What does food sustainability really mean?
One of the major differences you can make on your journey towards Net Zero is by keeping a closer eye on your diet and the food supply chain. Just as homes, businesses, operations, and forms of transportation can be made more sustainable, so too can food.
What is food sustainability?
The UN defines food sustainability as ‘the idea that something (e.g., agriculture, fishing or even preparation of food) is done in a way that is not wasteful of our natural resources and can be continued into the future without being detrimental to our environment or health.’
Food systems are a major contributor to the climate crisis. Food production, distribution, and consumption are helping drive greenhouse gas emissions. As demand for food increases, the stakes become ever higher. Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) are responsible for around a quarter of anthropogenic (or human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions, largely as a result of livestock, soil, and nutrient management.
The climate crisis is driving major changes in food production, supply, and the public’s eating habits. The agriculture sector has been making changes to farm more sustainably. In addition, end consumers are also making changes to diets in an attempt to minimize red meat consumption and explore more sustainable sources of nutrition.
We’re also seeing a global drive from food producers to create net zero carbon foods. Produce that has total carbon emissions calculated to sequester them back from the atmosphere and then plant trees or some other system that sequesters carbon from the air.
Why is food sustainability important?
Levels of methane in the atmosphere caused by traditional ways of raising cattle are at a record high. This should be of great concern since this gas has more than 80 times the global warming power of CO2. This is accelerating climate change and encouraging more people to change their dietary habits.
As a global population, we must restrict methane emissions to minimize temperature rises and improve air quality. By moving toward a plant-based diet, we would not only cut these harmful emissions but also free up large swathes of land. This will help to decarbonize the planet.
Of course, plant-based diets are not for everyone, and this alone will not solve the problem we are faced with. As consumers, we have to consider how emissions are generated at every stage of the supply chain. What is the impact of sourcing food, processing it, transporting it to retailers, packaging it to go on the shelves, and disposing of waste once we’re finished with it?
How can you make a difference?
In addition to eating less meat, you can also change where and how you shop for food. Eating produce grown locally means the food has not travelled far. Therefore, has fewer carbon emissions associated with moving from farm to fork. Look out for the Red Tractor logo to certify that you are buying something produced in Great Britain, but don’t assume that buying British is always the most sustainable option. What if that food is being produced out of season?
Lettuce grown in a UK greenhouse may have a higher carbon footprint than one that has been grown in a European field. Think about how as well as where things are produced and wherever possible, eat fruit and vegetables that are in season. It may well encourage you to eat a more varied and healthy diet.
One of the most effective ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the food you eat is to grow your own. Whether you have a large allotment or a tiny balcony, you can enjoy the benefits of homegrown produce. Not only will it help cut emissions but it will also improve your fitness, health, and wellbeing. In addition, making your own meals rather than purchasing meals ready-made, can save money, reduce waste, and cut emissions.
Reducing your personal food waste will also make a difference. Cook what you know you will eat, so less food is thrown away. When you do have leftover food, freeze it for another day, or re-use leftover ingredients.
Are you interested in learning more about food sustainability?
Want to find out more about how you can make a difference through what you eat? Take a look at our online learning course, which has a module dedicated to food.
Food sustainability may require large-scale changes and investment in the food supply chain. However, end consumers can also make a difference by simply changing a few habits.
About the author
Dr. Denise Taylor is a qualified sustainability consultant who founded a family-run business, Wylde Connections, alongside her daughter in January 2020. The inception of Wylde brought together Denise’s knowledge, skills and experience gained over 30 years across three main disciplines: environmental education, strategic marketing communications, and learning and development. Find Denise on Linkedin.
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