But what can we do? The individual? Does it make a difference – just us in our homes? I think we could debate this until the cows come home – hopefully after being farmed in a way that reduces the methane they release into the atmosphere. I am no expert on climate change or sustainability and what I do know centres around food.
Everyone eats. Everyone buys food. As a result food and its production has a massive role to play in all aspects of sustainability and the environment. The land that is used, the water and resources required, the energy needed and where that energy comes from, the transportation and the packaging.
It means that, when it comes to food, we can all make small changes to the way we shop, cook and eat our food that can have a small impact on this planet we call home. Because these small impacts can happen everyday there can be a significant accumulation of those benefits.
What’s more, some of those things can save us money and improve our food experience. They can also improve our health. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
If we reduce our food waste we save money. Every time we avoid food going into the bin we have made our money go further. We are also helping to make all the resources that are used to produce that food go further. Even a small amount of planning what we buy can help us reduce the food we waste.
Eat more plants
Meat and animal products are generally more resource intensive than plant foods. It is not absolutely black and white but overall diets that are rich in plant foods and use animal products in moderation are better for the planet. Generally speaking, in Europe, many of us could really benefit from eating more plants. More fibre, more micronutrients, better for heart health, better for gut health and for mental health. So by adding more plants we can help the health of both ourselves and the planet. We are not talking about becoming vegetarian or vegan here – simply adding more plants and skipping animal products sometimes.
Not only can eating more plants be healthier for us and the environment, it can also be kinder on our pocket too. With the effects of COVID on the economy and, for those reading in the UK, of Brexit on food prices, this could also be useful.
The Marine Stewardship Council do amazing work helping to ensure fish stocks remain viable and aim to protect out oceans. Buying fish with the MSC logo and fish listed on their website as sustainable then we can support this work and help to protect the health of our oceans which are vital to the health of the planet. It doesn’t have to cost more either, there are ways to continue to have fish on the menu without paying more to be more sustainable in you choices.
Shop in different places
Diversifying where we shop and finding other outlets to buy things can help our food systems and provide opportunities to buy more environmentally sustainable products. Making more use of markets and farm shops is one example. They can give us more local and seasonal produce often benefiting from better quality or wider choice that can be provided in supermarkets and reduced packaging. It can sometimes be cheaper too. Connecting with producers and seeing where I food has come from can have a positive effect on our enjoyment of our food.
It also helps are food system be more resilient – we are following the proverb that says not to put all our eggs in one basket. If the local producers have no means to sell to the locals then if there is a system problem like COVID created, it makes it very hard to shift how we access our food, food goes to waste and people pay more.
Involvement in the bigger picture
Our choices can ultimately shift retailers to up their game to give us what we want and expect from them. Buying the products with less packaging results in more products with less packaging. Buying more plant based products results in a wider choice of plant based products. Opting for seasonal products can help to increase the variety of seasonal produce available. Demand creates supply.
There is a caveat though. There are products that claim to be greener or cleaner than they really are. False comparisons and ‘greenwashing’. There needs to be some governing standards laid down so that we as consumers are not mislead. This is true with health halos around food – nutrition and health claims legislation helps. There are discussions ongoing to help standardise labelling to protect consumers from misleading claims which is difficult because sustainability and environmental issues are complex.
We also have to fight towards levelling the playing field. We shouldn’t have to pay more money to have products that are kind to the planet. The norm and more affordable option should also be the most responsible – these things are often beyond our immediate control. By getting involved with organisations lobbying governments and businesses to do the right thing we can help to force change.
We can’t do everything. If you want to make some change and save some money in the process then there are some tips on reducing foods waste, choosing better fish, menu planning and eating more plants in Eating Well on a Budget. For the month of November there is a special price for this booklet so why don’t you take a look. Click through and put COP26 in as the voucher code for a 30% discount.