Does it matter? What does it mean for you?
  • Sustainable food is a phrase we hear a lot but one that doesn't always seem to have a clear definition.
  • To find out more, we spoke to Anna Lappe,authorandsustainable food advocate, who is known for her ability to translate complex issues into understandable and compelling information.


"'Sustainable' is a word that gets tossed around a lot." Anna explains. "I like to say that sustainable agriculture is a production system that's good for the environment and for people, that's humane to animals and to food and farm workers, that supports thriving rural and urban communities. In other words, it's the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. It's a way of food production that generates abundance while ensuring future generations can do the same."

Credit: Helen Norman


Anna says, "Yes, the message is that all these terms are intimately connected." In the U.S., "organic" is a word with a specific definition, set in place by the USDA certified organic program and requiring a codified set of practices such as for an organic produce grower, not using synthetic fertilizers or GMO seed (among others). Certified organic is a sustainable model but sustainability is a broader term.


"The issues around our food system are something we can touch every day," Anna says. To shop and eat sustainably is more than just how the food is produced. It also means avoiding heavily packaged and processed foods, reducing food waste, and considering the connection between our food and global warming: That's not just a result of transporting food great distances, industrial food production, especially meat production, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. And "on a local level, as well as how and what you shop for and cook, there are important issues around preserving agricultural land for farming and food production, encouraging the local production of food to support a regional food system (and reduce greenhouse emissions and other negative environmental consequences), in other words, keeping land sustainable."


"Yes," says Anna, "in theory it is achievable. We could produce enough food to feed the world in a sustainable way." The downside is that the obstacles to doing that are political and very hard to achieve, "so anything we can do to move ourselves along the spectrum toward the goal of sustainability is important."

Comments (5)

Martha Stewart Member
February 20, 2018
I'm totally onboard with sustainable living. I source 90% of my foods from local, individual, organic producers. I eat what's available seasonally, even here in southern Ontario. I totally agree that chemical, GMO foods that travel great distances are a bad idea. However, please do some careful study about the "greenhouse gas emission" meme. First of all, what's the gas they accuse of being a climate-dangerous 'greenhouse gas'? Carbon dioxide. What do plants require to grow and thrive? Carbon dioxide. Hmmm, What do greenhouses often pump into their air to support healthy plants? Carbon dioxide! Are there dreadful toxins being poured into our environment, worldwide? Absolutely!! Have governments ever fibbed before? Is there a tax associated with climate issues?? Hmmmm... Here's a good article to read through.
Martha Stewart Member
February 19, 2018
dear martha stewart, i have commented on the format of your information before, and i'll say it again. the test stops in mid word/sentence on the right, it doesn't complete the infor you're trying to send i can't imagine that this is only happening on my computer. isn't anyone interested in this being fixed there's no point in this website or whatever it is, when you can't get a complete word or sentence i'm very disappointed in you martha. obviously you're not taking part in this information and how it's being or not being done properly, very bad, martha stewart........
Martha Stewart Member
February 19, 2018
As a certified organic farmer I would say that your most sustainable option is certified organic food that is produced locally. Obviously any food that is overly wrapped in plastic whether conventional or organic or is shipped from 3,000 miles is having more of an impact than an item that is free of packaging and produced locally. However, all the "buzz words" GMO free, free range, "sustainable", pasture raised, are all included when food is produced with certified organic practices. When consumers buy something labelled as "sustainable" there is no one who verifies that, defines it, or monitors it... If someone buys pork from a "sustainable" producer who pastures the pigs, the grain that farmer might buy to feed their pigs can very well be GMO, and their is no one to monitor that... Of course trying to be sustainable in all aspects of our lives is crucial, but it is a term that has become "greenwashed" to a point where consumers are often misled.... To be as certain as possible that your food purchases are having as little negative impact as possible, purchase organic, local food. Thanks for raising this issue Martha and staff.. We love your recipes and craft projects!
Martha Stewart Member
August 13, 2014
If you're interested in eating greener, please switch to a plant-based diet. There are ways to improve animal agriculture, but animal agriculture is inherently inefficient because you are feeding plants to animals instead of feeding plants to people directly. If the livestock are grazing on land that can't grow crops, the livestock are displacing wildlife.
Martha Stewart Member
August 7, 2014
Sustainable is for ourselves and our kids! Thanks for featuring this! p.s. how about more recipes that are in season, rather than relying on produce flown in from far away, like peppers from Chile in December .... that can't be so sustainable I think. Love you Martha!