Food sustainability has been defined as ‘Diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimising natural and human resources’ (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2010). At present, there is no universally agreed way to achieve a sustainable diet, but we can all do our bit by eating more seasonal foods that are locally produced, reducing our household food waste, choosing products that comply with sustainable standards or eating more plant-based foods.
Eating foods that are in season and locally produced can reduce the climate impact associated with transporting foods. In addition, eating foods when they are in season often means that they are much tastier and less expensive than the out of season alternatives. To find out what fruits and vegetables are in season in the UK now, click this link to the Soil Association.
Food waste often ends up in landfill and produces greenhouse gas emissions that are harmful to the environment. This is in addition to the emissions generated from producing the food in the first place. Foods produced that are not consumed also contribute to unnecessary damage to the environment including loss of biodiversity from conversion of forests into cropland, chemical pollution as fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture run off into freshwater streams, and much more. Before food becomes waste, it could be redistributed while it is still fit for human consumption. This would help with the sustainability goal ‘zero hunger’. To find out how you could support targets to reduce waste: Let’s Keep Crushing it!
Alternatively, try one of these apps that promote redistribution of surplus or unsold food.
- The Too Good To Go app lets you buy and collect surplus unsold food – at a great price – so it gets eaten instead of wasted. You won’t know exactly what’s in your order until you pick it up – it’s all part of the surprise. Download the app to get started.
- On OLIO, you’ll find millions of people giving away food & other household items to their neighbours, all for free.
Fish is often promoted as a healthy source of protein, with oily fish (such as salmon, sardines and mackerel) rich in heart healthy fats (omega 3). However, the way fish is caught, processed, distributed and consumed can be damaging to the environment and the biodiversity of ecosystems. In addition, overfishing is a threat to food sustainability and the livelihoods of many who rely on the fishing industry for income. If you consume fish, try to consume fish from sustainable sources, look out for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logo on packaged fish or ask your fish monger about their fish suppliers. For more information on the MSC and ASC standards, visit the websites:
Healthy Plant-based Diets
Interest in plant-based diets, which are based largely on wholegrains, and a variety of beans, pulses, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables (with or without meat, fish and poultry) has risen. This is largely because they are highly nutritious and protective of non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and specific cancers. Furthermore, plant-based diets generally result in less greenhouse gas emissions and use fewer natural resources (land and water), making them a more sustainable dietary choice than those that rely heavily on animal products or highly processed foods. If you are interested in eating more plant-based foods, check out the health plant-based diet fact sheet for more information. Alternatively, use the food swaps fact sheet to help you make sustainable healthy food choices such as reducing animal products, increasing fibre, reducing waste, or eating seasonal produce.
Informed Food Choices
It can be challenging to make healthy food choices that are good for the planet as well as our health. This is partly because of the complexity of the food system, which involves all stages of food production from farm to fork, and includes the disposal of all waste products along the journey through the food system. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity and waste, and limit pressures on natural resource from food production often result in trade-offs e.g. reducing the use of plastic in food processing may impact shelf life of foods or raw ingredients and result in more food waste. There are a number of tools available to help you make informed food choices to limit your individual impact on the planet, read on to find out more.
Food Sustainability & Big Brands
Many big firms are recognising the need to change their production practices to meet sustainability targets that help to combat the rise in global temperatures. This is often reflected in advertising campaigns, but how well do they fare overall against food sustainability targets? To find out how the brands you buy measure up against targets for transparency, gender equality, workers’ rights, fare price for farmers produce, land use, water resources and climate change follow this link:
Environmental impact of food: If you are interested in finding out how the foods you consume or the choices you make impact the environment, take a few minutes to complete one of the tools below. These tools may help you identify areas of your diet that are positive for the environment and areas for improvement: