Let’s face it, food is awesome. We all have our favourites and we have likely accumulated some of them over a long period of time. As we learn more about sustainable practices and ways to reduce carbon footprint, we thought we'd delve into the world of sustainable eating and send you on your way with some useful tips.
Before we kick off the tour of ways to improve your eating, all for the sake of doing good for you and the planet, we want to highlight how far we have actually come – food-wise.
It’s a testament to our progression as a species that today more people are better fed than ever before. We now know more about the healthy characteristics of different foods and we have started to explore the world of sustainable food production, transportation and preparation.
There’s still a way to go in this regard though, and as the global population grows and we add more mouths to feed we’re going to have to eat in a manner that’s healthy for both us and the planet (which is the same thing really).
Your carrot leaves a footprint
It’s not an overstatement to say that the environmental cost of putting food on our table is enormous. Agriculture and its associated activities such as land clearance and deforestation generate about a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane.
Controlling greenhouse gases now is important to ensure food security for our future selves. Extreme weather events such as droughts, as a result of a rise in global temperatures, will make farming more difficult in many regions.
Then there are the other issues associated with food production such as biodiversity loss, pollution from pesticides, water usage, transport, packaging, waste and animal and human welfare. The old saying “you are what you eat” has taken on a whole new meaning.
Eat good and be good, right?
We have indeed come far in terms of identifying these production-related issues and of course there was a bunch of people pointing to these issues decades ago, and who have been eating accordingly ever since. But for the practice of eating good to really catch on, the whole idea of consciously deciding (see what we did there) what you eat needs to be much more of a household staple.
So here we are. Let's dive further in.
Changing times, changing plates
Simple and relatively easy. From a dietary perspective, eating less meat has been widely identified as an effective way to reduce your personal carbon footprint as meat production (among other things) is thought to be the leading cause of deforestation – a huge CO2 emitter.
This is getting so big scientists worldwide are developing lab-grown meat substitutes, so called 'cultured meats', to entice further converts. Props to all you OG vegans and veggies who over the years have had to make do with a plate of chips or salad when eating out.
Buy local, buy seasonal, buy weird
Often the food we enjoy has travelled thousands of miles on its journey to our plate. Transporting food by land, sea or air generates large quantities of CO2 emissions. Shipping long-lasting foods by sea (tomatoes, bananas, pears) is around seventy times less intensive than flying in perishables (raw fish).
Knowing it may be a question of budget, but if you have the option and means to buy from sustainably certified local sources then pretty please do.
As well as reducing carbon footprint, producing locally can ensure greater food security too. The awful COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global supply chains and has made it difficult for people to get the food they need.
Other organic farmers have lost their income because of the widespread closure within the hospitality industry. As a result, initiatives such as @supportlocal_cph, a social media-based local farmers market, have sprouted up to meet demand.
Often buying local will mean buying seasonal, which can be cool for trying out new recipes and gives you something to look forward to at different stages of the year.
We’re also somewhat conditioned to only pick out the best looking produce, meaning a lot of less desirable ‘unsellable’ food goes to waste even though it still tastes as good and is just as nutritious.
As a solution, some retailers are now selling ‘grotesque apples’ or ‘unfortunate clementines’ at discount prices.
Buy from sustainable sources
Coming back to what was briefly touched upon above, buying food from sustainably certified sources is another way of ensuring its minimised environmental impact.
This can be a bit of a maze to navigate as sometimes producers or retailers will try and greenwash their products, but here’s a trustworthy list from our friends at Fork in the Road.
New solutions for food production and packaging
This is where our human ingenuity can be harnessed to create new eco-friendly methods of food production and packaging. We already mentioned lab-grown meat, how about lab-grown seafood?
There’s massive potential for disruption in farming crops too, from amending current practices to new hi-tech indoor farms that can use up to 95% less water and no pesticides.
From a packaging standpoint obviously using non-whatsoever is preferable, but solutions such as this Thai supermarket using banana leaves in place of plastic are simple and effective. To help minimise waste, technologies like this little sticker will help you store food at the right temperature and let you know if it’s still fresh to eat!
Here are 6 tips for eating sustainably!
A future where we can strive to eat healthy, sustainable food is certainly within our capabilities. Here’s a summary of how you can eat well for yourself and the planet, some of which we’ve touched upon above:
1. Eat less meat and more plants – the most sustainable crops are grasses (oats, rice, wheat, barley), peas, beans, and leafy green vegetables.
2. Buy local - Reduce air miles and support local farms creating secure food networks.
3. Buy seasonal - goes hand in hand with buying local.
4. Buy weird - don’t judge a carrot by its cover!
5. Waste less - take care to not buy too much and store appropriately.
6. Check for sustainable hallmarks - these can be difficult to judge, but here’s a list of trusted certifications.
As usual, if you want to get in touch to discuss the contents of this piece or any future pieces, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos from: @supportlocal_cph