Seven Principles of a Sustainable Plant-Based Food System

Understanding the seven principles of a sustainable plant-based food system.

The way that we eat today is a far cry from the way our ancestors ate. Thanks to modern technology, it’s now possible for us to grow, harvest, process and transport food at rates that used to be completely unimaginable. The tradeoff, unfortunately, is that we’re now less likely to eat whole, unprocessed foods grown nearby.

That said, eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated. The late Dr. Annemarie Colbin, who founded the Natural Gourmet Institute, pioneered the concept of “food as medicine,” believing that the food we eat can help promote our overall wellness and contribute to a more sustainable food system.

Learn about the principles that guided her teaching and philosophy of plant-based cooking from the Institute of Culinary Education.

What Are the Principles of a Sustainable Food System?

Dr. Colbin outlined seven basic principles to keep in mind when selecting food:


Choose ingredients that are as close to their original form as possible, with minimal processing. This includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. When possible, use every part of an ingredient, including the stems, roots and peels.

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Opt for fresh produce whenever possible as opposed to choosing frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Avoid genetically modified foods, as well as products with added sugars, preservatives and food colorings. A general rule of thumb: if you can’t identify an ingredient on the label, don’t buy it.


In today’s supermarkets, we can buy nearly any fruit or vegetable year-round, regardless of what’s in season where we live. In New York, you can buy raspberries in the middle of winter — but they’ve likely traveled thousands of miles and lost many nutrients during transport. Cook and eat fresh, seasonal food from local markets and purveyors.


Another best practice is to look to your ancestors to identify the diets and foodways that may suit them best, incorporating similar ingredients beneficial to your well-being.


Finding balance is key in the preparation of any dish, and in healthy cooking, you will be seeking the right balance of both macro- and micronutrients. As a cook, you’ll seek to strike a balance of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami notes. You’ll want the food you prepare to have visual balance as well — aim for a mix of colors, textures and flavors.


Whether it’s a small town or a big city, you can find locally grown ingredients. We’ve seen a rise in supporting small businesses like farmstands, farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs over the past few decades and for good reason — these ingredients taste fresher and have more flavor.

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Healthy and delicious shouldn’t be mutually exclusive when it comes to food. As Dr. Colbin once exclaimed, “There is no point in eating ‘healthy’ food if it doesn’t taste good!” Cooks are encouraged to let their taste buds guide them to find the whole, natural foods they love.

Although these principles are the basis of a plant-based diet, they can be applied to any diet or lifestyle. When taken together, these practices can help promote a more sustainable food system. By eating food that’s locally grown and in season, we can reduce the environmental impact of the modern food industry.


Health-Supportive Culinary Arts at ICE in NY and LA

Individuals who want to find out more about healthy foods, plant-based cooking and nutrition can do so through the informative curriculum at the Institute of Culinary Education, where we offer a Health-Supportive Culinary Arts career training program. Based on the curriculum of the Natural Gourmet Institute, this diploma program offers extensive training in the principles and techniques of plant-based cooking taught by experienced chef-instructors from a variety of backgrounds. Students also have the ability to get an Associate’s Degree in HSCA at our LA Campus.

Learn More About Institute of Culinary Education in NY and LA

At the Institute of Culinary Education, students can pursue a wide range of career programs, as well as recreational courses in healthy cooking and other topics. Even if you’re not located in New York or Los Angeles, we offer an online Culinary Arts & Food Operations diploma program. This virtual program is currently available to students in select states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. More states will be coming soon.

To get started, request info or apply online today.

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