Sustainable Food

Eating is something that involves all of us, an action performed every day, usually several times a day, which perhaps for this very reason we sometimes happen to perform without paying to it all the attention it would actually require, unconsciously choosing what to put on our plate.

Is such a way of approaching food, however, the right one for the planet around us, and consequently for ourselves? Let's find out together. 



This concept is closely related to the concept of sustainable development that means being able to provide for the needs of the global population today, but without compromising the possibilities of generations to come in the future. This is developed, on a practical level, into a style of eating in which water, soil and energy consumption are minimized, in which the use of additives and pesticides is limited, intensive farming and fishing is reduced, and carbon emissions are curbed. 



Today, more than ever, this is an issue that affects each of us personally, for which each of us is largely responsible as inhabitants of planet Earth. We cannot look the other way, we cannot feel exempt from the impact that our food choices have, as they have it on everyone. So let's look at some numbers to get a sense of where we stand today when it comes to food and sustainability. 

More than half of food waste in Europe occurs within our homes, more precisely 53%. More than three times as much as the 17% of food wasted at the distribution and retail stage and 19% at the processing stage. We are all guilty, and if we shift from Europe to a planetary view, the figure is dramatic: 931 million tons a year are thrown away, or 17% of the world's food. Farmers and corporations, academia, citizens and companies. Everyone is called to task as the need for more efficient and sustainable food systems, better laws and more aligned world governments grows ever more urgent. 

Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger has been steadily rising, and today there are 820 million men, women and children suffering from malnutrition worldwide. Data that should give pause for thought: reconsider your habits, be tougher on yourself. Since 1974 planetary food waste has increased by 50 percent, and the food that ends up in the bin could feed the whole of Africa. 

The World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stated that current food production is having a negative impact on the world's ecosystem because it contributes 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions, is the leading cause of deforestation and land degradation, and accounts for 70% of human water consumption. In particular, raising livestock to produce meat, eggs and milk emits 14.5% of greenhouse gases and uses 70% of agricultural land. These figures are very alarming when we consider that our system should be able to satisfy 8 billion people, but half of the world's population is malnourished. 

According to the FAO, meat and animal by-products are the products that cause the most harm because they come from intensive farming. In the past 50 years, global poultry production has increased by about 700%, eggs have increased by 350%, pork by 290%, sheep and goat meat by 200%, beef and buffalo meat by 180%, and milk by 180%. In addition, the total number of livestock raised has grown from 9 billion in 1970 to 26.7 billion today, and the scenario is bound to get worse because of manure, antibiotics, hormones, fertilizers and agrochemicals used for feed crops, which need a lot of water to be irrigated. Suffice it to say that 1 kg of beef requires 15 kg of grain and soybeans, 15,000L of water and up to 68 kg of CO2 is emitted. 

It is healthier and less harmful to the environment to follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes always ensuring some variety to consume different products but at the right time. Thanks to technology and import, it is now possible to eat any food at any time of the year. However, it is preferable to choose seasonal fruits and vegetables because they have a higher content of vitamins and nutrients than those out of season, which have to be stored for a long time in refrigerators before arriving at the supermarket. In addition, this choice favors growing in the field, which requires less energy and waste of natural resources than growing in a greenhouse. For example, tomatoes if grown in a greenhouse have a 60 times higher emission factor. 

Further guidance recommends consuming small amounts of fish taken from certified sources; limiting, or better yet avoiding, products high in fat, sugar or salt such as sweets and sugary drinks; and using oils and fats with a balanced ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 such as olive, flax or canola oil. This is not only for the sake of our health, but also because high-fat and high-sugar foods with many preservatives require long processing times with high energy waste, and therefore are less sustainable. 

These are certainly alarming figures, but they should not discourage us but rather remind us that in all this we have a power to change things: the power of choice. Every time you go to the supermarket, it is not only what you put in your cart that you choose, but also who and what you finance. Following are some tips on how to be sustainable with our food choices in our everyday lives. 

  1. Prefer seasonal produce, it is proven that seasonal fruits and vegetables are also better from a nutritional point of view as well as being environmentally friendly. 
  2. Whenever possible, prefer 0-km foods, buy directly from producers and thus skip all the intermediate steps and middlemen that stand between the farmer and the final consumer. 
  3. prefer locally sourced products at the expense of those that travel by polluting means. 
  4. choose "family-size" food, thus reducing the proportion of packaging to the food contained and consumed. 
  5. opt for bulk products, thus free of highly polluting plastic-derived packaging. 
  6. use canvas bags for grocery shopping, these on the one hand are very durable and on the other avoid the use of plastic bags even if they are biodegradable. 
  7. always make separate waste collection to allow recycling and the derivation of energy from waste. 
  8. use cookware, refrigerators and ovens with low heat loss, thus reducing the energy used. 
  9. reduce food waste by being careful not to buy too much food that you are then unable to consume in a useful time. 
  10. when it is possible to shop jointly, for example with friends or relatives, this not only saves money but also reduces the pollution emitted for travel. 



With our association each month we have a different topic to deal with: each week we give ourselves small challenges regarding that topic, and then during our weekly meeting we discuss together what our experience has taught us, the practical difficulties we have encountered, and our general reflections. During the month of February many of us realized, by frequently going to the local market, how easy it actually was to find healthy and seasonal food, and especially often cheaper compared to supermarkets. In addition, some of us set goals regarding packaging, such as reducing plastic waste for example, that proved difficult to complete though not impossible. In addition, we had a documentary day during which we learned many things about agriculture and sustainability, and then discussed at the end of the viewing if what we had seen was different from what were our initial beliefs.  

Is it therefore possible to eat 100 percent sustainable? Maybe not so much, especially living in the city, however it is our responsibility as human beings inhabiting planet Earth to do our best to be so to the best of our abilities and needs.

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