Barely a week passes without a new report spelling out the need for us all to take a large bite out of our carbon footprint.
You might be thinking that you have enough on your plate in the way of carbon offsetting, as flying and driving are growing more publicly demonised. However, making better dining decisions might be easier than you think, and it could play an immensely positive role in protecting the planet.
The Sustainable Restaurant Association busts some myths, assembles some top tips and great chef hacks to help us all use the power of our appetites more wisely.
Why think about the carbon footprint of your food?
It’s easy to overlook the importance of your carbon ‘foodprint’. However, so many greenhouse gas emissions are produced as a result of getting your dinner to the table. The following factors contribute to your food’s carbon footprint:
- Growing, farming and rearing
- Processing, storing, transporting
- Cooking and disposal
It all adds up!
That’s why staying savvy about the carbon emissions produced by the food you eat can reduce pollution, preserve the environment and slow global warming.
Let’s get into it. Which foods and parts of the food chain are the carbon culprits, and how can they be avoided?
Where’s meat on the carbon calculator?
Climate scientists are all agreed that one major way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by eating less meat.
Livestock production accounts for more than 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, if flexitarianism is about all you can stomach then fear not as you can still make a big difference.
If everyone in the UK swapped just one red meat-based meal to a plant-based meal every week, we would cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million tonnes.
That’s the equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road and an 8.4 percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions. Just one meal a week!
Less meat or no meat?
If you’ve already ticked off one meat-free meal for the week, fancy keeping it low on the meat monitor, but don’t want to go the whole hog, what’s the tastiest solution?
If you don’t consider burgers worthy of the name without beef in bun, then chef Jareth Mills at The Roebuck in Borough, South London has just the solution.
He has made a patty that’s two thirds beef and one third lentil and mushrooms. All the flavour, a fraction of the footprint.
Chef Ollie Hunter, from The Wheatsheaf, Chilton Foliat in Berkshire is using a similar technique to create cracking casseroles which contain only a hint of real meat. He cuts the fat off his prime chops and uses it to give the casserole a really meaty flavour, then uses the chops themselves in another recipe. Double the dishes, way less damage.
For those who are prepared to keep meat fully off the table and look for a low impact alternative, some switches may not have the desired effect.
While generally a good option, tofu can be tough on the environment. Made with Brazilian grown soy it will likely have double the carbon footprint of chicken. So be sure to check out its origin.
Mind the udder milks
Non-dairy sales now account for an eighth of all milk sales globally, as people are realising that they tend to be a lot kinder on your carbon footprint.
When visiting your favourite coffee shop, be sure to make the right choice.
Yes, a litre of semi-skimmed milk creates 1.67kg of carbon, but not all the alternatives are a creamy solution.
Almond milk, for example, has a hefty hit on the environment. They are thirsty little nuts, using more than 6,000 litres to produce one litre of milk, hugely damaging in a drought-ridden place like California where more than three quarters of the world’s almonds are grown.
Vote for oat if non-dairy is your thing.
Peel back the truth on avocados
You must have been hiding under a stone if you’ve missed the news that, delicious as they are, avocados are water hungry bleeders too. They are wreaking environmental havoc in central America.
The restaurant at Cotswolds destination, Thyme, is just one of the restaurants to have taken them off the menu.
If you just can’t live with the knowledge that you’re a part of the avocado problem, but still crave something green, mushy and tasty on toast, help is at hand – broccomole. Shut your eyes and you might never know that broccoli was substituting for avocado.
Food miles: fact or fiction?
If you’re feeling bad about the Kenyan green beans with your beef steak, should you be counting up your food’s carbon kilometres?
You’ve fallen into the food miles trap. Yes, there’s a great lower carbon case for choosing local and seasonal. Supporting British farmers, feeling a part of the food narrative and enjoying the freshest food is fab.
Yet, if it’s the planet you’re looking to protect, then look beyond the country of origin for your sustainable food no-nos!
Professor David Reay, climate scientist at University of Edinburgh and author of Carbon-Smart Food says: “If you just assume everything closer to you is better, so if you’re thinking these blueberries or cucumber from Holland in January will be low carbon, they won’t be. It’s going to be intensive production with a high carbon footprint. This will massively outweigh the food miles of bringing them from a country where the climate is right at that time of year.”
A humble tomato grown in the UK has three times the footprint of one grown in Spain, according to UK Government data.
BYOB – Bring Your Own Box
Lunch on the run can be a carbon minefield. Not only do you have to find somewhere that meets your food requirements, but then there’s the packaging nightmare.
Fortunately, many of the most popular lunch haunts have made the switch to compostable or recyclable containers. But most compostable packaging often ends being burned and where are you supposed to recycle them anyway? Help is at hand. You’ve got your reusable cup and water bottle. So, now just add one more item to your bag – a lunchbox.