Sustainable Travel: Making Responsible Food Choices

The sun was beating down on us as we left J Rickards Winery, where we had been learning about sustainable wine production, and it was time for lunch. We drove past the dry brown hills of Alexander Valley, California, on our way to a restaurant that a friend had recommended. As we pulled into Geyserville, we wondered for a moment if this tiny, unassuming town could have much to offer for food, especially since we were hungry, our appetites whetted after wine tasting.


We finally parked in front of the “downtown,” a block and a half of old buildings, some with hip, modern signs, some looking like something out of the past. We found the old building with the Catelli’s sign and went in.


What we found was a beautiful restaurant with top-notch food, all of which comes from local organic farms.

catellis restaurant

With attention to fresh ingredients that are at their seasonal peak, the flavors of the food shine. Plus, it just feels good to know that the environmental impact of the food I choose to eat is smaller when it comes from local sources, especially organic farms, with meats that are raised naturally and fish that is sourced only from sustainable sources.

catellis menu

The good news for those of us who live in California is that this kind of food is everywhere, and it’s getting easier to make responsible food choices. Increasingly consumers are asking questions, and more and more restaurants are answering. However, when traveling, it may not seem so easy.

One of the pleasures of travel is food. Food connects us to a culture since it reflects traditions, the region’s landscape, and the way that local people connect with each other. Sometimes it gives us a window into local life through rituals of Sunday feasts or special occasion recipes.

Sunday meal Brazil

It also allows us as travelers to indulge–who doesn’t want to have fun with food while traveling? With a little attention, we can easily make this fun aspect of travel also something we can feel good about. Here are my tips for making responsible food choices while traveling:

Go to the local markets.

Ask what’s in season. Buy fresh from vendors and ask questions about food so that you can learn what people eat and where it comes from.

market Florence

Skip the meat.

It’s a much more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and compassionate choice. If you do want to eat meat occasionally, look for meat from animals that are locally raised, without antibiotics. Order meat in small portions, as part of an appetizer plate or in a sauce, for example. As much as possible, get educated about the fish that people eat in your destination–try to find out where it comes from and if it’s a sustainable source.

vegetarian food choices

Avoid American fast food or other chains.

The food quality is bad, it supports monoculturalization, and there’s nothing sustainable about cheap processed food that now increasingly contributes to health problems around the world.

Visit farms.

Seek out farms where you can learn about local food products and support local farmers at the same time. In Italy, you can tour a farm and enjoy a meal made from the fresh ingredients that reflects local traditions. In the U.S., you can visit pick-your-own farms and enjoy connecting with where food comes from.

organic farms

Ultimately, food is a way to connect with local culture, so we should have fun with it. But because sustainability and responsible travel are issues we must care about, we should consider more carefully how the food choices we all make while traveling (and at home) contribute to a more sustainable future.

Do you have tips for making responsible food choices while traveling? Please share them!


  • Jenna, wonderful pointers about how we can make healthy choices at home and during our travels! During our most recent trip through Southeastern Europe, we’ve stayed in studio apartments as opposed to hotels, allowing us to live (and cook) like locals. That mode of travel has allowed us to make more responsible food choices. An added bonus is that we not only enjoyed shopping at the local markets, we also loved mingling with resident shoppers. We found those experiences to be pleasantly authentic, providing us with a unique perspective on the countries visited that we wouldn’t have gotten had we eaten at restaurants all of the time.

    Our most recent apartment owner in Santorini, Greece, knowing that we were whipping up our own meals most of the time, was even kind enough to share fresh produce from his garden. Those mini zucchini were divine!

  • Great subject! I agree, food is culture, culture is food…they go hand in hand when experiencing a new place..

  • Suzy says:

    These are all good tips Jenna. I particularly love to go to local food markets when I travel. There are so many conversations and stories to be had in these spaces, even beyond the food.

    • Jenna says:

      I like what you said about conversations and stories beyond the food. So true. I especially feel that at the markets in Brazil.

  • I love the cultural aspect of good, local food…that by eating local food you are making a real connection to that place and its land and people. I love talking to locals to find out where the best, “hole in the wall” local restaurants are… not only do I usually get a stellar tip for where to find some great eats, but I make a connection with a a local, both of which add to the richness and depth that I experience during my trip.

    • Jenna says:

      YES! For example, when I was in Florence last fall, I asked locals where we should eat, and they gave us the best recommendations! It really added something to the travel experience.

  • Krista says:

    I’m so inspired by your ideas, Jenna. 🙂 This restaurant sounds absolutely fantastic. 🙂 We don’t have quite the options in my part of Australia that you do, but it’s getting better and better, and that makes me happy. 🙂

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Krista! And yes, the restaurant is fantastic. I look forward to going back, maybe this fall.

  • Jemma says:

    Thanks for the tips and for the reminders. I was about to eat in a fast food restaurant but this made me change my mind. You guys at California are lucky because I feel that every day it’s becoming harder and harder to find healthy organic food. A lot of food nowadays are genetically modified and a lot of consumers buy them just for the sake of getting bigger chicken drumsticks.

    I think I’ll have to grow vegetables and raise poultry animals on my backyard someday!

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, there are problems with lots of genetically-modified food and such here, too, but I try to look for alternatives.

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