Food [Better Living]

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We can all be fed with good quality food and drink whilst nature and the climate recovers from harm. In the process, we can eat more healthily and waste a lot less. We can learn about different types of food and eat a more varied diet that follows the seasons. Our knowledge will grow in the process and so will our families.

Food is costing us the Earth and it’s being wasted. The trend is for us to buy high-calorie fast food which has huge environmental impacts, as well as not being good for our health. We are also wasting very large amounts of food, with the average UK family throwing away 40% per year.

Here you will find a means to eat fresher, more nutritious, less packaged food, which has less of an impact on the environment and your wallet.

How Food and Drink Impacts the Environment

Our source of food and drink is from the land. As we consume more land-hungry foodstuffs, we take land that would have otherwise provided nature with a home and stored carbon. We then use a great deal of water to grow food, and employ both agricultural machinery and people to help manage the land and harvest the produce. The product is then packaged and transported, from which point it is retailed.

There may be additional impacts depending on agricultural practices. The ploughing of fields releases carbon and degrades topsoil, which pollutes air and water. The addition of organic or inorganic fertilizer results in run-off which pollutes water sources and the use of pesticides kills insects and other wildlife. If meat or dairy is being cultivated, then there are additional carbon emissions and additional run-off, together polluting air and water. Land is also used to grow grain to feed these animals.

The Worst Offenders

The worst environmental impacts are from beef and lamb production, which require incredible land use, carbon dioxide emissions and water use per kilogram of meat produced. Dairy products follow these in terms of impacts, using an incredible 50 square meters of land, 300 litres of water and 12kg of carbon per litre of milk. Fish, pig and poultry follow this, with the production of sweet and alcoholic drinks and eggs following after.

There is a full register of the impact of each foodstuff on our community site for those interested in exploring this further.

The Difference Diet Makes

Human diet makes a huge difference. Dairy consumption has the single biggest impact, simply because of the volume we consume (25% of weight shopped from by an average UK consumer). Cutting out the purchase of meat also has an impact if meat is farm sourced – wild-sourced meat such as venison bears little to no environmental impact.

The following table gives an environmental impact from an average annual British grocery shop, showing how various diets alter these impacts.

tCO2e m3 of Water Hectares of Land
Impact of an annual UK shop 2.0 459.7 0.8
As a percentage of Average
Vegan 45% 19% 20%
Vegetarian (no dairy) 46% 19% 21%
Vegetarian 81% 86% 72%
Pescatarian 83% 92% 73%
Meat 20% Reduction 98% 98% 95%

Sources of Food and Drink

As food also bears an environmental impact from the methods of farming, transport and packaging used to bring products to the consumer - it also matters how food is sourced.

Purchasing organic food reduces impact as this does not use pesticides or artificial fertilizers in production. Some farms also implement zero-till regimes whereby they do not plough and also set aside areas of land for wildlife, which reduces adverse ecological impacts and carbon emissions. Eating meat which is solely pasture-fed reduces land use and has other nutrient benefits.

Sourcing food locally cuts out transport emissions. If you are able to grow your own food, then land use and packaging impacts are almost nil.

Packaging also has a huge ecological impact from plastic being burnt, going to landfill or ending up in our oceans. It is known that even if you recycle plastics, only 9% of it is actually recycled!

Top suggestions from the community include using zero waste shops and getting seasonal veg boxes delivered.

Cutting Impacts from Waste

In the UK 43 million tonnes of food are purchased annually, of which 6.7 million tonnes of edible food is wasted (Wrap, 2020). The majority of the food wasted is from households, with around a quarter being wasted for food bought by the hospitality sector and through the production process.

Cutting food waste in the UK would dramatically reduce negative environmental impacts. There are numerous apps and tools which people can use to help tackle this problem, some of which are recommended through this website.

Eating Out

Where you choose to eat can also influence diet, how the food you eat is produced and how much is wasted. There are some suggestions on how to reduce your impact from eating out on our community site.

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