Eight Easy Ways to Eat Greener
We’ve all got to eat…and with 7.8bn of us on the planet, global food production is one of sustainability’s biggest issues. We look at eight ways you can change what and how you eat to create more environmentally friendly meals.
1. Eat seasonal
Now that we’re able to get most foods year-round thanks to air travel and shipping the idea of things being “in season” has lost its impact somewhat. After all – reasons today’s shopper – all fruits and vegetables are “in season” somewhere? But eating seasonally in its truest sense – i.e. choosing foods that are being grown right now where you are – is a key way to return to a more sustainable supply chain, with the added benefit that not only are these foods often cheaper but also require less intensive production methods, less transportation and taste better when they’re eaten…when they’re supposed to be eaten.
2. Plan ahead
Every year masses of food waste in the UK is sent to landfill – 15 million tonnes of food waste is produced by the food sector alone. Planning what to eat in advance can help to minimise the amount of food you waste and add to this pile, as well as saving you money. The simple tenet is think ahead and always shop with a list – that way you can avoid grabbing impulse purchases that may languish in your fridge until they go off or last-minute processed dinner choices with lots of packaging. And don’t forget to use leftovers – with imagination, a roast chicken, becomes a chicken curry, becomes a chicken broth, stretching food out over three days and cutting waste.
3. Manage your fridge
Add good fridge management to your planning to reduce food and energy waste – make sure you rotate the oldest food to the front of the refrigerator, and freeze foods that you aren’t going to use immediately if possible so they don’t spoil. Fridges and freezers are always on and as such are energy guzzlers – accounting for 17 percent of all domestic energy in the UK. Minimise this impact by keeping them both set at the proper temperature – and cleaning refrigerator coils as advised by the manufacturer to reduce energy costs. And if you’re buying a new appliance choose carefully – the most energy efficient models carry the A++ grade, the least efficient G.
4. Eat more plants
If you only make one change, then eating less (or no) meat should be it. Whether you go vegetarian, vegan or just introduce a bit of flexitarianism into your week, a shift in diet is one of the most impactful things you can do for the environment. Farming meat accounts for 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and it is wildly inefficient as a food source – despite consuming the vast majority of farmland and water, meat and dairy accounts for just 18 percent of all food calories and a third of protein. American food activist Michael Pollen has summed it up with one simple phrase, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” – something worth sticking on a post-it on your fridge.
5. Grow Your Own
Growing your own food is one of the most sustainable things you can do, and if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or an allotment then seed some crops for the ultimate in fresh veg and fruit. Good starter options include potatoes, peas, carrots and strawberries, all easy to grow and relatively low maintenance, while things such as tomatoes and green beans trained up a wall work well in a small space like a balcony. If you don’t have any garden space at all though you can still enjoy being a potted plant farmer with herbs, microgreens or a chilli plant all of which will grow happily on a window ledge and contribute fresh produce to your diet.
If you have a garden or allotment, then minimising food waste can go hand in hand with supercharging your soil if you set up a compost heap. Seasoned gardeners call compost ‘black gold’ for its nutrient rich composition – and your vegetables will thank you for chucking your scraps onto it. Think about what you’re throwing away and notice how much of it you could be composting, such as vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells and bread – but also eggboxes, paper towels and even pizza boxes (tear them up first). Start up a worm farm (experts such as The Urban Worm can provide starter worms and advice) and you can boost your positive decay even further, as organic waste passes through their bodies to become compost.
7. Choose your plant milk carefully
Are you an almond, rice, soya, coconut or oat milk person? Plant milks have shot up in popularity over the past few years, with something on offer to suit all tastes. Better for the environment – a glass of dairy milk produces almost three times more greenhouse gas than any plant-based milk according to a University of Oxford study – they do also have drawbacks though. For example, a single glass of almond milk requires 74 litres of water to produce – more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also thirsty, requiring 54 litres per glass. If you’re choosing plant milk for environmental reasons then pea and oat milk, which are the least intensive to produce, may be the best bet.
8. Palm Oil
From ice cream to chocolate and lipstick to laundry detergent, palm oil is ubiquitous in processed food and household products. The oil itself is not the problem; it’s the way it is harvested, both excessively and unsustainably, that causes massive environmental devastation. Ninety percent of palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, where palm oil farming has caused rainforest devastation and the death of 150,000 orangutans in the past 20 years. Trying to avoid palm oil is tricky though – it hides behind 136 alternative names, including Glycol stearate and Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate. To help decode ingredients look for root words – ‘palm’, ‘ster’, ‘laur’ and ‘glyc’ – which can indicate palm oil is present. Better still, buy products clearly labelled as containing RSPO certified palm oil – or cook from scratch so you know what is in your food.