Many of us have concerns about the environment and the impact that humans are making on the planet. The raw data suggests that we’re right to be concerned, too; the planet is warming, and we’re already beginning to see the potential impact caused by this crisis.
As a result, society has become more aware of the impact of global warming issues. Many families will now consider an electric car where previously their only thought was on gas; we know our carbon footprints and take whatever steps we can to reduce them. However, there is one ecological area that many of us overlook: the food on our plate.
How food harms the environment
When we delve into our stash of recipes, the last thing we’re thinking of is the environment. Instead, we’re focusing on creating a great meal that our family can enjoy– and therein lies the problem. We’re all very detached from how our food is produced these days; we collect it from grocery stores in neat packaging, unaware of the journey that the items have been through to reach that point.
Sadly, food production has become one of the biggest issues regarding sustainability and environmental-friendly goals. As food is one of the biggest industries in the world (the food industry is worth is worth over $198 billion in the US alone), it’s inevitable that there will be an environmental toll for all of this consumption.
However, it’s also inevitable that this situation can’t continue. The world is more advanced than it has ever been, yet still millions of people are starving throughout the world. If our population continues to grow, as it is expected to do so, then more and more people will find themselves falling victim to famine. This will then be exacerbated by the wild weather that climate change will continue to cause; climate change that is, in part, attributable to a food industry that cannot maintain demand. As you can see, the situation is a vicious cycle that will only get worse.
In better news, there are a few changes you can make to the food you eat, ensuring that you avoid products that cost the environment the most, and support initiatives that seek to rebalance the scales. Below is a list of suggestions; if you follow these, you can be confident that every meal you and your family eat is good for both you and the world as a whole.
#1 – Buy local produce
We are often told to buy local produce, but it’s often difficult to do– especially if you’re following a recipe that calls for out-of-season produce. We all like to be able to snack on an orange during December, or tuck into asparagus in January, but the cost of having access to seasonal vegetables out of season is astronomical. Crops are grown potentially thousands of miles away, and then transported to your dinner plate– and the carbon they emit in the process is causing real harm to the environment.
One of the best ways to see this for yourself is to use the Food Miles calculator. Grab an item from your kitchen (fruit and vegetables work best), study the packaging, and input the data.
You’ll be shocked at what you see. Let’s go through an example of what the calculator can show you. We’ll use bananas — the third most popular fruit in the US — as an example.
India is the largest banana producer in the world, so it seems a safe bet to use this as the host country. You input the details in as follows:
Click ‘submit’ and you get the food miles for those delicious bananas we all know and love– it’s pretty shocking:
The news only gets worse from there:
Remember, this is just one example, one type of fruit, making a single journey.
The best solution to this is simple: train yourself to eat seasonal produce that has been sourced in the US. Yes, there will still be some food miles involved, but it’s going to be a lot fewer. While it’s tough to go without food we have grown accustomed to picking up at the grocery store whatever the time of year, making the switch to local, or US-sourced, products can make a genuine difference.
Did you read through the above and think: “well, there’s not much point in me stopping doing that, given that companies are going to continue to source food from overseas anyway.”
That’s a natural, and completely logical, conclusion; how can ceasing to buy a single bunch of bananas make that big a difference? It can’t, in isolation, but if enough people do it, retailers will eventually catch on and accept that their consumers aren’t willing to pay the environmental cost of out-of-season produce.
#2 – The packaging problem
We all want food to be fresh; over time, retailers have acknowledged this, and as a result, almost all food comes wrapped in some form of plastic. This plastic is doing real environmental harm, so avoiding it wherever possible can help to ensure you and your family are eating eco-friendly meals.
The best way to avoid packaged goods is to buy fresh and buy local, which neatly ties in with point one. On the occasions where you do have to buy food that has been wrapped in plastic, go through the packaging and recycle anything you can from it.
If you have packaging that can’t be recycled in a conventional sense, try recycling it as craft materials for your kids or repurposing it. This ensures that even if it can’t be conventionally recycled, at least it’s not destined for landfill.
#3 – Only Buy Sustainably Farmed Fish
Fish farming is a huge industry, and it’s easy to see why– we all know how good fish is for our health, so most of us make the effort to eat at least some fish on a weekly basis. The increase in population has lead to an increase in demand, which in turn has lead to overfishing.
Overfishing is an economic catastrophe just waiting to happen. Overfishing occurs when wild fish are fished so frequently, species do not have the chance to reproduce. As a result, overall fish populations have been falling, especially with popular fish such as salmon and tuna.
Not only does this have potentially serious repercussions for fish availability, but it also potentially damages the entire ecosystem of the ocean. There’s a fantastic video below that can help explain just how deeply problematic this issue is:
Now you know the issue, you can change your shopping habits so you are supporting initiatives that are designed to protect overall fish populations. Manufacturers who practice sustainable salmon practices and focus on improving tuna populations will receive accreditation for doing so– so look for a mention of this on the label. If you tend to buy your fish from a fishmonger (who don’t use conventional labeling systems in the same way), then you can just ask the manager for their source information.
When you buy from companies who are focused on sustainability, you support their efforts and allow them to continue their good work in protecting our oceans.
#4 – Opt for organic food when possible
Organic food has long been touted as the “healthier” option but, in truth, there’s little evidence to suggest this is true. However, there’s plenty of evidence that organic food is healthier for the environment, so organic food is still a great option.
Organic produce is grown without pesticides, products that can be useful but can also have catastrophic consequences on the environment. Not only do pesticides have the potential to damage the immediate environment (pesticide spraying is rarely targeted, and nearby plants and animals tend to suffer when it is sprayed on a field), but also the ecosystem, as pesticides leach surrounding soil and water.
Of course, it is impossible to discuss organic food without mentioning the price. Organic food isn’t more expensive than regular food because it’s “healthier”; it’s because it genuinely costs more to produce organic food, which is then reflected in the price to consumers. Without pesticides, crops are more liable to die, which means the selling price has to be higher to cover the extra risks that the producer takes when farming by organic means.
If you’re on a tight budget, it can be difficult to persuade yourself that organic food is worth it– and no one should judge you for prioritizing your family’s financial security. Just try and buy organic as and when you can, potentially visiting stores at the end of each trading day to try and bag yourself a few bargains.
We only get one earth, so it’s vital that we look after it. The food industry takes a huge toll on the environment of this planet, but by following the ideas above, you’re more than doing your bit for the planet.