Eating Sustainably and developing sustainable eating habits is not difficult. It's just about being aware of a few basic principles. It's also a lifelong journey, so don't feel you are failing if you don't do everything right away. Making small changes can all add up to making a big difference. The Real Meal Deal is all about sustainable food choices and sustainable living so I hope you'll find lots of help right here. Each recipe talks about how you can make the best sustainable food choices as well as offering tips on storage and minimizing food waste.
Why is it important?
Eating Sustainably is of huge importance. Around 30% of the world's Greenhouse Gas Emissions come from food. What we eat and what we waste, has a massive impact on Climate Change and is something we can all take action on. It also impacts Food Poverty in Developing Nations. Climate change is already having a massive impact on Developing Countries. Droughts and floods mean land can no longer be farmed, which leads to hunger and migration. Sea level rises mean more parts of the world becoming uninhabitable. In the last few years, we've also seen an increase in extreme weather patterns right around the world including Europe, the USA, and Australia.
What does it mean to Eat Sustainably?
Eating sustainably means choosing foods that have the least impact on the planet and the lowest carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is a way of measuring how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that scientists now know is responsible for the climate emergency we now find ourselves in.
We can all choose to eat a sustainable diet. It doesn't mean everyone needs to go Vegan, although more and more people are making this choice for environmental reasons. 100 people making good sustainable food choices, will have a bigger impact than one person going Vegan. This is why you will find Meat Recipes as well as Fish, Vegetarian, and Vegan on this site. I want to be able to encourage people to make good sustainable food choices every single day, whatever they choose to eat.
There are many benefits of eating sustainably on a personal level, both for health and financial reasons. I'll talk more about these in each of the sections below. The main goal of course is to get our carbon emissions down and slow and stop global warming. We are now at a critical point and without wanting to sound too dramatic, we are almost out of time.
These are some of the key ways you can make changes to your diet to eat in a more ethically and sustainable way. Remember that choosing a sustainable diet is a lifelong journey. Big changes can be difficult so if this is new to you, I would encourage you to pick one thing and start there. Once you've started, you can then build up and include more and more aspects.
How to Eat Meat Sustainably
The issue of eating meat and sustainability is complex. Whilst some people are choosing vegetarian and vegan diets for environmental reasons, this is not without its challenges. Everything we eat has some environmental impact. In talking about meat, it is important to recognize that the environmental impact of meat is not all the same.
‘It’s not the cow, but the how’.
The environmental impact of locally bred, grass-fed produce is significantly lower than that of factory-farmed meat. In addition to the higher emissions created by factory farming, the meat is often produced overseas and then shipped to the UK. When meat is cheap, you can be fairly sure the welfare has also been cheap. Don’t be fooled by a picture of a farm gate on a cheap chicken in your local supermarket. Make sure your meat was reared in the UK (or your home country) and not just packaged there! A local quality butcher will know the farms their meat comes from and often source meat locally. Supporting local farmers who are key workers of our environment and countryside is important. If we choose to eat meat, we need to choose to eat meat sustainably. This means not eating it every day and buying locally bred free-range grass-fed produce when we do.
Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is a huge sustainability issue. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the world after the USA and China! When we waste food, we not only contribute to those CO2 emissions, but we are also wasting all the energy and resources that went into producing that food.
In a world where 24,000 people still die of hunger every day, as a nation we throw away 6.6 billion tonnes a year of food, 70% of which could have been eaten. Food waste in our landfill sites emits methane gas which is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2 or carbon dioxide. The reduction in CO2 gained by not wasting food would be the equivalent to taking 1 in 5 cars off our roads.
On an individual level, the average UK family still throws away around £60 of food every month. That’s a massive £720 a year straight in the bin! Planning our meals, only buying what we need, and using leftovers can help reduce this amount. There are lots of simple things we can all do to reduce food waste
Choose Seasonal and Local Produce
Eating produce in season is a great move towards eating sustainably. It means using food at its best. Research also suggests buying food in season can be up to one-third cheaper. Food in season is naturally abundant and hasn’t had to incur long-term storage costs. Using fresh ingredients means getting the best nutritional value from the meals you cook. Amazingly, nearly all of the vegetables you find in the supermarkets and greengrocers can be grown in the UK.
Buying homegrown seasonal produce helps support both our local communities and economy. Seasonal produce has a much smaller impact on the environment as it hasn't been stored or produced in artificial conditions, which use lots of energy. For more information visit the Eat Seasonably website.
Choose Fairtrade Products
Buying Fairtrade products is a direct way to help the world’s poor and support sustainable farming practices. You get a high-quality product and make a real difference in the lives of the people who grow your food. Fairtrade can be the difference between farmers earning enough money to feed their families or not. It’s about decent working conditions and fair terms of trade. Fairtrade products are produced using sustainable farming practices which protect the farmer and the land. The products are less contaminated because they limit the use of harmful agrochemicals. Many Fairtrade products are also organic. Visit the Fairtrade website for more information.
Organic farming is a more environmentally friendly way of farming. It produces less pollution, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy. In contrast, pesticides and chemicals sprayed onto plants contaminate the soil, water supply as well as the air. In some cases, they can still be present decades later.
As well as being a more sustainable option, organic food can be better for you because it doesn’t contain traces of any pesticides. Organic meat and dairy products don't contain antibiotics or other drugs, hormones, or pesticides. Since organic food doesn’t contain artificial preservatives, it is usually fresher and tastes better. People with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives often find that symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organics.
Animal Friendly Products
Animal-friendly products have come from animals that have not been industrially farmed. Industrially farmed animals are often confined indoors in cramped conditions. This means they are exposed to high levels of toxins from their own decomposing waste. To counteract the unhealthy conditions, the animals are given constant low doses of antibiotics. They are also routinely treated with pesticides and other additives and can be given hormones to speed their growth and increase productivity. It's worth remembering that when you eat the meat from these animals, you are eating all of those antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones too.
Choosing products that conform to recognized welfare standards is a better choice environmentally. The farms these animals are reared on produce less pollution. The RSPCA Assured label makes it easy to recognize products from animals that have had a better life. Visit the RSPCA website for more details.
How to eat Seafood Sustainably
Buying sustainably sourced fish and seafood is important for preserving the long term health of fish stocks and also for protecting the marine environment. Fish with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label, come from stocks that are not in danger and have been sustainably fished. Not all fish comes with this label but you can find plenty that does in most supermarkets. Visit the Marine Stewardship Council website for more information.
Fish is a good source of many vitamins, minerals and protein and is lower in fat than most meat. The Dept. of Health recommends we eat one portion of white fish and one portion of oily fish each week and there are many Fish Recipes on this site to help you do this. Eating a wider variety of fish can save you money compared to the most common bought fish. Look out for suggestions for cheaper sustainable alternatives in the recipes.
We can all make eating sustainably a part of our everyday lives. It not only benefits our planet but there are many health and financial benefits for us too. If you want to know what more you can do, visit my Living Sustainably blogs for some lifestyle tips.