We eat every day – about three times a day. What you eat has not just an impact on your health but also on the health of our planet. The UN Environment has been recognising how our diets can drive or combat climate change: “The food system is unsustainable and is driving climate change – if we want to minimize the impact of the food industry on our planet we must eat less meat, reduce food waste, and rethink farming practices.“
(UN Environment 2018)
Moreover, the population is growing which means we will need more food in the future. The world will require 50% more food by 2030 and climate change will not make this easier. We will need to produce more with less.
So here’s what you can do to eat your way to a future with less impactful climate change!
In the times of globalisation, food can travel all around the world before ending up on our plate. The greenhouse gases that are emitted by the transportation for this are contributing to climate change.
Local food on the other hand, has been transported a lot less and therefore, is better for the environment.
“Locally grown and prepared food can cut down on fuel use in ‘food miles’ and makes it easier to identify and support environmentally benign food production methods. Buying local produce also means that the food is less likely to be associated with the greenhouse gas caused by recent land conversion. Seasonal food need not be imported, does not require energy-intensive conditions such as heated greenhouses, can be produced organically, and reduces the likelihood of energy-intensive methods of storage and transport such as refrigeration and air-freighting. ” (Sustain Alliance for better food and farming)
According to the UN Environment, pork and poultry produce 10% of greenhouse gases, while the animal agriculture accounts for 16.5% of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, 30% of land is used for livestock grazing. Even more so, 80% of agricultural land is used for livestock feed, while 40% of plant protein is used to feed livestock. Imagine, you’d just skip one level and could provide that plant protein to people directly. It saves land and contributes to providing the needed food during population growth.
A vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian diet can limit your impact on the planet and can even be more healthy if done well. A study on the present and future impacts of food on the environment in regards to climate change, recommends a flexitarian or Mediterranean diet for more “conservative” people which limits red meat to one serving per week.
“If the world moved to this type of (flexitarian) diet , the study found that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture would be reduced by more than half.” (BBC article 2018)
Freeze fruits and veggies
Nearly 30% of all food produced globally is wasted according to the UN Environment. In industrialised countries, 40% of food waste happen at the retail or consumer level which means food is either destroyed during transport, not bought at the supermarket and thrown away or thrown away by the consumer. “The impact of food waste is not just financial. Environmentally, foodwaste leads to wasteful use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides; more fuel used for transportation; and more rotting food, creating more methane – one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change.” (UN Environment)
It is a huge misconception that frozen fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than fresh ones. The freezing even preserves the nutrients. Plus, it makes sure, you’ll always have some fruits and vegetables at home – even if you couldn’t go grocery shopping. If you notice that you bought too much fresh fruits and veggies, freeze the produce in reusable zip-log bags (like these) or simply in one of your ceramic bowls, before they go bad. If your fruit doesn’t have the best taste, you can freeze it and sneak it in your smoothie. If your vegetables (e.g. kale) are a little wilted or soggy, you can freeze it and put it in stews or sauces. This will also save you money.
Buy “ugly” produce
In some countries, companies sell “originally shaped” or “ugly shaped” or “wonky” produce instead of throwing them away. Sometimes it’s even organic yet less expensive than “perfect” fruits and vegetables. Do a little research and see if you can find this in your local supermarket!
France: “Fruits et Legumes Moches”
USA: “Imperfect Produce”
Compost, if possible
If you think the carrot peels are going to rot if you put them in your general waste bin, you are wrong.
“When food goes to the landfill, it’s similar to tying food in a plastic bag. The nutrients in the food never return to the soil. The wasted food rots and produces methane gas.” (United States Environmental Protection Agency)
That is why composting your produce scraps can have such a huge positive impact on the environment. If you have the possibility to compost your produce scraps in your garden or if there is a biowaste bin in your house, use it! I’ve been reading about a home composting system for people living in flats that is using a technology comprised of a box inhabited with worms (don’t freak out here just now). If you live in Austria, read more about it here. Read more about composting in flats here.
Buy minimally packaged food
Plastic is made from oil and is releasing greenhouse gases during production and when it is thrown away and burned or put in a landfill where it slowly (like, 450 years slow) degrades. More on how you can reduce your plastic consumption to combat climate change here (soon).
If you have the option of unpackaged food in the supermarket, always choose that. If there’s a farmers market near your home, you could buy fresh unpackaged produce more easily. You can buy produce nets for the unpackaged fruits and vegetables and bring them to the farmers market and supermarket. Here are some options for UK, Germany and the USA but you can find them globally with a quick Ecosia search.
Buy organic, if possible
Every year, exposure to pesticides poisons over 1 million people according to the UN Environment. “FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) promotes organic agriculture as an alternative approach that maximizes the performance of renewable resources and optimizes nutrient and energy flows in agroecosystems. Life cycle assessments show that emissions in conventional production systems are always higher than those of organic systems, based on production area. Soil emissions of nitrous oxides and methane from arable or pasture use of dried peat lands can be avoided by organic management practices. Many field trials worldwide show that organic fertilization compared to mineral fertilization is increasing soil organic carbon and thus, sequestering large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to the soil. Lower greenhouse gas emissions for crop production and enhanced carbon sequestration, coupled with additional benefits of biodiversity and other environmental services, makes organic agriculture a farming method with many advantages and considerable potential for mitigating and adopting to climate change.” (FAO on organic agriculture in relation to climate change)
If you have the means, try to buy as much food organic as possible. Bonus points if the organic produce is bought from your local farmers market.
Make take-out food sustainable
Take-out food comes with a lot of waste. As a metropolis citizen myself, living a busy life, take-out food or food delivery sometimes is just necessary. Try to ask for no cutlery, napkins or other unnecessaries they normally add to take-away food. If you take-away food from your local restaurant, consider brining your own tupperware/ food containers and ask them if they can put your food in there instead of single-use containers.
Try to avoid take-out and food deliveries as much as you can and try freezing your own meals instead for those busy times.
Avoid palm oil
Palm oil is contained in many food products such as chocolate spreads, cookies, sauces and more. While these foods can be very delicious and convenient, palm oil is contributing to climate change.
“The oil palm tree is grown in tropical regions (mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, but now spreading all over the tropics, including Africa), and rain forests are being cleared to make room for more of this crop. Since rain forests are the largest carbon sinks, when destroyed they release massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning.” (NASA Climate Change 2015)
Check the ingredients of the foods you buy and look for palm-oil free alternatives. Keep in mind, that organic food products can often contain palm oil that has been grown and produced sustainably! Choose sustainable palm oil products if you can instead.