Blog by Abi Reeves
Food is important - we spend a large amount of our lives buying, preparing, eating and clearing it up. But how exactly do these tasks affect the environment? And what are some of the common misconceptions about sustainable eating?
Here at One Shared Earth we were surprised by some of the answers provided during our 'Let's Eat a Sustainable Dinner' campaign, and we hope you’ll learn something new too. Now let’s go through the stages of before, during and after cooking, to learn how to make a more sustainable dinner.
The first thing that you might consider before buying the ingredients for your meal is whether to physically travel to the shops or have your food home-delivered. Like many questions on sustainable living there is no straightforward or definitive answer as to which is better, so check out the pros and cons of home-delivery in order to decide which option suits you best. In many cases home-delivery is actually the more sustainable option, unless you tend to walk, cycle, or use public transport to travel to and from the supermarket. Ordering meal kits to your door may also be an attractive option if you find yourself regularly driving to the shops or letting large amounts of food go to waste.
If you choose to travel to the shops, before you head out the door you’ll probably want to think about grabbing some reusable bags - but which types of reusable bags are more sustainable? Surprisingly enough, our research found that when so-called ‘disposable’ shopping bags are re-used as many times as possible and disposed of properly, they actually turn out to be the most environmentally-friendly option. If you’re worried about generating plastic waste, however, then another eco-friendly alternative lies in making your own reusable bags out of old fabric. What better way to practise your sewing skills?
When you get to the supermarket, the number of decisions to make regarding which products to buy, what packaging to avoid, and how much food to buy can seem a bit overwhelming. If you don’t already do so, then try writing a shopping list beforehand. Planning your meals ahead means that you avoid wasting money and food by buying too much, and it means that you don’t end up throwing random things into your shopping basket that you don’t really want or need. This way you and your kids (if you have them) are also less likely to end up being drawn into deals for foods (‘but it’s 3 for 2 on Jaffa cakes’) that you didn’t even really want in the first place.
Let’s pretend that you’re in the vegetable aisle, surveying the numerous types of onion available for purchase. Being environmentally-minded, you might find yourself reaching for the organic onions with the green labels that scream ‘eco-friendly’. We were surprised to find that organic foods are often not much better than - or even worse than - conventionally-farmed foods, in terms of their impact on different environmental factors (land use, eutrophication levels and greenhouse gas emissions, for example). That’s not to mention that organic foods are often more expensive (at least in supermarkets) than their non-organic counterparts.
Once you’ve decided whether you’d prefer to buy organic or non-organic products, there’s also the question of whether food is grown locally. Again, the pros and cons of locally-grown foods vary depending on many different factors. Have a look at the research to see whether local produce is something that you think would be the more environmentally-friendly option for you.
Perhaps the most well-known advice that is given to help people eat more sustainably is to eat fewer animal products. Whether you go fully vegan, or opt for a reduction in your meat and dairy intake, eating a more plant-based diet is a key way to reduce the impact that your diet has on the planet. So put down that bacon and try lentils instead.
Another important factor that many people think of when considering the environmental impact of their food is the amount of ‘food miles’ generated. This means thinking about how far and via which methods of transport food has got to us. It’s not always easy to find information on whether a product has travelled by air (the method of transportation with a notoriously heavy carbon footprint), but do have a look at suggestions as to which types of food are more likely to be flown as opposed to being shipped.
Now supposing you’ve made all these decisions beforehand, carefully navigated your way around the shops, bought your food and packed it into your reusable bags, you’ve still got to think about how you’re going to cook the food. Read about cooking and clearing-up in Part Two of our ‘Let’s Eat a Sustainable Dinner’ blog.
Image designed by Chloe Henshaw