While many of us strive to go vegetarian if not vegan, there may be many reasons, cultural or practical, why this change can be difficult but we are convinced that there is one easy decision that can greatly improve our childrens’ future and our own health and this decision is buying sustainable food.
The definition of “sustainable” can be controversial and confusing but some aspects of the term such as “organic” and “Fair trade” are generally accepted.
We must understand that Sustainable food means GOOD food:
- Food that is nourishing to our body and enhances the health and variety of both plants and animals.
- Food that does not contribute to climate change by protecting natural resources such as water and soil.
- Food that helps local economies thus limiting the multinationals control over our lives.
- Food that comes from our gardens and our kitchens, enriching our knoledge, skills and cultural diversity.
But what does this means in practice and what are we supposed to do to make informed choices?
- Try to reduce waste
- Eat less meat and dairy
- Buy local, seasonal and environmentally friendly
- Choose Fairtrade
- Eat fish from sustainable sources
- Grow what you can
1) Reduce waste. Limiting waste does not only mean buying food that has less packaging and wrapping (individually portioned snacks, baby drink bottles, plastic trays for fresh produce…) but also buying LESS food.
The statistics talk clearly: about 30% of food for human consumption is wasted globally. In the developing countries the loss happens mainly after harvesting and during processing, in developed countries the loss happens at retail and consumer level.
We all can:
- Plan our shopping and stick to the list.
- Store food in the right place (cool cupboard, fridge, freezer).
- Learn to use/cook with leftovers.
- Learn the difference between Use by and best before and, in the shops, Sell by and display until.
- Dispose properly or, better, compost our food waste.
One easy way to reduce the packaging is to avoid bottled waters and soft drinks: if you don’t like the taste of tap water invest in a filtering jug. And if you can’t do without your fizzy drink there are options to carbonate your drinks at home without filling your bin with plastic bottles.
2) Less meat and diary. We have already written about the problems linked to eating food coming from animal sources: eating meat is not only not necessary for our health but harms our environment. And while eating small quantities of good quality meat and dairy are not a health problem, increasing scientific evidence points at the links between overconsumption of animal products and serious deseases such as cancer.
Too much meat puts our health at risk and contributes to climate change: industrialized animal farming is wrong on so many levels, leaving aside the aspects of animal welfare, it causes about 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions and it’s “land-intensive”: think about the amount of crops grown to feed the animals (7Kg of grains needed to produce 1Kg of meat). Industrial farms are maintained through the daily use of antibiotics (animals living side by side are easy targets of pandemic illnesses) which end up in our plates and are causing antibiotics resistance (apparently 70% of microbes in the world are today antibiotic resistant and there are no new drugs being created).
We all can:
- Reduce, (if you can’t go without) the amount of meat consumed and substitute with vegetable proteins such as beans.
- Know where your food comes from and choose organic: this means better environmental standards, better animal welfare and no nasties in your food.
- Choose Free range when organic is not available.
- Choose Pasture Fed Livestock which provides clear health benefits in terms of nutrients and also is an efficient way to use natural resources.
- Avoid the Dirty Dozen and choose from the clean 15 instead.
3) Local and seasonal. By buying local we ensure that our food has not travelled from the other side of the planet to reach us, has not been harvested when still not ripened and is not only fresher but also more affordable and rich in nutrients. We also encourage the local economy and avoid multinationals.
By buying in season we ensure that our food is cheaper, more flavoursome, more rich in nutrients and not forcily grown with unnatural methods.
4) The Fairtrade mark was born in 1980 to limit the discrimination against the producers and workers in the poorest countries who are subject to unfair rules governing international trade and cannot compete with the multinationals. Fartrade products generally come from tropical countries, do not compete with local farming and are an ethical choice when a local choice not available.
5) Sustainable fish. Choosing sustainable fish can be frustrating: we are told that the global fish stock is at risk, that we are overfishing the oceans, that marine habitats are endangered by certain type of fishing such as bottom trawling and that predator fish like sharks and dolphins (which are fundamental to maintain healthy ecosystems) can become a “bycatch” and risk extintion.
It seems that the best thing to prevent this would be consuming farmed fish. Not so. Many farmed fish species are carnivours and the fish they are fed might not have been caught sustainably.
Farmed fish present the same problems as farmed animals: close proximity means it is also at risk of being polluted by faecal matter and be kept healthy with substantial doses of antibiotics.
We all can:
- Buy less fish and avoid the overfished types. Check out this red list.
- Check out this other Greenpeace list, which varies from country to country, to choose what to buy.
- Buy from responsible retailers.
Choosing sustainable food is a win-win situation: our wallet will gain, our health will improve and our planet will thank us. And it does not mean that we have to embrace a complicated new way of living which is alien to us, all at once: every little change we make counts and we can start with just a small step. Millions of people, millions of little steps: together we can make a BIG difference.