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What we eat is deeply connected to how we live, and reducing our environmental impact has become one of the most significant considerations when it comes to making even minor decisions about our daily lives.

The ever-increasing cost of living also affects most Canadians’ lifestyle choices, particularly when visiting the grocery store or farmers’ market. Every January, the Dalhousie University Agri-food Analytics Lab predicts the trajectory of ever-fluctuating food costs for the upcoming year. This year, it forecasted a $500 increase in annual spending for every Canadian family. Adjustments in the way we shop, cook and eat can help compensate for those increases, while allowing us to tread more softly within our environments.

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience. It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries,” Prof. Johan Rockstrom, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Stockholm Resilience Centre, said in a summary of last year’s EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems. But the fact that everyone eats, several times a day, means we all have regular opportunities to make small shifts in our behaviours – such as eating more plants, seeking out low-impact producers and ditching straws and plastic grocery bags – that can collectively make a significant difference. Here are a few habits to adopt that take little time and effort, but can benefit your bottom line while you look out for the health of our planet.

Learn to cook

Not only does making things from scratch significantly reduce the packaging associated with most prepared food items, kitchen skills provide the ability to look in the fridge or pantry and know what to do with what you already have, which can in turn prevent a significant portion of your groceries from winding up in the trash or compost bin. Knowing how to make a batch of pancakes, muffins or biscuits makes use of yogurt or other dairy products nearing their best-before date, and freewheeling a pot of soup, curry or stir-fry can rescue scraps of leftovers and wilting veggies that might otherwise get tossed.

Eat more pulses

Studies have repeatedly shown that reducing meat and dairy consumption is the single best way to reduce your environmental impact – it’s one of the biggest arguments for a plant-heavy diet, and even Canada’s newly revised food guide advises choosing plant-based proteins more often. Pulses (beans, lentils, dry peas and chickpeas) are not only good for us, they’re good for farmers – the fifth largest Canadian crop (after wheat, canola, corn and barley) has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, improving the environmental sustainability of crop rotation systems. They’re also inexpensive, shelf-stable, versatile and are generally sold in bulk, or with minimal packaging.

Take advantage of a hot oven

Consider the extra oven space that remains unused when you bake a pan of brownies or loaf of banana bread. It’s easy to tap into the energy you’re using anyway to roast some beets, potatoes or a whole squash (poke it once or twice with a knife and bake for about an hour) to store in the fridge until you need it. Bonus: You’ll have a head start on another meal – precooked vegetables make for quick curries, soups, skillet hash browns, grain bowls and other dishes.

Make your own staples

Making some of the items you buy on a regular basis that typically come in single-use plastic packages, such as yogurt and salad dressings, takes minutes and will not only save money, but prevent a steady stream of containers from filling up your recycling bin. It also circumvents any energy that went into the shipping and manufacture of such products.

Freeze everything

Virtually anything, from whole tomatoes to sour cream to leftover pasta, can be tossed into the freezer before it winds up in the compost bin, prolonging its life and reducing unnecessary food waste. Once frozen, most ingredients can be transformed into soup, stew, pasta sauce or curry, grains can be reheated or stir-fried, and though dairy products can separate once thawed, they’re perfectly fine in baked goods. Once your freezer is full, get into the habit of shopping from it.

Pull out your slow or pressure cooker

Newer-model slow cookers are designed for energy efficiency (though they have varying wattages), and though many recipes default to an eight-hour cook time, the traditional length of a workday away from home, most dishes only require half that. Similarly, electric pressure cookers such as the Instant Pot, which can cook food in about a third the usual time, are estimated to reduce energy usage by up to 70 per cent compared with a traditional oven or range.

Consider food miles

Our food systems affect the environment everywhere along the supply chain, from producer to distributor to grocery store to dinner table. Considering that transportation accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest growing contributor to climate emissions, it’s worth noting how far your food has to travel and being selective about what must come from afar – such as lemons, chocolate and coffee. It also matters how your food gets here: Goods moved by air use over four times the amount of energy by weight as road transport, nearly 40 times more than rail and over 44 times more than marine.

Join a CSA

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements allow consumers to directly support local farmers, typically by purchasing a CSA share early in the growing season, when it’s most needed and sharing the risk and potential benefits of a growing season likely to be positively or negatively affected by weather conditions. Food loss is avoided in production, as farmers know exactly how much to harvest compared with estimating how much produce to bring to a market; at home, you’re less likely to let food go to waste when it was grown by someone you know.

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