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:
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.
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.
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.
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.