The food we eat influences both our health and the health of the planet1,2. Figures suggest as high as 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the food industry3. This is attributed to the increasing demands on the meat industry and deforestation for agriculture4, and it is contributing to the loss of bio-cultural and agricultural diversity5.
How Does What We Eat Effect The Planet?
• It is estimated that one-third of the food we produce is wasted4.
• To produce one beef burger, approximately 1700L of water is required6.
• 80% of agricultural land is committed to farming animals, land which could be repurposed and used more efficiently to grow crops6.
• Meat protein production has a relative environmental effect of up to 17 times more for land use, up to 26 times more water required and up to 20 times more fossil fuels than soy protein production7.
What Is A Sustainable Diet?
A sustainable diet has been defined as a diet which has a limited impact on the environment while contributing to all nutritional needs and food security, for people today and in the future8. It encompasses environmental, social, health and economic security9.
How Can We Get Involved?
• The BDA’s Blue Dot Campaign. The British Dietetic Association believe that dietitians should consider both nutrition and the environment when giving advice, resulting in universal messages to maintain a sustainable diet. The One Blue Dot Campaign offers plenty of resources offering a further explanation of sustainable diets and the need for them, answers to many commonly asked questions, help to define key terms, and offers resources for how to swap our meals to become more sustainable9.
• The CIWF’s Rethink Fish Campaign. In 2019 Compassion in World Farming launched the Rethink Fish Campaign testifying for the need for new legislation on the welfare of fish in the EU. The essence of this campaign is that we know fish far more complicated than we have assumed in the past10 and current farming of fish is unregulated and inhumane11. Research estimates that 90% of big fish are unsustainably sourced, if this continues by 2050 there will be virtually no marine life in our oceans12 and it will be irreversible. The CIWF advice to “Eat Less. And Better”13.
• The UN’s #ACTNOW Food Challenges. The #ACTNOW Food Challenges “aim to inspire even more people to enjoy sustainable, climate-conscious and delicious food”14, by reducing meat consumption, focusing on increasing plant diversity, and creating delicious meals15.
What Can We Do To Cook And Eat More Sustainably?
Remember, eating more sustainably includes eating a balanced diet. We do not have to do everything or be “eco-perfect”, but it is good to remember that every little helps.
1. Reduce our food waste
Of food brought by the average household, 30% of it is wasted16, so how can we reduce this?
• Cook and blend. Cook vegetables past their best but still safe to eat and blitz into soup, or blend fruit into a smoothie.
• Use the freezer. Blanch vegetables and fruit and put them in the freezer. Alternatively, cook into a favourite dish from pasta bakes to curry’s, or a chilli and freeze into portions.
• Grow your own. From herbs on the windowsill to a sack of potatoes on the doorstep to a vegetable patch, and then pick just what is needed.
• Focus on local produce. This helps to support the local community, means less food waste and fewer air miles travelled.
2. Reduce our meat intake
The environmental footprint of a plant-based diet is much lower than a meat-based diet17,18. Furthermore, increased consumption of plant-based foods increases the gut microbiome biodiversity, having a positive impact on health19,20.
Let’s talk about plant-based alternatives which we can swap in. Complete sources of plant-based protein which provide us with all the essential amino acids we need to eat include, soya products21 and quinoa22. Other sources of plant-based protein are legumes. The BDA define a portion of plant-based proteins to include23:
• 1tbsp/ 150g of baked beans
• 4tbsp/ 150g of beans (kidney beans, butter beans or black-eyed beans)
• 4 tbsp/ 150g of pulses (lentils or chickpeas)
• 4tbsp/ 100g of soya/ tofu, vegetable-based meat alternative
• 1tbsp/ handful/ 30g of nuts or peanut butter
3. Create a meal plan
Remember a sustainable diet is one which provides us with a balanced diet and meets our social and economic needs as well as reducing its impact on the environment.
• Make a shopping list. Planning delicious meals and snacks for the week ahead and using a shopping list, will help us avoid buying excess food that we do not need and may perish before we have a chance to eat it.
• Need help? Have a look at the BDA’s Healthy Eating: Food Fact Sheet24.
4. Look out for certified food labels
These labels include:
• Fairtrade. This marks products which have been sourced from farmers and workers employed in developing countries, promotes fairer trading conditions and empowers farmers and workers25.
• RSPCA Assured. An assured label which shows that animals have had a better26.
• ASC-MSC Seaweed Standard. This certification indicates that fish have been sustainably sourced27.
• RSPO. This certification is a global standard showing sustainable palm oil28.
5. Think: reuse and refill; repurpose or recycle
This is something which can apply to every aspect of life when thinking about sustainable living.
• Reuse and Refill. For example, reusable cups and lunchboxes, are great to reduce single-use plastic. If you have a plastic water bottle or plastic bags, keep on reusing them!
• Repurpose or recycle. This applies to any food packaging (makes sure to read the labels).
Resources Which May Help
• WWF Green Ambassadors 4 Youth. A scheme to help young people aged between 5-14 years old to get involved in understanding the relationships between nature and our lifestyles29.
• Love Food Hate Waste. A website with plenty of recipes showing and great ideas of how to use food in the fridge instead of throwing it away30.
• Too Good To Go. An app which allows us to buy food from restaurants at a reduced price which otherwise would be waste31.
• BDA Meal Swap Nutritional Data. A resource from the British Dietetic Association helping us to obtain a nutritionally balanced diet with a reduced impact on the environment32.
This blog post was written by Emilia Fish, a Food Science and Nutrition graduate and soon-to-be MSc Clinical and Public Health Nutrition student at UCL. She is part of the Nutrition Rocks intern team and enjoys sharing simple, evidence-based nutrition on @nutritionnourishment. Emilia has recently launched a podcast: Journeys in Food, Nutrition and Sustainability.
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