The food system accounts for 20-30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the primary cause of deforestation and loss of biodiversity. In addition, food production is responsible for 70% of all human water use and is a significant contributor to water pollution. Whilst we need drastic changes from governments and the food industry to reduce emissions and improve global food security, individual choices also have a huge part to play. Ultimately, a truly sustainable diet must take into account health and nutrition, as well as highly complex social and economic factors. Here are some changes to get you started on making your diet more eco-friendly:
- Reduce your meat, fish and dairy intake
Reducing the number of times you eat meat and dairy per week is the most important way to reduce the environmental impact of your diet. Production of meat and dairy is associated with high GHG emissions, freshwater depletion, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. Try replacing these foods with protein-rich pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Buy certified produce
Look for foods that meet sustainability standards, such as MSC fish, Rainforest Alliance certified products and food containing sustainably sourced palm oil. Palm oil production has driven deforestation on a massive scale and is present in many products including biscuits, margarine, packaged bread, instant noodles, and pizza dough.
- Eat seasonably
Buying food locally is great if you choose produce that is in season. However, try to avoid products grown in greenhouses, such as British tomatoes in the winter. In this case, seasonal food grown overseas and transported by sea and land to the UK is likely to have less impact on the environment. For sourcing local, sustainable food in Oxford, check out OxCo-op at www.oxcoop.com.
- Eat more ‘robust and field-grown’ produce
Robust and field-grown foods have relatively low GHG impacts, and include apples, root vegetables, potatoes, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage etc.). These products are easily stored without refrigeration, and last much longer than ‘fragile’ produce, such as salad or soft fruits.
- Choose fewer airfreighted products
Some fresh produce must be transported very rapidly by air, such as green beans, mange touts and berries from the Southern Hemisphere. Transporting food by air, rather than by land or sea, is much more energy-intensive and leads to greater GHG emissions.
- Reduce your rice consumption
Rice is grown in paddies, which often require high levels of irrigation and produce huge amounts of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so rice has a high GHG impact.
- Cut your food waste
Disturbingly, 30% of the food we buy in shops ends up in the bin. Food wastage represents a waste of resources such as land and water, as well as the generation of unnecessary emissions. Try to buy only what you need and save any leftovers for another meal.
- Eat all parts of the animal
When you eat meat, try choosing offal and cheaper cuts, such as lamb neck or beef brisket. As well as saving you money, these choices help make the best use of the food resources available and reduce wastage.
- Cut down on processed food
Heavily processed food tends to be more resource-intensive to produce. Try cooking from scratch more often with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
- Eat fewer sweets, cakes, biscuits etc.
These foods have little nutritional value and are considered by some to be a waste of valuable resources that could be used to produce more nutritious food. In addition, cane sugar production uses lots of water, and along with cocoa and coffee production, can also trigger land clearance and habitat destruction.