How We Can Save Our Planet Through Our Food Choices and Actions
Author: Sandy Abram Date Posted:3 October 2019
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We can all make a difference! Inspired by the brilliant book, Drawdown, here are my top eight ways the food choices we make can reduce our impact on our environment, help look after our planet and highly likely, be better for us too.
Watching images online and on television about heatwaves, bushfires, ice caps meltings and whole species at risk, most of us have been wondering how on earth humankind has managed to get itself into such an awful state.
With the bushfires burning, polar ice caps melting, sea levels rising and the planet heating up, we’ve found ourselves at the mercy of our decisions.
Or rather, the decisions of the producers, manufacturers and retailers that have been forcing plastic, consumerism and excess on us for decades.
Like a lot of people, I’ve felt despair as I’ve watched acres of beautiful trees, ecosystems and habitats (for both humans and non human animals), that have taken decades if not hundreds of years to grow and develop, burn down.
So much so, that recently, I actually felt like giving up, ditching everything, grabbing my family and disappearing north to Byron Bay to live a life detached from it all.
But then with a fresh new morning, I realised that I, like so many of us, have an important role to play. We can all make changes and choices that have less of an impact on the planet. And none more so than in our food choices.
We’re All in This Together
Each and every one of us can make one change that can help towards sustainability and helping to reverse climate change. We’re all consumers and we all need to eat and drink to stay alive.
What we choose to eat and drink, and where we choose to consume it makes a huge difference.
So inspired by the brilliant book by Paul Hawken, Drawdown, these are my top eight ways that we can make food choices for the good of the planet.
1. Choose Organic
Organic food is kinder to us, and kinder to the environment. Organic farmers cannot use chemical pesticides or herbicides and cannot routinely feed their animals growth hormones or antibiotics.
Farming in an organic way is also better for the soil as it makes use of natural and traditional crop rotation techniques and avoids monocrops which strip the soil of its nutrients over time.
We can’t all afford to eat completely organic, but swapping one or two things can be really beneficial. Try swapping your milk to an organic range and ordering a weekly organic veg box to introduce more organic foods into your household.
2. Eat With the Seasons
Nothing says summer more than a fresh salad and berries or winter more than root veggies. In generations gone by, the only produce available was that which had been grown in season.
Without artificial pesticides, herbicides and ripening techniques (that all use environmentally damaging, nasty chemicals with questionable side effects for our health) our forebears naturally ate what was available at that time.
Now, with the use of chemicals that assist the growth of cherries in Winter and plastic polytunnels that provide artificial atmospheres (guess what, that are chemically controlled) for all kinds of produce to grow, that isn’t the case.
Also, with global shipping routes and trade deals aplenty, food grown on the other side of the world can be on our plates within days. (Or weeks or months if they’re packaged in protective atmospheres, that yep, you guessed it, use chemicals to keep food ‘fresh’.)
Seasonal food is delicious, often local (see below) and far better for the planet than imported goods.
Find your nearest Farmer's Market, support your local organic grocer and look for fruit and veggies proudly displaying “Australian Grown’ on their produce. Trust us, they’ll be shouting about it, so they’re easy to spot!
3. Eat Local
Eating locally sourced foods, including seasonally grown fresh produce and locally reared meat and dairy products means less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere through transportation.
By happy coincidence, choosing to support local growers, pickers and producers, you’re choosing to support smaller brands and keeping your money in your community.
Look for local farmers’ markets and food fairs, where you can pick up local foods and get to know the faces behind those who produced it.
4. Eat More Plants
Vegetarianism and veganism can be contentious subjects. They can instill feelings of guilt (if we’re not veggie or vegan and struggle to give up meat and dairy) or judgement (if we are, and decide that we’re in a higher eco position than someone who isn’t).
I’m neither veggie or vegan, so I’m definitely not here to judge. But I do choose to eat mostly plant based foods and it is becoming a widely accepted fact now that eating a mostly plant based diet is health giving.
But that doesn’t mean you or I have to turn plant based overnight, if at all. It just means that we could consider eating a wider variety of plant based foods, more often. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and chickpeas is packed with vitamins and minerals, packed with fibre and naturally lower in fat.
But not only that, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - that's more than from the exhausts of all the trains, planes and automobiles on the planet.
By choosing to have a few meat free days a week, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
5. Avoid Plastic Packaging as Much as Possible
Plastic is constantly in the headlines, so you don’t need us to tell you that avoidable single use plastic simply has to be reduced. Plastic is made from fossil fuels that are in dwindling supply and really shouldn’t be being used to package our foods when compostable options have been developed.
Making plastic requires the use of chemical processing plants, that billow toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
When we’re finished with our plastics, they either languish in landfill, leaching chemicals into the surrounding soil, get burnt in huge industrial power plants or end up in the oceans where they leach and become food for sea creatures.
Opt for fresh, plastic free produce bought from farmers' markets or greengrocers where possible, and bring your own bags. Buy in bulk from zero waste stores and buy meat and fish from the deli counter, asking for the butcher or fishmonger to fill your own containers.
We know that convenience and cost effectiveness often comes in the form of ready meals in plastic trays. We also know that when you’re busy, pushed for time and have a hungry family, a microwave meal or takeaway is sometimes all you have the energy for.
But where you can, opt for fresh over processed and reap the health benefits along with the environmental benefits.
6. Reduce Your Food Waste
Experts estimate that globally, we throw away around 30% of the food that’s produced. The vast majority of this is perfectly edible food. That’s a shocking amount of food, just going to waste.
The edible food wasted by residents of Melbourne alone equates to 900,000 tonnes of food, enough to feed 2 million people each year. Not only is this a travesty for people and families who go hungry, this is damaging to the environment.
Food sent to landfill rots and releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that has a similar warming effect on the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
So not only does all food have a carbon footprint of its own to produce (transport, livestock feed, packaging, water use, pesticide use etc), wasted food has an added carbon footprint.
Our tips for reducing food waste include:
- Menu planning
- Batch cooking
- Avoiding food on cheap supermarket deals you know you won’t use up
- Proper storage (including making more use of the freezer)
For more, see our blog 9 Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste.
Some food waste is inevitable, but the food we throw away should really only be inedible foods such as veggie peelings and food scraps.
Having our own compost heap is a great way of making sure our food scraps are put to good use. But for many reasons, many of us find it an eco ask too far. So the next best thing we can do to prevent our food rotting in landfill is to make use of council food waste collections.
8. Opt for Palm Oil Free
Palm oil itself isn’t a problem. But it’s large scale farming and harvesting are. Palm oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees.
It’s cheap and efficient to grow, meaning that it’s the oil of choice for thousands of manufacturers of foods, beauty and household cleaning products.
But to keep up with demand, farmers across Indonesia and Malaysia are clearing huge swathes of rainforest to plant more oil palm trees.
Taking with it whole ecosystems, destroying the homes of indeigenous populations and putting species of tigers, rhinos, leopards, bears and of course, orangutans, at risk of extinction.
Plus losing millions of acres of rainforest is also stopping the trees absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing oxygen for us to breath - that is, taking away the very lungs of the planet.
Sustainable palm oil is better, we stock some products that contain palm oil certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or the RSPO. The rest of our products are palm oil free, which we consider better than even sustainable palm oil.
Voting With Our Hard Earned Dollars
We all need to keep the awareness and inspiration going and hopefully more people will join our voices. That’s our calling, along with the rest of humanity that has a choice of when, where and how they consume.
If we have a voice, let’s use it. Let’s vote with our food choices and tell governments, Big Food and packaging manufacturers what we want.
We want more organic, local, seasonal, plastic free and carbon neutral foods. The more we buy them, the more food brands and supermarkets will listen and innovative new brands will have the inspiration to provide us with what we want. And it can’t come too soon!