How food can put health and sustainability on one plate

TGL News

Photograph of fresh fruit and veg

The Green List spoke to an environmental engineer turned cookbook author about simple changes we can make to our diet to improve health and wellbeing and help tackle climate change.

Going from researcher and environmental engineer to cookbook author may not seem like the most natural progression, but for Michelle Grant it was the perfect way to pull together issues surrounding sustainability, food security and nutrition.

“Food is at the centre of absolutely everything,” she tells The Green List. “It connects almost all the major issues facing the world – from poverty to water security, climate change to education – it’s the interface at the centre that connects us all.”

The cookbook format allowed me to do that – to speak both languages – and everyone loves a cookbook.

Grant, who has been awarded a Food and Agriculture Award by the Australian government’s Advance Award for Australian diaspora, addresses this nexus in her new cookbook, The Great Full.

“I’d set up the World Food System Center at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology,” she explains. “It tackles complex food system challenges with novel, interdisciplinary research.”

Here Grant was helping train the next generation of industry leaders, and engaging stakeholders across different sectors.

“I was constantly in conversation with academics and attending conferences, then jumping over to outreach projects and working with the public. I had to find a common language between the two levels,” she explains. “The cookbook format allowed me to do that – to speak both languages – and everyone loves a cookbook.”

We asked Grant for some simple tips we could incorporate into our every day lives to cut our environmental footprint and improve our health.

1. Eat the rainbow

Grant’s first tip is to have a diversified diet that includes as many fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes and whole grains as possible.

“Not only is this supportive of your own health,” she says, “it will make our food production systems more resilient in the face of climate change and water scarcity.”

Three crops support 60 per cent of the world’s food consumption – rice, wheat and corn. Grant says expanding beyond these in our diet could help support more biodiverse production systems. 

2. Eat less animal products

Grant isn’t advocating a vegan lifestyle but she notes that a large part of the roughly 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases emitted by food production comes from livestock.

“It’s a great idea to source any meat and animal products you do eat from producers that use sustainable practices and that care about the wellbeing of both farm workers and animals,” she says.

3. Eat mindfully

“For many of us, cooking has become a burden,” Grant says. “We’re busy, stressed and overwhelmed, and this leads to us making poor, last minute decisions.”

So, plan ahead whenever possible, buy seasonally, and look for labels on packaged foods that align with your values. These kinds of choices will tip off retailers about what we care about.

“While you are preparing your meals, why not make a little extra that can roll over for lunches during the week? This helps us avoid convenience food which is often linked to more food and packaging waste.”

The Great Full cookbook will be available for purchase in November 2019.