How can we eat more sustainably?
I love food. I love everything about food, not just the anticipation and the taste but the way it nourishes and sustains our body too. But I am worried that the way we grow, raise, fish, transport, store, purchase, eat and waste our food is no longer sustainable. That's the topic of this blog.
Did you know that food production is responsible for a significant amount of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change? I believe that it's time we took a good look at what we eat, where it comes from, how it was grown and how much we eat.
Our ever increasing need for farmland leads to the destruction of forests. Deforestation contributes a massive 10% to greenhouse gas emissions globally. Deforestation also removes habitat for birds and animals and wipes out species of plants that may have nutritional or medicinal properties that we are yet to discover.
Agriculture is responsible for a further 5 to 6% of greenhouse gas emissions due to ploughing the soil. Agricultural practices cause erosion of top soil, excessive nutrients in the soil and leaching into waterways which reduces the numbers of soil organisms, land and marine species.
When you add on the energy costs of harvesting, transportation and refrigeration, agriculture makes a significant contribution to our greenhouse emissions.
Methane emissions from livestock is a surprising but also significant producer of gasses, contributing over 5% to global greenhouse gases.
What can I do?
Sometimes, when we hear statistics such as these, we can feel helpless at the scale of the global environmental problem. However, I believe that every one of us can make a very significant impact on these statistics if we make some small but important changes to how we shop, cook, eat and what we throw out. These are my suggestions:
1. Eat less! Overeating is a huge problem for our planet because it's causing obesity, driving many chronic diseases and increasing the rate at which we need to find new farmland. Next time you eat a meal, consider if you can eat less. Eating less can benefit your waistline and reduce the amount of food that needs to be produced to feed you.
2. Try to have at least one day per week that is meat free. Australian's reportedly consume almost 230 grams of meat per person per day, or 90kg per year. If everyone of us in Australia had even one vegetarian day per week, it would mean that we would eat 32 million kg less meat per year!
3. Support local farmers and eat seasonal produce as this cuts down on transport and refrigeration costs as gives you fresher and more nutritious food. Look out for a farmers market near you.
4. Buy organic or biodynamically grown food whenever you can to support farmers who are caring for their soils, the environment around their farms, our health and the future of our planet.
5. Refuse to buy foods that are packaged in plastic. Most processed foods have extra packaging, which ends up in landfill but even some fruits and vegetables come packaged and wrapped in plastic. Take your own reusable bags when you go shopping.
6. If you buy imported goods such as coffee beans, try to take an interest in how they were farmed and processed and if the profits go back to the local community. Support ethical farming, so that communities can manage their fields sustainably and care about the farm workers health with safe work practices.
7. Grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. This way you will know for sure how they were grown and exactly how fresh they are. But don't stop there! Keeping chickens in the suburbs is easy and a great source of fresh, organic eggs.
8. Plan your meals each week and buy only what you need. A shocking statistic is that industrialised nations throw out 20 to 30% of their food. Buying only what you need is an easy way to really make a difference to the amount of food that is grown and produced to feed us.
9. Compost your food waste, instead of putting it in the bin, where it ends up as landfill. Greenhouse gas emissions from landfill contribute approximately 3% to the global emissions. The number of Australian households composting is on the decline, let's turn this around!
10. Do it now! Choose which of the above suggestions make sense to you and make a start. The issue of food sustainability requires our urgent attention.
The future of our planet and our health relies on all of us educating ourselves about these important issues and taking action.
About the author:
I am a herbalist and naturopath based in Sydney and passionate gardener. As well as having a degree in Health Science, I have post graduate qualifications in Sustainable Development and training and experience in permaculture design.
I run workshops in my clinic and the local community and for companies wishing to support the health of their employees. I am an advocate of eating whole foods for maximum health gains and caring about how our food is grown.
I am available for private consultations.