly.
At the end of the day, living a completely sustainable lifestyle is easier said than done. But as history and our ancestors have proven, it’s nowhere near impossible. Whether you choose to try Paleo or Mediterranean, there are numerous health lessons we can learn from these cultures.