How to Eat Sustainably (2019 Guide)
Being more sustainable can be a real struggle. There’s a ton of contradictory and misinformation out there, add to that the impossible task of avoiding everyday materials like plastic and common polluting practices like your morning drive to work and it can leave you feeling flustered and abandoning hope!
However, making small sustainable changes in your everyday life can be a great place to start. Seeing the fruits of these small changes give you the motivation to continue and these small changes soon add up.
That’s why we’ve written easy to follow guides, like this on going waste free in your bathroom that won’t cost you the earth and you can implement today! Even so, i'm sure you'll admit there's still loads of ways you can improve how sustainable you are in day to day life, one such area for improvement for many is FOOD.
1.6 BILLION tonnes of food is thrown away annually, meanwhile 1 in 10 people are chronically undernourished. That figure alone highlights the unsustainability of people’s food shopping habits, add to that the air miles from importing food, the destruction of natural habitats in favour of agricultural usage and the mountains of single-use plastic packaging and the whole thing starts to become a real eco-mess.
But it doesn't have to be this way, with the guide below you’ll have the tools you need to rid your life of wasteful food shopping and eating habits and become a stalwart of food-based sustainability!
Reducing your food carbon footprint
The carbon footprint associated with food can be complex, not only is there the travelling miles to account for but the impact of growing/rearing food, how water intensive the cultivation and how much land and resources are required. The research can be daunting and complex and simplistic overviews such as the further flung an item of food has come from the more unsustainable have been criticised.
Driving 6.5 miles to buy your shopping emits more carbon than flying a pack of Kenyan green beans to the UK
Nevertheless, a few simple rules can be followed to keep your carbon footprint in check whilst doing your food shop:
Cut your meat consumption
It’s no secret at this stage, meat consumption is responsible for the vast majority carbon emissions. The land use, use of resources in rearing livestock and methane produced from the animals themselves are all huge contributors to pollution. The solution is simple:
However, not all meats are equal in their environmental impact and indeed some plant based options are better than others, that’s why we’ve compiled a handy table (below) comparing popular foods and their environmental impact:
|Food||CO2 Kilos Equivalent|
If you’re an avid meat eater and find the switch to veganism a tad intimidating start by giving meat free monday a go and swapping a few meals a week for fish.
Avoid unsustainable palm oil
The banning of one particular advert that ended up going viral helped highlight and publicise the issues with palm oil:
The problem with palm oil and more crucially unsustainably sourced palm oil comes from the fact that huge swathes of rainforest are cleared to make room for palm oil crops, this results in loss of habitat and biodiversity.
Palm oil covers more than 27 million hectares of the earth’s surface.
However, palm oil production isn’t inherently unsustainable, it actually requires less land to be produced than alternative vegetable oils, make sure you look out for sustainable certifications from RSPO when buying palm oil products.
Forget fishing practices that are causing havoc to the oceans
Not only is overfishing a continuing plague to the oceans, wild fish stocks collapsing worldwide with an estimated 60% of fish stocks being overfished.The result is depleting fish numbers and a wider impact on the ocean biome as a whole.
Fishing practices themselves can also cause havoc to the ocean and fish alike, these include dynamite fishing, poison fishing, fishing with electricity and deep sea trawling all of which kill indiscriminately.
If you choose to eat fish make sure you choose sustainably sourced fish, MCS has a list of the most sustainable fish to eat, you can check out here.
Choose fairtrade products where available
The fairtrade symbol has become one of the most common place symbols of ethical practices in food production, foods that carry this symbol provide a better deal for food producers and their workers alike, ensuring that they work in appropriate and safe conditions, receive a fair wage for their work and the producers a fair price for their crops.
The fairtrade symbol also ensures some sustainability practices are conformed to requiring that food producers protect the environment that surrounds the land they use to farm.
Avoiding food waste
Avoiding unsustainable foods and opting for more eco-friendly alternatives when food shopping can be a great way to reduce your impact but it doesn't stop there, food waste is also a huge problem!
Roughly 1.3 billion tonnes or ⅓ of all food produced annually is wasted. This worrying statistic is not only unsustainable but also highlights the unethical imbalance when it comes to food in that much of the world is still left in a state of malnutrition.
Starting at home is a great way to cut your food waste, check out these 10 top tips you can implement today:
- Monitor your fridge temperature, a fridge should run between 0-5 degrees to preserve your food optimally, too warm and you could be letting food perish unnecessarily.
- Get creative with left-overs, use wilted veg in soups and sauces, leftover pasta in pasta salads and meats in curries.
- Some foods last longer stored outside the fridge, these include garlic, nuts, honey, bread and more! (check out a full list over here)
- Avoid buying more than you need by using meal plans and writing shopping lists.
- Make pickles and preserves from fruit and vegetables that might otherwise be on the turn.
- Don’t over serve, a lot of food waste results from large portion sizes that never get finished.
- Use expiry and best before dates as guidelines, often foods will be fine to consume long past these dates. Trust your nose, eyes and taste to make sure you’re not throwing away foods prematurely.
- Store foods appropriately, keeping foods in cool dark places like cupboards and in airtight containers will keep them fresher for longer, you can also wrap foods in our wax wraps to keep them fresh.
- Donate to food banks if you have no use for excess food.
- Use scraps of fruit and vegetables in smoothies and soups to get the full nutritional benefit and make the most of those humble greens
Pass on packaging
Plastic packaging is often pointless and almost always unsustainable but still rife when it comes to produce. Some 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced in the UK alone!
You can avoid plastic packaging when shopping by visiting a bulkstore (if you have access to one) or by buying loose fruit and veg over plastic wrapped, this has the added bonus of allowing you to buy exactly what you need and sending the message to retailers that consumers want to buy plastic-free.
If you do end up picking up plastic wrapped foods when doing your shop make sure you recycle.
Bring your own bag
Whilst plastic carrier bag sales have dropped by a dramatic 86% in the UK since the 5p price was introduced there’s still more to be done.
Plastic carrier bags are pervasive and a danger to animals, proving to be a choking, entanglement hazard and even be mistaken for food in the wild.
Ditch single-use carrier bags and bring your own tote instead.
There you have it, with this post we’ve covered all things food and sustainability. Including how to make your eating habits more sustainable with foods to avoid and foods to look for, how to avoid food waste and how to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated from food shopping!
Let us know if you have any more tips by leaving a comment below.
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