Eat your way to a better environment – Top 5 tips for a better food system…by Sustainable Table

The following is a guest blog post by Sustainable Table…

Up to 60% of our eco-footprint is embodied in the food we buy. It may sound like a bit of a porky pie (pardon the pun), but when you count all the resources and energy invested in food production, processing, packaging, transport and storage – from water, oil, land, chemicals, right through to animals’ lives – you can begin to see how things might add up. In fact, the well-off consumer gobbles up the equivalent of 66 barrels of oil each year.

Our food system is in crisis. It’s a system where fresh water sources are being sucked dry, where 24% of global farmland has already been destroyed and where 500 million animals are housed in factory farms each year, in Australia alone. It’s a system where we throw out up to half of what we grow and where 1 billion people go to bed hungry while 1 billion suffer from obesity.The good news is that by changing the way we shop and eat, we can significantly reduce our impact on the environment, as well as help to build a fairer and healthier food system for all.

Here are our top 5 tips for making a big difference:

Peninsula Fresh Organics farmers Wayne and Tash, at their organic farm on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Read their story in our cookbook, The Sustainable Table. Photo © Maree Morris.

1. Buy local, seasonal and organic produce

Buying local, seasonal and organic produce means you are supporting a system where food travels less from paddock to plate and is grown without the use of oil-based synthetic chemicals and pesticides that pollute and damage our waterways. It also means you are supporting the local economy as well as local farms that are often family-run. Food grown in this system is fresher, tastes better and is better for you, the farmer, and the environment. Learn more about organic produce and why it’s better here.

Salad of ancient grains by Matt Wilkinson, Pope Joan cafe. Just one of the many sustainable recipes featured in our cookbook The Sustainable Table. Photo © Greg Elms

Download our free (and very pretty) pocket Seasonal Produce Guide here!

 2. Eat less meat, and choose ethical and sustainable meat & seafood

Reducing your meat and fish intake is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment. Meat production impacts the environment through methane emissions from animal grazing, land degradation, and through heavy water consumption (it takes an estimated 50,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef). We also grow enough edible grain to provide 50% more than is required for every person in the world, yet much of this is transported to feed animals for meat, dairy and egg production.

Commercial fishing can be equally destructive. In fact, the world is set to run out of ocean fish by 2048 if current demand continues.

Mark Fox, General Manager of Yarra Valley Caviar, with his sustainably-farmed salmon. Photo © Yarra Valley Cavier

So eat less meat, and when you do, choose meat and fish that has been ethically and sustainably farmed or sourced (it tastes better too). You can learn more about meat production in Australia through the Meet your Meat section of our website, and our free pocket Sustainable Seafood Guide can help you make the best choices for our ocean.

3. Reduce waste and start composting

In Australia we throw away $5.2 billion worth of food each year. This not only represents a criminal amount of waste of valuable resources, but this excess food ends up in landfill where it decomposes and produces methane—a greenhouse gas with 23 times the global warming potential of CO2.

Plan your meals to prevent produce going to waste, order less at restaurants and take away venues, start a compost bin or worm farm or buy some backyard chooks to make best use of your food scraps.

In Australia alone we throw out $5.2 billion worth of food every year. It ends up in landfill releasing potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Photo © Maree Morris

 4. Eat whole foods, not processed foods

Whole foods are foods that haven’t been processed or refined; they are eaten in their natural state. Think polished white rice compared to whole brown rice, canned corn compared to fresh corn. Overall, less energy and resources have gone into producing them, they are free from added preservatives and chemicals and most of them can be bought free from packaging. They are not only healthier for you but they also have a much lower environmental impact.

5. Ask Questions

As a consumer you have the power to avoid purchasing items that do not fit your environmental and ethical standards. The only way that shops, restaurants and supermarkets will change what they serve or stock is if sales decline and they recognise that their customers want something else. Remember to ask these questions:

  • Is the meat organic or free range?
  • Where was the seafood sourced? How was it caught? Is the species over-fished?
  • Is the produce organic?
  • Was the produce grown locally?

There are many ways we can help to build a fairer and more environmentally sound food system for all, like changing where we shop, growing our own food and reducing our use of food packaging. Check out our website for these and more. And remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for the type of food system you would like to be part of.

About the author: Sustainable Table is a not-for-profit organisation who uses food as an entrée to explore sustainability issues, helping to overcome today’s environmental challenges, one meal at a time.

8 responses to “Eat your way to a better environment – Top 5 tips for a better food system…by Sustainable Table

  1. These are all fine with me, unfortunately can’t convince my husband, who loves spam, fruits from the cans and bottles of soda water.

  2. Why is it that when I go to shop in the major supermarkets the “fresh” fish is Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, African, it fact anywhere but Australian, don’t we have any other fish than Barra, salmon or prawns, come on Woollies & Coles support our local fishermen. Their wives buy other produce from your shops as well.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with making an effort to buy local, seasonal and organic produce and supporting our home grown heroes. Let’s make an effort to find out how our produce gets from paddock to plate. Despite the worst drought on record, Australia remains among the least subsidised farming nation in the world, with only 4 per cent of Australian farm income derived from government support. According to the National Farmers’ Federation, farmers occupy and manage 54 per cent of Australia’s landmass, spending about $3 billion of their own money on the environmental management of the country’s natural resources and delicate ecosystems. There are more than 125,500 farms solely dedicated to agricultural production, with farmers producing almost 93 per cent of Australia’s daily domestic food supply.

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  5. I would love to go shopping at farmers markets. Where I live we have farmers markets once a month and it’s a 40 min drive away.
    During the last few years I got into a rut of cooking ‘easy’ meals which contained meat probably 5 times a week.
    I’m trying hard now to reduce this significantly. Little steps at a time. 🙂

  6. We are lucky to have a block big enough to grow some of our fruits and veggies – we have harvested just under a fifth of a tonne this year so far. My favourite meal now is to go out and pick whatever veggies are available, and stir-fry or curry them and serve with boiled eggs from our hens. Cheap as and very healthy. We know we have happy hens, that our eggs are free range, and there is very little from outside used to produce what we eat. At first I had thought it would be too difficult to grow anything – mint used to die as soon as I touched it, but over time it has been worthwhile persevering.

  7. Pingback: Local and Seasonal: Stewed Apple and Rhubarb recipe | 1 Million Women·

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