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Sustainable life: Healthy protein, healthy planet

Mia Swainson

There’s a world of diets that make us healthier, slimmer or both.

How about a diet for our planet? Tofu, nuts, pulses and avocados are all great sources of protein. These also have a low impact on the planet, especially compared to meat. Easy, let’s all become vegan or vegetarian.

Not so easy. According to the company Australian Eat Well, recent studies show that between 2 and 5% of Australians are vegetarian. That’s why there’s more to this conversation than just not eating meat. How about trying a middle road. You can choose food that treads lightly on the earth, without excluding meat.

More vegetarian meals

The meat-free Monday movement tries to get people thinking about eating vegetarian once a week. You could try for three or four meat-free evening meals each week. Have you thought about the Indonesian dish, Gado Gado with a solid protein offering of delicious peanut sauce, boiled eggs and tofu as well as lots of veggies and potatoes? Most young kids love plain eggs on toast, with steamed veggies – so quick and easy. As the springtime blossoms, you could also try minestrone soup, a complete meal that’s packed with spring veggies, chickpeas and potatoes.

Many vegetarian meals incorporate eggs. You can get them ethically by keeping your own backyard chooks. If keeping chooks isn’t for you, then try some of the great free-range, local egg producers around Canberra.  Choice, the consumer organization, recently published an article on the huge variation between ‘free range’ egg producers. If you’re after ethical eggs, look for open range or pastured eggs, as these labels generally have less chickens per area than free range eggs.

Less cheese

Less cheese you say? It doesn’t seem right. Cheese is such a yummy source of protein. Unfortunately, because of the large amount of milk used to make cheese, and the methane produced by milking cows, cheese has a higher greenhouse impact than chicken or pork. Sounds crazy, but the case against cheese is based on research from the Environmental Working Group, a reputable NGO.

Think of fish

Fish can be the most sustainable animal protein. It also contains a heap of great proteins from a nutritional perspective. If you want local fish, head to the EPIC Farmer’s Market and check out three suppliers of ocean fish from the South Coast. You might also like to try the local smoked trout too.

If you can’t make it to the farmer’s market, then make sure your fish was caught in Australian waters. The Australian Fisheries Management Authority is a world leader in sustainably managing fish stock. Buying Australian also minimises food miles. Like to know more? There’s a sustainable fish guide for Australians, run by the Australian Marine Conservation Society, and available online.

Ethical meat

If you’re going to eat a little meat, then you can think about choosing local and ethically raised options. Chicken has a lower impact on the planet than lamb or beef. So, if you can, substitute chicken for red meat. If you’re after the best chicken, try free range or even better, pastured chicken. Pastured chicken has a totally different flavour to free range, you’ve got to try it to know.

There’s great local meat on offer in Canberra because we’re surrounded by meat producing farms. There are fantastic offerings of biodynamic, organic and local meat at the Belconnen Eco Meats or the EPIC Farmer’s market.

Embrace the planet diet and eat your way to a healthier you and a healthier planet.


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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