How to Up Your Sustainability Game - Food We Waste
How to Up Your Sustainability Game
Food We Waste
Did you know that over 30% of food produced is wasted globally every single year? This equates to more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food thrown away each year and represents 3.3 billion tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, if food waste was a country, it would be the number 3 global greenhouse gas emitter (after China and the US).
But let’s not place all the blame on China and the US. The picture isn’t very different here in the UK. 10 millions of these tonnes are wasted right here on our doorstep. This amounts to £13bn worth of food each year, that we buy but don’t consume.
Food We Consume
These devastating facts are just about the food that goes straight into the bin. If we consider the carbon footprint of food that we actually do consume, it becomes very clear very quickly that, with our current dietary patterns, we will not be able to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. In fact, we are already failing at it. 820 million people still go to bed hungry due to a lack of calories every day. A shocking 2 billion people are malnourished, lacking vital vitamins and minerals. Of these, 155 million children do not reach their full growth potential – they remain stunted due to lack of nourishment. At the same time, 2 billion adults and 41 million children are overweight or obese, leading to chronic disease, such as cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes, as well as suffering and pain. Food access is skewed, in a way that is neither working for the health of people nor for the health of the planet.
What Can We Change?
There are a number of large inter- and intragovernmental interventions needed to tackle this global issue. But what can WE as individuals do, RIGHT NOW, to shift our dietary habits to make them better for our bodies, better for the planet and better at feeding a growing population?
1. Eat more vegetables.
The Planetary Health Diet, which is one of the concepts outlined by the Eat-Lancet report published earlier this year, aims that half of all foods consumed by volume are vegetables and fruits. The group of leading scientists that set this target found this to be one of the key factors for healthy diets and sustainable food production going forward. Frozen vegetables are a good way to reduce food waste as only the amount needed is used and you don’t end up with half a head of broccoli lying around in the fridge until it gets soggy and ends up in the bin. Frozen fruits and veg can also be more nutrient-dense than their fresh counterparts, because they are frozen at source, meaning they don’t lose nutrients during travel and shelf time.
Going for seasonal produce saves on greenhouse gas emissions due to reduced air travel and the reduced need for green houses. Not only does that benefit the environment, seasonal fruit and veg are typically also more nutritious and flavoursome.
2. Reduce meat, particularly red meat.
Red meat, especially when highly processed, such as in the form of bacon and sausages, is relatively high in saturated fats, which have a direct correlation with increased risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses. In addition, it’s also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, not only because cattle themselves produce a significant amount of gases, but also because meat production has a huge implication for deforestation. In fact, if you shifted to a vegetarian diet today, your dietary carbon emissions would be halved. If the whole country would shift to being vegetarian it would have a huge impact.
However, it’s not necessarily easy to change your diet radically from one day to the next, so making small changes is a good start. Meat-free Mondays, for instance, is a growing trend that’s starting to reduce our overconsumption of meat. The Planetary Diet targets a red meat consumption of 14% in terms of calories – that would equate to one steak per month or one burger a week. You can make foods like burgers go further by mixing in mushrooms, onions and other vegetables into the mince, making them more sustainable, both in terms of nutrition and environment.
3. Focus on quality not quantity.
Buy the best quality meat you can afford. Every time you spend a pound in the food system, you make a statement about the food system that you want for the future. Creating awareness around animal and supplier welfare will send a message to suppliers and will eventually help shift the market. Ask yourself and your supplier questions like:
did the animal have a good life? Was it on a high dosage of antibiotics because it wasn’t held in a healthy, sustainable way? Was it killed in a respectful way?
Were the farmer and the butcher given a good livelihood?
These questions will let producers understand that consumers are looking for quality and will encourage them place more focus on it going forward.
4. Reduce intake of dairy, eggs and fish.
Shifting to a vegetarian diet halves your carbon emissions but shifting to a vegan diet is calculated to reduce them down to a third. Going completely vegan is a radical change and a big ask for many. Complete limitation of animal products can even be less healthy for some population groups and nutrient supplementation is necessary. A good compromise, therefore, is to aim for a reduction of animal products, including dairy products, eggs and fish. Again, looking for quality over quantity places a strong signal to producers. For instance, purchasing certified fish ensures leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting habitats and ensuring people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.
5. Increase consumption of plant-based proteins
Substitute meat, eggs and fish with healthful sources of plant-based protein, such as legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. They have the additional benefit of being low in saturated fats and high in fibre, contributing to overall health. They are also great to include in batch cooking, which saves time and money as a bonus.
6. Reduce food waste
This seems obvious but we have to consciously think about it, in order to reduce the amount of food that lands in our bins. Here are some top tips:
Don’t fall for the 3 for 2 trap: we often go for these offers, thinking it’s a bargain, but more often than not we don’t end up needing that much, the rest going into the bin
Have a flexible way of cooking: use what you already have in your cupboard, adapt recipes so that nothing goes to waste
Incorporate scraps and leftovers, and veg that is looking less fresh into soups, stews, stir-fries and frittatas
Did you know that celery and carrot tops are nutritious, flavourful and perfectly good to use? Most of us throw them away, but why not make a pesto out of them?
Have a shopping list to stick to when you go shopping. Having a plan makes you less inclined to buy more than you need.
7. Use start-ups that tackle food waste
A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal foods benefits our health and the environment, both of which is critical for a more sustainable lifestyle and planet. To achieve this, let’s start by making plants the stars of our meals, adding things like eggs, cheese or meat as an occasional side dish. Going for quality over quantity as much as we can, is not only likely to increase nutritional value, but more importantly, sends a strong message to industry to improve standards in production. Last not but not least, let’s all try to be more cognisant of what goes into our bins. Start by being more aware of what you really need when you go grocery shopping, and be creative with using leftovers, scraps and parts of vegetables that you would typically throw away.
Guest blog post by Sophie Thurner.
Sophie Thurner is a Registered Nutritionist based in Belsize Park and Marylebone. She provides evidence-based, bespoke solutions to your individual health, lifestyle and nutritional needs.
With a constant overdose on information and ever-conflicting views and opinions in the public media, it can be difficult to maintain clarity about what a healthy diet should look like. Sophie helps clients set up a clear path to bring their health to the next level through nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Sophie Thurner, BSc (hons), ANutr
+44 780 710 39 45