How reducing food Waste, eating seasonally and including more plant-based meals can help the planet
Shockingly, 14.5% of green house gases are caused due to meat and dairy production (more than all forms of transport combined!) and despite our conscious consumer attitude, still 9.5m tonnes of food is wasted annually in the UK alone. But, hope is on the horizon. With plant-based diets, education and food waste movements such as too good to go, we can make informed decisions to create positive change.
Why is food wasted?
We waste on average about one third of all food produced fit for human consumption. Which is hugely negative for our environment and completely pointless. So why is this? Food is wasted for a number of reasons, through spoiling, lack of meal planning - impulse buying (we all do it!) and confusing best before with use by dates. As part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, one of The World Food Programme’s priorities is to cut global food waste in half by 2030. But what can we do to reduce our own food waste?
Eating seasonally is a much more sustainable option and can still provide you with a balanced, nutritious and exciting diet. We can look at month by month guides for seasonal fruit and veg to better plan eating seasonally. In 2020, it was reported that 84% of fruit and 44% of vegetables in the UK had been imported. By eating seasonally, it reduces the energy needed to grow and transport the food we eat, which otherwise would have possibly travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to get to our plate.
As we enter the summer months; UK seasonal produce shifts towards vegetables like artichoke, aubergine and courgettes, fruit such as cherries, strawberries and tomatoes and herbs like basil, chives and coriander.
Eating seasonally also encourages us to:
Check out your local fresh fruit and vegetable markets. Again, these can seem inaccessible but are often more affordable if you do shop seasonally, as the produce will be in abundance. It’s also a great way to support farms in your local area, reducing farm to fork waste.
Why is eating meat harmful for the planet?
It is commonly known that animal agriculture is one of the global leading drivers of biodiversity loss and deforestation. More resources are needed within animal agriculture, compared to plant agriculture. The University of Oxford found that if everyone started eating a plant-based diet, farm land use would be reduced by up to 75 %. In animal agriculture, we have outgrown our demand.
As WWF puts it, it’s important to understand the relationship between animal feed and our diet, when eating meat. I was shocked to discover that nearly 80% of soybean crop is fed to livestock, which is filtered down into our meat and dairy (milk, yoghurt, cheese) products. It is an intensively grown crop, a huge drain on energy and water and it’s forcing local farmers off their land to make room for soy farms.
If possible, consider purchasing from organic and pasture-fed regimes to avoid the use of imported soy feed from deforested areas. Even if it's swapping out meat for one plant-based meal a day, can make a significant difference.
Being plant-based doesn't need to be more expensive than any other diet. Most of the time, the vegan meat and dairy substitutes are what tend to be more pricey as they are niche within the market and aren’t as mass-produced. However as plant-based diets gain more popularity, they will even out in price theoretically. I know personally, what has saved my money on food shops as a pescatarian, is buying mostly whole foods (any food that isn’t processed; like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and fish) and being creative with cooking.
Easy, low cost, low waste recipes
If you don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have the time, there’s no need to feel guilty. Cooking sustainably can be tasty and quick! A great mid week option can be:
Shakshuka (or Shakshouka) is a predominantly Israeli dish, but can be found in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. It’s a gorgeous combination of simmering tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions spiced with cayenne pepper, paprika and cumin. A one pot recipe, you leave it to do its thing before cracking a few eggs to softly poach in the pan amongst the sauce. Optional, but I love to top it with crumbled feta and pair with flatbread. It’s straightforward but heavenly!
Check out more cheap vegetarian recipes here
Meal planning & prepping
Learning nifty tricks to store your food can seriously reduce your food waste. Most foods such as bread can be frozen for up to 6 months, which spreads its life and saves you a lot of money in the long run.
TIP: When freezing food, make sure to use airtight containers to avoid freezer burn.
Making a rough meal plan for the week can ensure you utilise all that’s in your fridge. It’s key to remember meal plans’ purpose are to help, not restrict, if you go out for a meal with friends or have something different, then anything you do not end up using can most likely be frozen.
Cooking should be fun. Experiment with flavours. Learn to love your leftovers. Utilising what you made the night before can be a superb base for the next day’s meal and saves a lot of time. When cooking, think about how you can make the most of the ingredients. I like to use the leaves and stalks of broccoli as well as the head, they are perfectly edible and just as delicious.
Grow your own fruit & veg
Growing your own produce creates less plastic waste as it cuts out plastic wrapped produce from supermarkets. You can recycle your fresh off-cuts to make compost or save them to make your own vegetable stock. Of course, this is not financially and environmentally feasible for everyone. However, if you do have an outdoor space, all you need to begin is sunlight, seeds, water and patience. Remember to start small - start with easy to grow veg like salad leaves or spring onions.
It's not about completely cutting out foods from our diets all at once, restricting ourselves or spending extortionate amounts of money on alternatives. It’s about learning to enjoy preparing and cooking food. Educating ourselves on what we are eating. Learning how it can affect our environment. So we can make those informed choices, and make a difference.