We at Protect Our Winters UK advocate for system change. We do this mainly through our campaigns to influence policy, so be sure to check them out and get involved. However, we realise that it's important to feel like you're doing what you can in your personal life to be more sustainable. So here are some thoughts on food.
Climate change and how society produces and eats food are clearly linked. So what is 'food sustainability' and 'food security'? And how exactly does agriculture impact climate change? We'll walk through some examples of good practices and show there can be a different way forward that is both better for the planet and ourselves.
How agriculture is influencing climate change
This agricultural sector is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Food & Agriculture Organisation estimated that when the emissions caused by energy use within the food value chains are included, the share of greenhouse emission is greater than 30% of total global emissions.
The report shows that most of agriculture’s mitigation potential will come from managing land. Improvements in land management, soil fertility, reducing tillage, and restoring peatlands and degraded lands are all needed.
Most importantly, the report shows the need for a holistic approach to managing the entire food value chain. If we only focus on certain aspects, we can inadvertently cause more emissions elsewhere. For example, if we try to reduce emissions from food transportation, we might increase emissions from agricultural production.
Food Sustainability and Food Security
Food security is “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. - The World Food Summit of 1996
Or in other words, adopting practices to produce nutritious food products which will avoid the depletion of natural resources. Food must be available, accessible and affordable for a growing population. And it must be sufficient, safe, nutritious, and meet personal needs.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Global Food Security Index (GFSI) provides a framework for understanding food insecurity by looking at food systems around the world. It's used to compare issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 113 countries.
Ireland ranks 2nd on the 2019 index and is a leader in food sustainability. The Irish Food Board has implemented the world’s first national food sustainability programme, Origin Green, to verify and market the sustainability credentials of Irish food and drink. When the newly incorporated measure of natural resources risks & resilience is included then Ireland and Finland are ranked highest.
Case Study: Finland's holistic approach to food systems
Finland was the first country to create a circular economy tool to mitigate climate change. The diagram below shows the Finnish road map to a sustainable food system and circular economy 2016–2025. This demonstrates the need to take a holistic approach to the food chain, where seasonality and vegetarian foods play an important role.
Finland is transitioning towards a healthy and planet-friendly food chain, highlighting the importance of sustainability on multiple levels. The Finnish public enjoy a right to roam the countryside, forage, fish and enjoy recreational use of natural areas. The tradition of foraging makes it easier to eat local and reduces carbon footprint. Finnish companies are also leading with new sustainable food products and Finnish supermarkets now carry a range of new meat alternatives.
Food miles, a professional athlete’s approach to being more sustainable
Food miles is the distance food travels from production to when we consume it. Energy is used to produce, package, transport and store food. All of this contributes to increased greenhouse gases.
Emelie Forsberg, a Swedish professional trail runner and mountaineer, takes a unique approach to sustainability. Every September she chooses ten ingredients from around the world. The remainder of her diet, she either grows herself, or tries to source from local farms within a 10k radius. Maintaining a plant-based diet also has moral dilemmas as Emilie explains, having to decide things such as whether to buy soy milk from another country in Europe or cow’s milk from a neighbour.
Consider adapting your diet
If you want to take personal changes to your diet, here are a few steps you can take.
Adapt a Mediterranean diet to local culture: The guiding principle of the Mediterranean diet is to try to stick to the Mediterranean food pyramid whilst adopting any changes. Not only is it well-documented as having healthy benefits, but supports a sustainable diet.
Eat local: Try becoming a locavore. A locavore is someone who prefers to eat food grown and produced locally. The only time vegetables become relatively high emissions (approaching levels of some meats) is when they're flown in for freshness, such as asparagus from South Africa. So by eating local you avoid these emissions, while also supporting your local economy.
Grow and eat in a social way: Grow food with your friends and eat your food in a social way. Research has found that people who eat socially are more likely to feel better about themselves and have a wider social network capable of providing social and emotional support.
If eating seafood, find sustainable labels: If eating fish, ensure it has sustainably sourced labels, such as the MSC blue label. Build rapport with your local fishmonger and ask if their fish is sustainably sourced. Buy a wide variety of fish as eating only a few types will increase demand and lower fish stocks causing overfishing of these stocks.
With meat, enjoy quality over quantity: If eating meat, reduce the quantity to recommended daily intakes (now around 70g per day) but also buy better quality cuts of locally sourced produce. In a great YouTube clip, the French-English two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr, suggested we should be respecting animals more by eating less of it and paying more.
Enjoy the seasons: The challenge of eating seasonally can be fun while reducing the food miles we're contributing to. Learn what produce is seasonal in your area. Or get some seasonal cooking inspiration from the Borough Markets Market Life magazine.