How To Eat More Sustainably
Posted by Spaciable on 4th November 2021 -
With sustainability and conservation of the environment at the heart of decisions nowadays, it’s more prevalent than it has ever been before to think about ways in which we, as consumers, can do our bit. While it’s up to big corporations to implement massive changes to reduce unsustainable foods and sourcing methods, we can drive change by taking important steps. The way many foods are produced uses too much land and too much water, which we are rapidly running out of. With the rise of climate change, food yields also become less secure, but we can start using other food sources that work better under all these challenging conditions.
Why is this an issue?
It’s probably a common misconception that energy and transport causes the most harmful environmental damage, but it’s actually our food system. According to a recent report from WWF, 75% of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species, with rice, corn and wheat comprising 60% of calories from plants in our diet. With such a narrow range of foods for our diet, we are also limiting our intake of vitamins and minerals.
But the problem doesn’t stop there. Agriculture accounts for around 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, of which 60% is due to animal agriculture, which is much more land, water and greenhouse gas intensive than plant production. It also contributes to water pollution through liquid waste discharged into rivers and seas, which, in turn, damages our health by introducing all sorts of chemicals into our diets.
Agrobiodiversity is also shrinking, as thousands of varieties of plants have been lost over time due to increased demand and dependence on a limited pool of crop species. We all know that biodiversity is a good thing, so a decline in agrobiodiversity is worrying. It reduces the amount of animals and wild plants that are able to thrive in these degraded landscapes, depletes nutrient sources and increases the risk of pests and pathogens, leading to an over-reliance on fertilisers and pesticides that can damage wildlife and pollute water systems.
So what can we do?
It does sound hopeless when it’s all laid out on paper, but small changes is what’s needed. With enough people making these changes, trends are set and companies will start to increase production in these more popular items, thereby helping to increase biodiversity and reduce the impact of more harmful food production means.
The WWF has released a full report of 50 future foods. These have a low environmental impact, are reasonably easy to produce, aren’t expensive supplements and should be able to weather environmental challenges. Visit www.wwf.org.uk to see the full list and discover what the food of the future will look like, including algae, cactus and many more.
Let’s change our diet
In this day and age, it’s almost like toxic masculinity to brag about how much you like eating meat and are unwilling to change your habits. Let’s break the stigma and look at simple changes we can make in order to start generating the change we so desperately need.
Masticate more plants
Yes, helping the environment means eating more plants. They are so much easier to grow in a sustainable way and can be mass produced. You also don’t have to give up meat entirely in order to do this. Many plants can be added to your meals to complement the flavours and enhance the taste. While you can swap animal protein for plant-based sources as an alternative, why not make your meals stretch further by bulking them out with pulses or nuts? Not only will the nutritional value of your meal increase, you’ll have more portions that you can save for later as well.
Eating more plants is good for the environment and it’s also good for your health. Since we generally have such limited diets, we don’t necessarily get many of the nutrients that we need. Our diets also need greater variety in order to boost agrobiodiversity. A greater variety also boosts your health and reduces the risk of various diseases. From adding vegetables to sauces and topping dishes with pesto to cramming leaves in your sandwiches or wraps, there’s always space in any meal for more fruit or veg. Try using hummus instead of cheese in quesadillas or use beans in a chili or taco filling. Chickpeas, lentils and black beans have plenty of protein and can be added to almost any meal, alongside nuts and seeds.
The other side of the coin for eating more plants is eating less meat. Many people trying to help the environment do so by going one day a week without eating meat. You may already even be doing this without realising as that beans on toast or macaroni cheese is already meat free. The important thing is to do what you can. If it’s already easy doing one meal a week meat free, add another one in. It would be difficult for your body to adjust to eating less meat if you forgo it all at once though, so make these changes at a pace that will be implemented into your routine without much hassle.
Fight for food waste
While agriculture has its own environmental issues, food waste adds more fuel to the fire. A staggering 30% of all food produced is wasted, and if it’s not composted but added to landfill, it’s so much worse. If not composted, food waste causes a massive build-up of methane, which is three times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. According to WRAP, if all food were removed from UK landfills, the equivalent of one-fifth of all cars on the road in emissions would be gone.
So, while companies are reducing their carbon footprint and becoming carbon neutral (or even negative), we can very easily reduce and even remove the amount of methane we produce as households. As this greenhouse gas is far worse for the environment, it truly is a matter of us doing our bit and making a difference.
If you have food waste collections at your home, make sure you’re making the most of these. If you live in a flat, contact your local council and see if they are planning to introduce communal food waste bins. Plan meals and shopping trips, use food that will go out of date first and don’t be confused between “use by” and “best before” dates. Freeze food if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it in time. Even better, if you have a garden, try out your own compost bin. These are available at subsidised rates from www.getcomposting.com
While you can have small compost bins on balconies if you live in a flat, without a balcony, you don’t want one indoors (because of the unavoidable smell of putrefaction). Thanks to the digital age, you can always use ShareWaste (www.sharewaste.com). On their website or app, you can see compost bins in the local area that need filling up. You can create an account and arrange a drop-off, which can coincide with your dog walk or commute to work or the gym. If you have a compost bin and are willing to accept donations from local people, you can even sign-up as a host.
Say yes to sustainable palm oil
Those of us familiar with David Attenborough’s documentaries will already know that unsustainable palm oil production is one of the worst offenders for deforestation and land loss. Between 1990 and 2008, palm oil was responsible for 8% of the world’s deforestation. We currently have an over-reliance on its use as we can get far more oil out of this plant than any other. But just because it’s useful, doesn’t mean that we need to keep producing more of it. We have enough fields of palm to suffice. However, rejecting palm oil and even replacing its use would be far worse for the environment (because of further land loss and less yield from other plants). So, sustainable palm oil use is the best option.
When you’re shopping, look at the list of ingredients. Palm oil is in almost 50% of all packaged products. Manufacturers should now be noting if products contain sustainable palm oil or if it’s RSPO certified. If the packaging doesn’t say, it’s probably best to look for an alternative. You can also sign online petitions to force change and specify the demand for sustainable palm oil. Get in contact with your local MP and let them know how you feel and why this is important.
Perhaps a spoonful of sugar isn’t so good
We all know that sugar is damaging in excess for teeth and for health, but the production of refined sugar is actually staggeringly bad for the environment. The production of 1kg of refined sugar uses approximately 1,800 litres of water, while brown sugar is much worse. This is the equivalent of just over a single person’s drinking water requirements over the course of two years. Added to this is the normal issue of deforestation, overuse of pesticides and water run-off to pollute water supplies.
You can try halving your normal refined sugar intake in your hot drinks or use sweeteners instead. Sweeteners are even sweeter than sugar. You can try to cut down the sugar requirements in baking by a third to a half, often without even noticing the difference.
The onus is on us
While the world’s climate and environmental problems can seem astronomical and hopeless, there are simple steps we can all take to help. By increasing the variation in our diets, reducing the reliance on meat, making sure food waste is properly composted and using sustainable products, we can make a massive difference. We are all individuals, but in our ever conscious sustainably aware society, changes like these may even become normal within a number of years.