What is a Sustainatarian?

This blog is about eating alone, but sustainability is an integral part of every subject.

Food consumption is a big subject in sustainability, with as much as a quarter of global emissions coming from food production. Around half of all eating occasions happen alone, so what we eat when we're alone has the potential to make a huge, or slightly less huge, impact on the environment. 

So, what is a sustainatarian? Everyone defines it a bit differently. I would say it's someone who makes dietary and lifestyle choices that lead to having a lower impact on the environment. It important to include lifestyle choices because if your driving an hour to get your organic tofu, or throwing away half your home-made hummus when it's a few days old you could be having more environmental impact than buying a small piece of chicken from the local shop and actually gaining all the calories and nutrients from it. 

It's a word made up by people trying to define the kind of diet that makes sense in the world we live in, Michael Scepaniak explains it well. I went through a similar process, becoming a flexitarian (flexible vegetarian) for around a year and a half and toying with the idea of being a flexigan (flexible vegan) until I realised giving up animal products was not my goal, living in an environmentally fair way was. 

One of the key things that prompted my decision was an article about chickens in New Scientist, which has a wonderful graph which shows that cheese produces more greenhouse gases than chicken, or pork. Unfortunately, unless you have a new scientist subscription you won't be able to read the article, but I've embedded an image of the graph I found on their Facebook page below. Googleing around, I've seen a couple more articles with similar results, this seem to be a particularly informative one.

"The sky is falling!" said Chicken Little. But his kind are forestalling climate disaster http://ow.ly/KKqVV

Posted by New Scientist on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In the knowledge of this, defining yourself as a vegetarian doesn't seem to make sense from an environmental point of view (although it's a good start!). If eating a chicken sandwich is more sustainable than a cheese one, as a sustainatarian, chicken it will be. Of course, veganism is still probably the most sustainable mainstream diet out there, but I like the flexibility and chance for review inherent in sustainatarianism.

This is only the beginning but I wanted to give you a run down on a couple of key sustainatarian values, as I see them:

1. Constantly Adaptable

Just as with our loneeating culture, the key is to always be agile and ready to change our idea's when new information comes along, as it surely will. Not only will new information come along, but where you live and the season will also change what's most sustainable.

For example, on the whole should I drink real milk or a substitute, I'm torn. On the whole, I think the evidence is quite strongly for a substitute BUT I happen to be living in the English countryside, where we get local milk delivered to our door in reusable glass bottles that we rinse and return. It's delicious, it supports local farmers and it's one of the most sustainable packaging systems in the world. It does seem counter intuitive to give that up for a tetra pack of soy milk.

The amount we're willing to commit to it will also change as climate change becomes even more unavoidable. Right now, I feel it's appropriate to talk about being a sustainatarian using a Mac Book and taking not infrequent flights around Europe. That may well change.

Reusable Glass Milk Bottles

2. Majority, not Absolute

It's all about emphasis and the spirit of the thing. The aim is to have a lower impact on the environment, rather than eating no meat or animal products, so there are no hard and fast lines. 

It's a case of saying "I'll try and build my life style around having low animal products and set up a system where I waste less of my food", rather than refusing to eat certain types of food. It's aiming to set up your life so the no-thinking default is to have a delicious plant-based meal and finish your left-overs, but also about leaving room for things such as a nice joint of lamb with the family a few times a year.

3. Logical more than 'Nice'

We do have to dispense with is the idea that sustainatarianism is that it's anything to do with organic, fresh or local food. Or even tasty, home cooked food. Those might be separate things that you're also passionate about (I certainly am!), but the bottom line of sustanitarianism is what has less impact on the environment, and still gives you a healthy balanced diet. If the most sustainable thing to do was buy frozen, vegetarian meals in bulk, as real sustainitarian, we should be open to that. I've no idea whether that's true, but these things are possible.

It's also not necessarily nice or sexy. In terms of food waste, it's about having that tentative sip of orange juice that smells a bit off but might be alright, sniffing the left overs that have been in the fridge that bit too long and cutting around the gone off bits of a carrot to reveal what's not gone off.

I tell you this, not to put you off, but because I think talking honestly about the substance of the thing supports you to actually do it. If you have an image in you head of being a sustainitarian where all you do is buy nice organic lentils from the eco-shop, tasty fresh veg from the market and wasting nothing, you're going to be disappointed. Perhaps you'll even feel you're doing it wrong, when you forget half a pack of lentils at the back of the cupboard for a year and they take ages longer than normal to get soft, when you're rescuing a slightly rotten cauliflower you didn't get around to cooking in time and when you remember that tub of left over mash potatoes in the fridge you had about a week ago, and need to go 'investigating'.

Well, that's all for now. What's your opinion? Is being a sustainatarian sexy or gritty? Are we better off with hard and fast rules? How much 'adaptability' is good? Does the knowledge that cheese had a significantly larger carbon footprint than chicken surprise you?

And to bring it back to loneeating, do you make different dietary choices when you eat alone rather than with people? Do you think these are more or less sustainable? Finally, do you think you'll start using the 'sustainatarian' label? (Or the 'loneeater' one?)

Have your say in the comment section below.