By Carrie Sear
In the wake of the controversial outcomes of COP26, you may have found yourself wondering what personal changes you can introduce to reduce your climate footprint. Food and agriculture account for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions[i] so food is evidently an area of concern. However, diet and grocery shopping habits seem extremely difficult to combat; after all, we cannot simply avoid food. How can we make climate-friendly eating attainable?
The easiest way to lower your environmental ‘foodprint’ is to reduce wastage. The UK produced around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, and about 70% of this came from households (a.k.a. individual behaviours)[ii]. Shopping mindfully makes waste reduction easier; you could compose a shopping list to stay on track or avoid buying perishable items in bulk. I do a weekly shop at Lidl or Aldi and buy a collection of ‘reliable’ items I know I will finish; what these items are will depend on your diet. If I buy specific ingredients for a meal, I make sure it can be eaten as leftovers or frozen for me to eat later. This is cheaper, too, because you spend less on the food you won’t eat, and you don’t have to buy everything at the overpriced Tesco in the centre of town. In Durham the cheaper supermarkets are further out, so are understandably hard to get to, but for those who are willing, your campus card will get you there for £1 on the bus.
Learning to cook can also make your eating cheaper and more sustainable. This does not have to be adventurous. It could just be learning to cook a few staple carbohydrates and a few freezable sauces, sides or toppings like a basic pasta sauce, a chilli and a curry. These aren’t too difficult and can carry you very far in terms of meals. Knowing that you have meals in the house can help to deter you from takeaways, too, which require single-use packaging that generates about 11 billion items of waste a year in Britain[iii].
Changes to your diet can help the environment as well, although people are often hesitant. Livestock makes up only 18% of our calories whilst taking up 83% of farmland as well as omitting more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases globally[iv]. Your diet is an incredibly personal choice, but if you are willing to reduce or renounce meat, it would be a sustainable option; even cutting down your consumption by having one less meat-based meal a day or having ‘meat-free days’ can have a sizeable impact.
Reducing waste in your grocery shop can be more complicated but is definitely worthwhile. Where possible, buy things packaged in recyclable materials like metal or cardboard. When shopping for fresh produce use re-usable bags when possible. These could be produce bags (I bought mine from Lidl at about 45p per bag) or they could be paper bags or lightweight cloth bags you already had lying around. After purchasing, try to use a reusable bag or ask for a paper option if you forget a bag (it happens).
Finally, shop locally when you can. This reduces the carbon footprint from the transport of your item, and it is usually easier to shop with less plastic if you go to greengrocers, bakery or zero-waste shops. I recommend Robinson’s on North Road (they offer a 10% student discount and bargain bins) as well as the old marketplace grocers. Scoop, a zero-waste shop that is a student volunteer-run and non-profit, is also an easy eco-friendly option and is particularly good for staples like rice and pasta. Their price matches Tesco to be more student-budget friendly and are open on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
The bottom line of all of these tips is that every single change to our food habits makes a difference for the climate. The goal, therefore, is not to have a few people doing sustainable consumption perfectly but to have lots of people trying their best. It doesn’t matter if what you have is aesthetically pleasing, despite what the zero-waste social media presence suggests, but that you utilise what you have. Be kind to yourself because mistakes happen and there are times where cutting waste isn’t possible. The mindset and the small things make the biggest change.
[i] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992.
[ii] WRAP, January 2020, Food surplus and waste in the UK: Key facts. https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-11/Food-surplus-and-waste-in-the-UK-key-facts-Jan-2020.pdf.
[iii] The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers, 14th May 2019, ‘Lunch on the go’ habit generates 11bn items of packaging waste a year. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/14/lunch-on-go-habit-generates-11bn-items-packaging-waste-year-uk
Image credit: Gaelle Marcel (via Unsplash)