The most crucial sustainable food etiquette rules to eat well, stay healthy, and limit our environmental footprint.

What sustainable food etiquette is

Today, sustainability has a crucial role in our modern social etiquette. On many occasions, behaviors that are not respectful of the environment are no longer accepted.

Sustainable food etiquette is the set of rules to manage our consumption of food and limit our footprint. Such rules help us avoid behaviors that may lead to food waste or have a negative environmental impact. They include:

  • How to save food by limiting our personal consumption.
  • How to choose sustainable foods.
  • The appropriate behaviors at home and in other venues.
  • The behaviors to avoid.

Everyone should follow sustainable food etiquette to save food, limit negative environmental impact, eat better, and avoid behaviors that may upset others.

rules to eat sustainable food and limit food footprint

Sustainable food etiquette rules

1) Eat smaller portions

It is best to control the quantity of food that we eat. Food production can put a strain on the environment. Industrial livestock production, extensive farming, and resource-intensive crops can seriously harm their ecosystems. Thus, limiting our food consumption is crucial in sustainability etiquette.

Furthermore, eating more food than we need leads to serious health consequences. People that are moderately overweight have a life expectancy of 3 years shorter than the average. While obesity can reduce life expectancy by over 10 years.

2) Limit food waste

Try to limit your food waste to a minimum. The easiest way is to avoid stocking up on food, especially fresh food such as produce or dairy. Stocking up increases the risk of food expiring or turning bad. Instead, it is best to buy fresh food frequently and in small amounts. 

Before buying groceries, make a menu plan for the week. Write down:

  • How many meals at home you plan to have,
  • for how many people,
  • the dishes that you will eat,
  • and the ingredients that are needed for such dishes.

Then, buy only the food that you need according to your plan. Whenever possible, try to re-use food leftovers instead of wasting food. Once cooked, most foods can last for a few days in the fridge.

3) Follow a sustainable diet

Following a diet can help us in choosing the right foods to eat. Most diets are meant to be followed in a flexible way. This means that we can follow their main principles, while adapting them to our preferences or requirements.

Some of the most popular diets are inspired by sustainable food principles. Such as the vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or clean eating diets. You can follow the guidelines of one of these diets, then adapt them to your needs.

4) Avoid resource-intensive foods

Some foods are high-footprint. Their production requires a significant amount of resources, such as water or soil, or affects negatively the ecosystem. Such foods are not sustainable. Thus, we should limit or even avoid their consumption.

Red meat is generally high-footprint, as it requires significant environmental resources to produce. Avocados, bananas, tree nuts like almonds, and sugar from sugarcane are high-footprint too, as their production is particularly water-intensive.

5) Buy seasonal food

Off-season vegetables and fruit are high-footprint too, as most of them have to be imported. This means that the supply chain from the crops to our tables is longer and creates more pollution.

6) Buy local food

Foods that are sourced far from our homes create more pollution too, as the supply chain to bring them to us is longer. Whenever you can, choose local products.

Sustainable food etiquette with your guests

When you have guests for lunch or dinner, try not to brag about your sustainable food practices. Even if it is for a good cause, it is not appropriate to lecture your guests. However, it is perfect etiquette to mention that some foods that you are serving are in season or sourced locally.

Sustainable food etiquette at someone else’s house

When you are at someone else’s house, respect the same rules that you follow at home. Avoid making remarks on the food that is being served, as you risk embarrassing or annoying your host.

Sustainable food etiquette in restaurants and public venues

When you are eating at a restaurant or a public venue, do not force your food preferences onto the other guests. It is best to avoid making comments about other people’s orders.

sustainable food worst mistakes

Sustainable food etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst sustainable food etiquette mistakes. 

  • 9/10. Wasting food.
  • 9/10. Eating more food than you need.
  • 7/10. Eating high-footprint foods often.


  • Emissions due to agriculture: Global, regional and country trends: