In this carbon addicted world, even the food we eat has a carbon footprint. Take notice of the origin of some of the fruit and veg you buy in a supermarket. In my local supermarket, the origin of all the berries was Peru. The fact that we even have strawberries in October is a completely modern phenomenon. Around one hundred years ago, our transport systems were hardly fast enough to bring fresh produce from Europe, let alone South America. Now of course, the fruit or vegetables can be here in a matter of hours, processed and on the shelf only a few days after they were picked.
However, this is not the most prevalent issue when it comes to the environmental impact of agriculture. The issue that confronts us is both food wastage and the space required for the large fields of commercial agriculture. Now these are two issues that we, as consumers, have a large degree of control over.
Firstly, food wastage. As a nation, we throw 9.5 million tonnes of food away every year, despite the fact that 8.4 million people are in food poverty. Shockingly, ⅓ of food produced globally never gets eaten and gets thrown away. Why is waste so ingrained in our systems? It’s so ingrained we rarely think about it – if something like cheese is past its use-by date, most people will just throw it away without a second thought. However, recently there have been talks by supermarket executives of scrapping use-by dates altogether, showing their total arbitrariness.
Secondly, commercial farming. A quick definition – commercial farming means the majority of crops grown are sold for profit. Therefore, commercial farming is all about efficiency, yield maximisation, and most importantly, profit. In order to be efficient and produce the maximum amount possible, commercial fields are enormous. Agriculture therefore drives 90% of deforestation around the world. When you remember the statistic that only ⅓ of food produced gets consumed globally, you are struck by the enormous amount of waste that goes into sustaining our lifestyles.
Unlike some other contributors to climate change, we as individuals have huge direct power over the agriculture industry. Whilst running farms for profit creates a whole plethora of issues, as discussed earlier, it does also mean that it gives us (the consumers) a great deal of power over the system. Both individually and collectively, there is so much we can do to combat the waste of agriculture. At the end of the day, most of the food that is going to waste isn’t from supermarkets – supermarkets have a carefully managed process ensuring they are buying and selling exactly what they need in order not to waste profits. Unfortunately, households in the UK are mostly to blame for our huge wastage of food. But fortunately, that means that households have direct power over their waste!
So, what can we do? Download the Get2Cop app, make agriculture your avatar, and take the pledge to not waste food! Here are some methods to cut down on waste and have a lesser environmental impact with the food you buy.
Invest in a food waste bin! This means your food goes to compost rather than landfill.
Don’t be pedantic with use-by dates. Your best way of telling whether food is good or not is your nose. Using common sense rather than relying on arbitrary, rough guestimates is always a good way to combat food waste. For things like meat the use-by date is handy as they are relatively reliable, but if it’s one day out of date and smells mostly okay, the likelihood is, it’s okay.
Experiment! Figure out roughly how much your household consumes weekly and buy less and less. In my household, we would do a weekly shop and end up chucking quite a lot of stuff by the end of the week as no one would eat it. We figured this was a massive waste so instead of doing big weekly shops, we shop locally and buy what we need. Alternatively, if you don’t have time for this, just ensure that when you’re in the supermarket, you aren’t buying things because “you might as well”. Have a meal plan and buy accordingly – this is the best way to save money and prevent waste.
Shop locally! More or less all farms are run commercially in the UK, however, buying from your local greengrocers/butchers means that they are more likely to have sourced their produce from a UK farmer, maybe even a small-time one they are partnered with. Buying locally has a far smaller carbon footprint, is better for our nation’s economy, helps local and small-time businesses, and, best of all, greengrocers and butchers are likely to have fresher produce as it’s spent less time travelling. Also greengrocers still use paper bags, so much less plastic than the supermarket!
Buy in season – OddBox is a fantastic way of preventing food waste. They send you in season fruit and veg that didn’t make it to supermarket shelves due to aesthetic reasons. A subscription to this service gives you weekly fruit and veg that is entirely sustainable.
There are already talks within the government of scrapping use-by dates – if we alert our representatives of our desire for this to happen, then it will likely happen. Equally, we can take it further – the single-use plastics that cover our produce are completely unnecessary and terrible for the environment. Writing to our MPs and alerting them of these issues that upset us, we can make a difference and put the climate on the agenda.
In summary, don’t waste food! This is completely and utterly within your power as an individual and your power as a consumer. Do you like the unnecessary plastics, or the lack of freshness from supermarkets? Don’t use them, simple as that! If we all do this, our nation’s food waste would reduce tremendously! Food waste is a direct consequence of our actions, so let’s resolve it.