Food is on the front line in the battle against climate change. Our food choices contribute up to 30% of our personal carbon footprint — industrial agriculture, food processing and the food distribution system are major emitters of greenhouse gases. A comprehensive study was done for CERES Community farm in 2008. The study examined all the contents of a normal family shopping basket for one week and found the contents had travelled 70,000 kilometres!
Unlike getting solar panels, a hybrid car or new home insulation, making different food choices doesn’t weigh on the budget. After doing some research, I’ve created a ‘cheat sheet’ for how to enjoy delicious foods but also be friendly to the climate:
1. Eat less meat.
While not everyone is ready to become 100% vegetarian, eating less meat is one of the fastest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. According to a 2006 United Nations report, the livestock industry generates a devastating 18 per cent of all human-induced emissions globally. Chicken, on a slightly lesser scale, also requires energy intensive processes like feeding, processing and packaging. Harvesting big fish, such as tuna or swordfish, produces similar amounts of greenhouse gases to harvesting beef because long-distance ocean voyages. Pick one or two days a week where you will only eat vegetarian food. Find a good vegetarian food cooking book to learn the best recipes and experiment in the kitchen.
2. Grow your own.
I have small courtyard with a strip of garden about 5 x 2 metres and three wine barrels full of soil. I have been amazed that this small patch has produced enough vegetables to keep my household going. Growing fruits and vegetables is an amazing hobby; picking and cooking your own produce is satisfying beyond words. If you don’t have a garden, grow your own herbs or join a nearby community garden (or set one up with some friends). Goodbye grocery bill!
3. Buy local and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Rediscover the pleasure of meals changing with the seasons! While it can be tempting to eat strawberries in Winter, there is a good chance that they have travelled long distances, been kept in cold storage or grown in energy-hungry greenhouses. Victoria has a fantastic array of farmer’s markets and there’s one open every day of the weekend. If you are time-poor, shop online at CERES Fair Food and let them do the hard work for you. Support your local farmers and food producers as well as the environment.
4. Go organic.
Organic food comes without the embedded energy associated with artificial pesticides and fertiliser. According to Ivan Kennedy, professor in agricultural and environmental chemistry at the University of Sydney, pesticides are primarily made of chlorine, oxygen, sulphur, phosphorus, nitrogen, petroleum and bromine, “you have to use hydrogen gas, made from natural gas or petroleum [to make them], and the CO2 goes straight to the atmosphere”.
5. Only buy what you can eat.
On average, each Victorian household wastes more than $1000 worth of food every year. This brings the state’s annual food waste bill to $2.5 billion. Australia-wide, about 4.45 million tonnes of food worth about $7.8 billion is thrown out. One-third of food is discarded for reasons that could be solved, such as a lack of fridge and freezer space, lack of storage containers and a lack of motivation or effort. Only buy what you can eat and if you have ‘sad’ looking vegetables, turn them into a soup or casserole.
6. Cut the packaging.
Packaging accounts for about 7% of all energy used in our food production system and, most of it ends up in the bin after a single use. Extra packaging usually means extra weight in transportation, too, resulting in extra fuel usage. Replace your packaged goods for fresh ones. When you can’t avoid buying something packaged, try buying it in bulk – and look for recyclable options like paper and glass.
7. Take recycling to the next level.
We need to move beyond sorting waste into the ‘landfill’ and ‘recycling’ bins. Between 30-50% of the waste in our bins is organic waste. When placed in landfill, organic waste emits methane gas which is more damaging than CO2. By composting you can reduce your household waste and create wonderful food for your garden. If you don’t have a garden, ask a neighbour or a friend if you can share their compost space (and help with the upkeep).
8. Be inspired.
There are so many fantastic eco-conscious restaurants out there. If you’re feeling uninspired or lost for ideas, now is the time to dine out. CERES has both an eco-friendly cafe and now The Merri restaurant, BCOZ is in Hawthorn East, Slow Down @ Harley Court is in St Kilda, Le Cru is in Albert Park, Global Vegetarian is in Ormond, there is a great restaurant area at Abbotsford Convent… the list goes on!
Climate Friendly Food Resources:
* Thanks to FoodWise and GMagazine for providing some of the information for this article – http://foodwise.com.au/did-you-know.aspx
* Learn about Melbourne’s seasonal fruit and vegetables – http://seasonalfoodguide.com/melbourne-victoria-seasonal-fresh-produce-guide-fruits-vegetables-in-season-availability-australia.html
* Order CERES Fair Food – http://www.ceresfairfood.org.au/
* Find your local farmer’s market – http://www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au/
* Measure your food’s carbon footprint – http://www.foodcarbon.co.uk/
* Try the 100 mile diet – http://100milediet.org/
* Join the Slow Food movement – http://slowfoodaustralia.com.au/
* Learn how to compost – http://foodwise.com.au/get-foodwise/food-composting.aspx
To anyone who’s trying to do the right thing by the planet. Every little bit counts!