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7 Ways to Cook Up a Sustainable Diet

Last year, Vicki Robin lived for a month eating only food from within a 10-mile radius. She’s back with tips for a planet-friendly diet.
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Vegetables photo by Martin Cathrae

Photo by Martin Cathrae.

A year ago, I undertook a month-long experiment in making the "idea" of eating local a daily practice: For one month, I ate only food that was produced within a 10-mile radius of my home on Whidbey Island, Washington.

I allowed myself four "exotics"—foods from afar—because living without them would make the experiment a prison I'd never want to visit again. My exotics were olive oil, salt, caffeine and limes (and I discovered while researching my book in progress, Blessing the Hands That Feed Us, that these exceptions—plus chocolate—tend to be everyone's exotics).

The diet forced me to confront my habits, preferences, and obsessions. I had to learn to cook from only what's at hand, and understand my unique place on the earth—with its land and farmers and food—as never before.

Girl eating fruit photo by Bruce Tuten
Sign up for No Impact Week
an 8-day carbon cleanse that could lead to a happier, healthier, and more sustainable way of life.

I'm a learner, and what I learned nourished me as much as the food did. Now, as hundreds of you take on the challenge of a sustainable diet for No Impact Week, here are seven tips for happier (and healthier) eating, wherever you are planted.

1. Savor your food without distractions. Chew it not for "good digestion" but to enjoy the flavors. Don't read or write emails or watch a movie. You may actually notice when you are full and stop. Savoring alone could lead us to eat, spend, and waste less.

2. Cook with what's at hand. If it is in your fridge or on your shelves, count it as local. How much food do we waste simply because we forget we have it?

3. Become competent in your kitchen. Using hand tools rather than a food processor saves energy and sharpens new skills.

Vicki Robin
My 10-Mile Diet
When Tricia Beckner asked me to only eat for a month what she can produce on her CSA farm-ette,
I was game. We’ve widened the circle a little to include food produced within 10 miles of my home on Whidbey Island.

4. Adopt one farmer and stock up. Local food means that specific human beings did a lot of hard work with much love to bring good food to their communities. Pick someone who sells at the farmers market or to your local co-op or grocer. Go to their farm and buy food for your No Impact Week experiment. It's fun.

Want to go more native? Buy winter storage food to live local in the cold months.

5. Invite someone to dinner. When we eat alone, we tend to wolf down our food. And families are so busy and distracted they often don't think to invite someone over for a meal. I learned that eating is an act of belonging, and we are not meant to be as anti-social as many of us have become. Cook a nice meal from your local supplies and enjoy conviviality.

6. Read the labels at your grocery store. Where do the 25 foods you most often buy originate? Is your olive oil simply distributed in California, or are those California-grown olives? Is your Napa wine really made with Napa grapes, or is it a blend? Is there information about the people who grew the food, packaged, or shipped it?

7. Start some alfalfa seed sprouts on your windowsill on day one. By the last day of the week, eat them.

Local tools, local farmers, local company, local sprouts—it's all part of your local food system.

Here's to No Impact Week showing you how good food can be—for your body, soul, and sense of belonging.


Vicki Robin wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. The coauthor of Your Money or Your Life, Vicki teaches classes about frugal, creative, and self-sufficient living.

Interested?

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  • Small Steps for Growing a No Impact Family
    Since trying the No Impact Week experiment, our family has learned to be mindful of our habits, and live with more joy.
  • Food For Everyone
    Imagine a food system that delivers fresh, organic food to everybody. Can't be done in a world of industrial food? We say it can, and it must, especially in these economic hard times. We bring together the best ideas for a new food system, tell the inspiring stories of people revolutionizing food production, and show how you too can join a growing local food movement.
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