When finding ways to live a better, more sustainable lifestyle, food choices are a great place to start. The foods we consume not only affect our health but also the health of our communities. Eating sustainably has many benefits beyond reducing our carbon emissions, including improved nutrition for long-lasting energy and better focus, better health outcomes from avoiding pesticides, preservatives, and antibiotics, and even a more robust local economy by supporting local sustainable farms and businesses. 

Sustainable eating takes practice and can require you to change some of your shopping and consumption habits, but the results are worth it. By making careful decisions about what food you buy, and when and how you buy it, you can find a better way to live, and support your friends and neighbors with your economic choices. Ready to get started? Here are 5 ways you can start practicing sustainable eating.

#1 Grow Your Own Food

If you have the space and the time, you can start a garden and have complete control over how your food is produced. You can grow your own food with a relatively low level of investment and experience, and enjoy savings with fewer trips to the grocery store. You might also invest in a small coop to raise your own chickens for fresh eggs. 

You don’t need to live in the country or have a big backyard to have space to grow your own food. Even a few garden boxes on your porch or balcony can help offset your produce purchasing. You might also check for community gardens nearby. Many will let you take part in the harvest for a few hours of work each week. With your own plot of soil, you can grow seasonal produce like squash, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, fruits and berries, and herbs like basil, rosemary, and parsley. 

#2 Eat What’s In Season

Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are grown, packed, and shipped in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Foods that are transported over long distances are usually grown in different climates, harvested before they are ripe, treated to keep them fresh longer, and are often of reduced quality from large-scale growing operations. 

Eating produce that’s in season means it was likely harvested nearby and will be ripe and ready to use. For example, berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are in season in the early months of summer, while squash and root vegetables are best in the fall. By choosing foods that are in season, you are not only practicing sustainable eating, but you’re also eating the best quality of that food, packed with nutrients, vitamins, and flavor.

Canning and pickling are great ways to save food to eat throughout the year —  and pretty easy to do, even with little cooking experience. You can also stock up on cereals, grains, and starches to use as a base in your recipes year-round and add seasonal ingredients to vary your meals. Using seasonal produce is a great way to get creative with new recipes throughout the year. You just might find some new favorite combinations!

#3 Get Inspired by Farm-to-Table Restaurants

A great way to practice sustainable eating is to choose farm-to-table restaurants in your community. These restaurants source their ingredients locally and often organically, and create inventive dishes according to what’s in season. A farm-to-table restaurant is a great place to find healthy, high-quality, sustainable food options to fortify, energize, and inspire you.

#4 Explore Vegan Options

You might also try vegan restaurants in your area. Eating vegan can have a significant impact on the environment. Raising animals for food contributes to huge amounts of water usage, erosion of the land, and pollution of our soil, water, and air. By diverting demand to sustainable eating, farmers, grocery stores, and restaurants can shift their resources to align with more environmentally friendly consumers. Choosing to go vegan might not be right for everyone, but even eating vegan one or two days a week can make a difference.

Local restaurants are another great place to try creative vegan dishes. They combine natural and organic ingredients in unique and surprising ways — you’ll never think vegetables are boring again. Let the dishes you try inspire your own at-home cooking and help you to be adventurous when sampling new food combinations and recipes. Eating out is also a great way to treat yourself. You’ve been doing the work of eating sustainably, so you deserve it!

Whether or not you’re ready to go vegan, your choice of restaurant matters. Being a patron is like casting a vote for a candidate who holds the same sustainable values you do. Maybe they make an effort to reduce emissions and source environmentally friendly products, they support local farmers, they treat their employees well, they give back to the community or support local organizations. A little browsing or word-of-mouth research can go a long way in supporting the restaurants in your community that are really making a difference.

Here are few of our favorite farm-to-table and vegan restaurants for sustainable eating in the Asheville NC area:

The Blackbird Restaurant, Asheville NC

The Blackbird Restaurant, located in downtown Asheville NC, is a staple in the community. Their menu changes with the season to feature locally sourced organic ingredients. The owners demonstrate a passion for sustainable food sourcing and practice transparency about the growing practices of the farms they use. The Blackbird Restaurant offers diverse fare that stays true to southern tradition, heightened by flavors that originate in the soil of the Carolinas.

Plant, Asheville NC

Plant is a fine dining restaurant in Asheville NC that is completely vegan. Plant uses organic ingredients that are locally sourced wherever possible. The diverse menu features year-round staples that are adjusted with seasonal ingredients, and also inventive dishes that explore unique flavor combinations. The small space and limited tables could make this restaurant feel exclusive, but Plant’s mission is to celebrate inclusivity. The restaurant is known for its multicultural recipes and outreach to the art council and activist groups in Asheville. Whether you’re vegan or not, you’re sure to find something to love on the menu and in the space of Plant in Asheville NC.

Oklawaha Brewing Company, Hendersonville NC 

Oklawaha Brewing Company is one of our favorite Hendersonville breweries, and also one of the best vegan food spots in the region. They have an extensive beer selection and an all-vegan menu from the Inconceivable Cafe, where you can choose from small plates and snacks as well as entrees like plant-based burgers and rotating seasonal cupcake flavors. Oklawaha’s owners have many years of experience in some of the top breweries in the state, and couple their knowledge with a deep kindness for their community through charitable projects. They have a special place in their hearts for animals, as they also run their own animal sanctuary near town. 

#5 Keep It Local

A key part of sustainable eating is shopping for food locally. If you can, get your food directly from the source. This means your food is not only as fresh as possible, but it also cuts out the shipping and packaging used to distribute it to grocery stores. Some items you can often purchase directly from farmers or producers include dairy products like milk, cheese, and eggs, meats, bread and baked goods, fruits and vegetables you can’t grow yourself, herbs and spices, olive oil, wine, and so much more. 

Farmer’s markets are a great place to find all of these items in one place. You can also meet the producers to learn about their growing practices and establish a relationship. Asheville and Hendersonville NC both have excellent farmers markets featuring organic farms, artists, and other locally produced items. 

Some local farms participate in Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA systems, where farmers contribute to a curated selection of products. You can subscribe to get a box from your favorite local farms and help support your local economy directly through a regular sustainable investment.

These are just five ways to practice sustainability with your eating and food buying habits. Have some more ideas? Let us know! At Couch Mountain, sustainability is one of our core values. We love sharing ideas with our neighbors and community members about how to live better and live more sustainably. Our community members grow sustainable fruits and vegetables in their backyard and community gardens. If you’d like to know more about life in our sustainable community, get in touch with us!

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