By Dr Kaushik Sridhar
We’ve heard about the effects a high-sugar, high-fat diet can have on our health, yet we shouldn’t overlook the impact of our dietary choices on the environment.
From growing crops to packaging and transporting goods, up to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture sector. As Australia (and Victoria) become more environmentally conscious, veganism has surged, with a portion of our population adhering to a strict plant-based diet.
However, to make sustainable and consistent dietary changes, they must be achievable in small, everyday changes that anyone can adopt into their eating habits.
Eat less, and eat better meat
Not all foods contribute equally to global emissions and livestock is consistently called out as one of the biggest culprits, contributing to over 15 per cent of the United Nation’s (UN’s) total emissions. Red meat and dairy production are among the most energy-intensive manufacturing processes releasing masses of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Meat-free Mondays, Veganuary, and flexitarianism are three of the most prominent campaigns with the common goal of reducing personal meat consumption. Switching from beef burgers to vegie burgers; mincemeat for beans in your chilli; or chicken for tofu in your stir-fry can make a significant impact on your carbon footprint.
Reduce food waste
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 30 per cent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing to an eight per cent total of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.
One-third of all food produced is lost or wasted (that’s around 1.3 billion tonnes of food!), costing the global economy close to $940 billion every year!
Over five million tonnes of food end up as landfill, enough to fill 9000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. One in five shopping bags ends up in the bin equalling $3,800 worth of groceries per household each year.
Each year, Victorian households throw out 250,000 tonnes worth of food – that’s enough food-waste to fill the Eureka Tower! The average Victorian household throws out approximately $2200 worth of food each year. While in Melbourne alone, we waste approximately 200kg of food per person per year.
Changing behaviours is paramount to reducing food waste impactfully and easy to do. Also, understanding where in the supply chain the waste occurs to implement practical solutions. Some suggestions you can adopt in your everyday life:
Try shopping conscientiously and with intent;
Buy compostable liners for food waste bins;
Consider buying “ugly food”, like fruit and vegetables with imperfections that are as delicious and nutritious when you are shopping;
Gift excess food to the homeless; and
Remember to store your food properly, use and share your leftovers.
Commercial farming methods are turning more and more to the use of antibiotics and fertilisers to maximise their food production and profits and meet consumer demands. Not only are these chemicals potentially harmful to our health, but they can also run off into water systems upsetting the marine eco-balance. Organic farming promotes healthy soils and uses fewer fossil fuels by eliminating synthetic fertiliser use.
Organic food is not only better for you, it’s better for the environment and a more sustainable way of eating. People are seeing the benefits of utilising the produce that is available locally, it is just as important; supporting the local agricultural and reducing food miles is really important and buying local means everything is fresher.
Purchase locally sourced food
Imported foods release tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through air-freighting and truck transportation, also known as “food miles.” Purchasing local produce eliminates this. Locally-sourcing also assures that what you’re eating has likely not contributed to land conversion and deforestation. Taking it one step further, you can try growing your own fruit and vegetables at home. All you need are some plant pots, which you can pick up from a second-hand shop for under $10, some seeds and a window sill. Growing your own fresh food can give a real sense of achievement and connection with the environment.
Experiment in the kitchen
Cutting down on environmentally-costly foods opens a new opportunity to discover the chef from within you. Try new recipes that use plant-based alternatives and buy ingredients you’ve never used before – even better if they’re locally sourced!