There is currently no legal definition of ‘sustainable food’ but it generally means food that is produced, processed, distributed and disposed of in ways that protect plants and animals, contributes to local economies, avoids wasting resources and provides social benefits such as good quality and safe food. Food has never been cheaper, and we have access to an abundance of food, however, current approaches to food production, distribution, retailing and consumption are having a negative impact on the environment and population health. The decisions we make now will have the greatest impact on future generations. Read on to find out the effects of not eating sustainably and how you can make a difference with our 8 Keys To Sustainable Eating!
1. Meat and Dairy Consumption
Meat and dairy are the most energy and greenhouse gas intensive foods, with the meat industry alone producing 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation types combined. Meat provides just 18% of our calories but takes up 83% of farmland. To produce 1 pound (0.45kg) of beef it takes 1799 gallons of water and 6.6 pounds of grain. It is predicted that in western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses to avoid destroying earth’s ability to feed its population.
While the main aim is to reduce the quantity of meat and dairy we consume, it is important to maximise the quality of these products, ensuring the health and welfare of animals involved. Organic animal products provide a higher level of animal welfare compared with free-range products, if you are purchasing meat and dairy then try to source products with the organic certification where possible. Looking to the future, ways of reducing meat consumption include exploring lab-grown meat, consuming more plant-based proteins, and some have even suggested edible insects!
2. Marine Life
Overfishing is the single biggest threat to marine wildlife, with many once common species being overfished and some species becoming virtually extinct. We should avoid eating any fish that are on the ‘at risk’ list, which lists commercially exploited fish species such as bluefin tuna.
3. Climate Change
The way humans live is having a detrimental impact on the planet, an overwhelming amount scientific evidence shows the planet is warming and that human activity is the main cause, the earth’s average surface temperature has risen by around 0.8°C over the last century leading to warming oceans, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and extreme weather events. If we carry on this way, climate change could lead to the extinction of species which could have a large impact on the food chain and rising temperatures may increase the range of disease spreading insects.
4. Environmental Impact of the Food System
About 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the food industry. The wide use of chemicals used for the production of crops and deforestation of land for farming are just a couple of examples of the way the food industry is having a negative impact on the environment. The use of organic farming reduces the use of these chemicals making it a sustainable option for food production, so where possible try and buy organic produce.
Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives. With Fairtrade you have the power to change the world every day. With simple shopping choices, you can get farmers a better deal.
6. Food Transportation
Food items are transported across the world because products grow well in particular climates and importing products increases the range available to consumers. However, food transportation leads to higher pollution and more food waste. In terms of emissions, shipping is the most environmentally friendly with air-freighted food having the highest emissions. With prepacked tropical fruit, because the fruit has already been prepared, the shelf-life is short and air-freighting is the only option for delivery. From an environmental point-of-view, the carbon footprint is very high (compared to a whole mango/pineapple imported by container ship) but the business is creating jobs and investing in education so the picture in terms of social and economic sustainable development is very different. You can help by checking food product labels for the country of origin and choosing local and seasonal produce to reduce ‘food miles’ and support local farmers.
7. Food Waste and Packaging
Food waste is a loss of food that is discarded or cannot be used during production, processing, retailing and consumption. Approximately a staggering one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. Some initiatives that currently exist to combat food waste are cafes that prepare meals from food which is no longer fit for sale. Approximately 70% of consumer packaging is courtesy of the food and drink industry, buying local and seasonal food reduces the need for packaging and reduces food waste caused by long transportation and storage.
8. Feeding a Growing Population
Today’s food supply needs to feed 7 billion people, expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. To help feed the population a suggested solution is genetically modifying crops, so they are engineered to be resistant to pests and to provide a higher yield, reducing the need to use artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Another idea to increase productivity in a sustainable way is ‘vertical farming’ where food is grown in high stacks inside which uses no pesticides, herbicides or soil and reduces water usage by 95% allowing a crop to grow all year round.