Over the past few weeks I have been looking into food sustainability as a concern. I am now devoted to reducing food waste in my house. I can see how relevant this nutrition topic is for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Believe it or not, the state of our waist line and house hold food waste are related.
With the rise of high protein meat based diets and the trend toward consumption of packaged goods, it’s concerning that we forget that health and the environment need to be considered on a much larger scale. If everyone made small changes to their food purchases and behaviours, then together this will amount to better food sustainability and better health.
Do you know how much editable food is wasted in your house hold?
Did you know in Australia alone, we waste up to 4.45 million dollars in food each year? This is equivalent to $5000 per year in each house hold. You might as well be throwing your hard earned dollars in the bin, literally!
When we talk about food waste, it’s not in reference to the scraps you may be inclined to feed your dog. These numbers are actually in reference to food that is suitable for human consumption.
It is approximated, that we need 1.5 planet earths to provide for us in the next 20years time. Considering we only have the one inhabitable planet at the moment, maybe we should start to do something about it. And I don’t mean invest more money into the NASSA space research, but start making simple changes within our own house holds in relation to reducing food waste. It can help to play a big role in conserving our planet.
By reducing the amount food waste in Australian households, it would be equivalent environmental impact to taking 1.5million cars of the road each year. Now wouldn’t that be fabulous?
Why should anyone care about being ecologically friendly?
Good question, for me this topic is something I want to feel very passionately about. I say want to, because I think we should all at least try our best to think of the environment, but I am not exactly ‘Miss Eco’ of the year.
I admit there’s a lot I can improve on to reduce my eco footprint. We all have a role to play in keeping the earth healthy. In my household veggie cut off occasionally get thrown in the bin. Some times lunch gets left uneaten and has to be trashed. Sometimes my potatoes turn green and are wasted. And this really annoys me.
There’s a good reason for that, I know that food waste plays a huge impact on our environment. Not just because of the direct landfill implications, but because the excessive purchasing of food we don’t need or eat perpetuates the entire system of resource wasting.
In Australia, the food supply chain is responsible for approximately 23% of the total green house and environmental footprint. Soil, water and natural resources are all used to produce, process, shelve and market our food. When we throw food in the bin, we waste all these natural resources.
In Australia 59% of the land is used for agriculture. Cattle farms are one of the biggest agricultural practices in Australia which include raising animals for slaughter and maintaining dairy farms. If we keep up with the current trend by 2050 we will need to produce twice as much food as we do now to keep up.
The vegetarian readers are going to love these stats. Did you know that to produce 1kg of beef for human consumption it takes 50,000L of water. Take note that 1 kg of beef may only feed 5 people. However, if the same amount of land and water was used to grow grain, you could feed 500 people. What a difference! Cattle and their bi-products produce a significant amount of methane gas, methane gas is 25 x more potent than CO2 gas, this means it has a larger effect on green house gas emissions as well.
Now to clarify, I don’t recommend that you become a vegetarian, unless of course you have a strong ethical or religious stance on the matter. However, I do recommend that you start to consider your own global foot print on the planet caused by your own food choices. Maybe you could look at reducing the amount of meat you eat or minimising the amount of meat you waste and that has to be thrown out.
If we want to address food sustainability there are four main global areas we need to focus on to make this work:
- Farming practices, water use and soil depletion.
- Reducing transportation time, growing locally and supporting local farmers
- When purchasing from over seas suppliers use fair trade food agreements to protect 3rd world countries from being exploited.
- Reduce our overall waste of food and products that’s deplete natural resources
As a consumer there are things that you can change on the day to day level too. The power is in your wallet and your purchasing behaviours.
How processed food effects the environment
This is a no brainer, no matter what style of eating you follow there is one thing everyone agrees on and that’s eat less processed food! The message is clear for reducing your eco footprint too. Processed food wastes our natural resources because of the infrastructure it takes to make the food, package, advertise and ship the items.
Think about the process of making a bag of crisps. To start you have to pay a farmer to grow perfectly round shaped potatoes. Did you know in nature potatoes are never that perfectly round? In fact a lot of our food waste happens at the farming level, where miss shaped vegetables are often discarded and don’t make the cut to be purchased by large manufacturing companies. There is a lot of work being done in this area of “Ugly food” in Europe to reduce it’s impact on food waste already, in particular in Australia by Woolworths in its odd bunch fruit and vegetable campaign.
Back to our crisp example. When the potatoes are harvested they are transported to a factory to be cleaned, sliced, cooked, salted and packaged. Packaging often consists of putting a handful of chips (~30g) into and airtight plastic pouch. Several of these are put into a larger plastic pouch or cardboard box advertised as having multiple flavours with 20 little packets of chips inside.
Package printing, plastic and cardboard all have to come from somewhere. We all know cardboard comes from chopping tress and plastics from non-renewable natural resources such as crude oil and coal. Then worse still, we put the chips into a large plastic bag so we can carry it to the car and drive it home!
Chips are a household item for most families with kids, but even for the health conscious who don’t buy chips think even deeper. Tinned fish, tinned veggies and legumes are also processed and packaged too. Although healthy food, they still have an impact on the environment we have to consider.
In this day and age it is hard to avoid processed food, however you can minimise your impact by buying locally produced fresh food. For example purchasing your own potatoes and veggies from the farmers markets and making your own chips. Buying fresh fish from your local fishmonger that support suitable fishing methods or just go fishing yourself!
The facts on food waste
I find the point about household income the most troubling, Having wealth doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. The earth belongs to everyone, so burden of care falls on everyone’s shoulders regardless of how much you earn. After all, money means nothing, when everyone is starving together.
Over purchasing is a huge problem, not checking your fridge or cupboards for ingredients before shopping means people buy what they don’t need. Always shop with a list and don’t be afraid to let your cupboard or fridge go bear once in a while. Make sure you go through your stash of canned and packaged food every few months so you ensure you are not unnecessarily stock piling items you won’t or don’t eat.
Worse still check the used by date, just because something is canned doesn’t mean it won’t go off. Equally rusty tins should also be thrown out, this is a food safety issue you might get sick!
One week a month I have what I call an Armageddon week where I try to live off what’s leftover in the fridge, freezer and pantry. This makes sure I get through all the food and nothing goes to waste because it sits there for too long. I also make sure my fridge is only stocked to last me 4-5days and no more. By the end of the week I want my fridge to look empty. It not only ensures that over eating doesn’t happen, but also that nothing goes to waste!
Food mileage how far your food travels
A food mile is a measure of the distance food travels from where it is grown or where it is raised to where it is purchased. In Australia because of the harsh farming conditions and climate we do import a lot of our food.
We are actually importing more food than ever before. In fact a lot of the fruit and vegetables found in the major supermarket chains are bought from overseas. Those large bright orange Californian oranges have travelled 12,056km perfect to juice all year round.
The transportation of food occurs by the use of plane, ship, truck, and car. All of these modes of transport require fuel. Fuel is a non-renewable natural resource. It’s quite the luxury that we are lucky to eat oranges all year round. My question is why do we need to eat oranges all year round? Isn’t it enough to just eat what’s in season and enjoy the natural variability of the food chain? Tip- buy in season fruit and vegetables.
Eating within our means
Food sustainability is not just an important issue for our day-to-day food, but also food enjoyment. We might run out of affordable chocolate in 20 years time! Now that would be a crime. Cocoa farming in West Africa might not be able to keep up with the demand of chocolate and the cost of farming compared to the return companies pay for cheap bulk cocoa purchases.
Buying cocoa cheaply from a developing nations such as Africa means farmers are paid next to nothing for the laborious work they do. The problem as gotten so bad that most are moving to the cities and abandoning farms once a harvest has been complete. It also means that these soils are now by in large nutrient depleted, which makes it impossible to grow anything else.
This means that farmers look for more areas to start plantations, which often means more deforestation. All of this so western countries can enjoy cheap chocolate. Now that’s really not fair.
Sustainability is not just about what we do in our backyard, but how our purchasing behaviors affect the local communities of people else where. How things currently work is multinational companies pay the least amount of money for produce by buying in bulk from the poorest and weakest producers. This allows companies to make and sell cheap chocolate. All this does is influence the purchasing of these products in western countries increasing demand, and putting pressure to produce more cheap crop.
This causes big market fluctuations in the local area and unfair conditions for farmers who often can’t afford to invest into sustainable farming practices.
If you can by fair-trade products. Fair trade is about paying farmers decent money for their work and crops. It also ensures decent working conditions and local sustainability. It makes large corporations pay sustainable prices so that farmers can afford to work on sustainable farming practices, pay for medical bills and ensure children go to school. The fair trade certification also ensures there is no forced and abusive child labor.
Nestle has taken the first steps into a sustainability project of its own. Pledging to 460 million over the next 10years to its replanting program. It will supply 39 million disease- resistance cocoa trees and educate farmers and communities on sustainable farming practices. They are committed to improve the supply chain of cocoa from only purchasing from farms with sustainable practices. They also aim to address the child labor issue and access to health care for these communities.
Eat less food & do more incidental activity
It’s no surprise that eating less actually has an environmental impact. If we maintain a healthy body weight, it means we are not eating in excess and wasting food. It’s not only better for our health but the environment. In addition to this participating in eco friendly transport to commute like walking and cycling can help reduce fuel usage and pollution. They found that for short trips lasting 2.5km e.g driving down to the shops, if you cycled for a year instead you can save a total 6% of household emissions.
Cycling can reduce carbon emissions. If you cycled to work you spend a total of 21g of carbon emissions per passenger kilometre. Compare this to a car you waste 271g of carbon emissions for people in a car and 101g for a bus per passenger kilometre.
Plan meals & write shopping lists to reduce food waste
This is great to prevent purchasing food you already have in the cupboards and fridge. Before you go to the shop do an inventory of what you do and don’t have. Only add to your shopping basket what you need. Meal planning also takes the head ache out of having to think about what to cook every night… a house wife’s night mare! Particularly if you work full, time it may deter you from taking the easy way out and ordering take away. This strategy is not only good to save money and reduce food waste, but it’s also a good weight loss technique.
Reduce food waste by buying food in season and grown locally
This helps support local industry and the economy, but also helps to reduce green house emissions. How? Well, food that is imported from across the country or even overseas requires modes transport like trucks and cars to get them to your door step. By limiting the purchase of transported goods potentially you can contribute to the reduction of emissions caused by transport methods.
Limit your intake of meat to reduce your eco footprint
Did you know we only need 1g of protein per 1kg of body weight daily. If you’re an 80kg male, that’s only 80g of meat… not that much at all! I am being biased and picking on men, because typically it is this population group which consumes the highest amount of meat.
If you’re an athlete especially into weight lifting, this figure seems inadequate. However I assure you it is not. High quality protein can come from other foods such as legumes, beans, nuts, soy, dairy products, eggs and fish, not only red meat. You can still have a high protein diet and eat less red meat.
In addition to this, it is debatable whether someone needs more that the recommended daily intake of protein anyway. For muscle building think about protein timing and type, more so than taking the overkill approach and eating every living animal on earth.
Reduce the amount of packaged food you buy to reduce food waste
Food packaging, even though invented to improve the safety of our food is terrible for the environment. A classic example is shrink wrapping bananas into styrofoam containers, do bananas really need a plastic coating after all they do have a protective skin on them? Likewise when purchasing rolled oats, I have noticed most people purchase individually oats pre-packaged in 45g satchels placed into another cardboard box with the equivalent of 1kg of oats because of convenience. When you can easily purchase the same oats in a single 1kg bag for 3rd of the price. Ask yourself – how much more time do you actually save using the satchel method, compared to using a scooper to measure your oats into a bowl? If you used the bag of oats, you would inherently be reducing the amount of packaging used, that later goes on to be land fill.
Increase your knowledge about food safety
The reason why I put this one in, is because too many people throw out food because they think it’s off. The fridge was invented for food safety purposes. Cooked meat can last in the fridge for up to 3 days, chicken 2 days, vegetables 3-4 days. You can still eat left over’s that are 2-3days old.
In this day and age people are very fussy about what they will eat and won’t eat. Ie they don’t like eating left over’s, they don’t like reheating food, they like green apples, not red. Do we really have a right to be this fussy? Our abundant food supply gives us the luxury to be fussy, but is it healthy for our planet?
I was bought up in a South American house hold. My grandmother who spoke very little English, (but somehow made so many English speaking friends in the neighbourhood?) came from a difficult upbringing where food was not always readily available. Preparing food was also time consuming having to mill grain by hand and sometimes cultivating the land yourself. I was always told god gave you food to eat, you have no right to say you don’t like it and be fussy, be grateful for the food you have because others go without. Which to this day has always been a sticking point with me. I make sure by the time Friday comes at the end of the week my fridge is bare. Every vegetable has been accounted for and left overs eaten, before I allow myself to go shopping for more food.
What can you do from here?
I don’t expect you to turn into a tree hugging hippies about food waste, just think about what measures you can start to take, to do your part. After all we need to leave this planet in good nick for our children.
There’s an example on how I do my part. I believe there is no use talking the talk, if you don’t walk the walk I say! I write a list and check the fridge and cupboards so I don’t over buy. I only shop once a week. I use left over fat, gristle and off cuts from meat to feed my dog. Plant waste is composted and we eat left over’s the following day if there was any leftovers. Little things like this help the environment, your waist and your wallet.
As city dwellers we can be so far removed from reality on where our food comes from, particularly children. Food is a weapon, don’t waste it! Buy wisely, cook carefully and eat it all. If you liked this article and know a friend who would love it, pay it forward and share 🙂
20 quick tips what you can do today!
- Take public transport to work, cycle or car pool
- Eat less
- Take fewer showers (block your training)
- Keep a worm farm and recycle waste
- Buy from the farmers markets (reduce food transport time)
- Eat mainly a plant based diet
- By fresh fruit and vegetables rather than dried or canned
- Recycle/reuse furniture
- Recycle/reuse plates/cups/jars
- Choose local seafood (Australian salmon, farmed Sydney rock oysters, leatherjacket)
- Modify Shopping behaviours shop with a list and check your pantry
- Eat at home this way you can portion control (eat less), potentially use less packaging and cook in bulk saving power and water
- Buy fair trade products
- Participate in meat less Mondays one less meat day will save 50,000L of water
- Vote for government parties that have good environmental policies
- Instead of driving to the gym, cycle or walk
- Use energy saving lights and appliances
- Keep a compost bin
- Make your own veggie patch
- Feed your dog craps instead of throwing them out and save money on canned dog food.