For some time FoE has campaigned on various food issues including Local Food, GM, and other issues.

Now as FoE prepares to campaign on Solutions to Climate Change, as well as other top-level objectives including Bio-Diversity and Human Justice, a new focus on Sustainable Food is developing, which includes elements of previous campaigns but better addresses the biggest environmental issues in UK and World Food as identified by the UN and other groups.

In this and other campaigns, ‘sustainability’ is a key factor – enjoying our world, whilst respecting the rights of others in current and future generations to do so as well.

Sustainable Food

What is ‘sustainable food’? This website has a good definition:
http://www.sustainweb.org/sustainablefood/ Key themes are Healthy, Local and Ethically Produced food.

Fortunately there is little trade-off needed between these criteria, they largely suggest the same food choices. Western diets have much room for improvement in terms of health, and are putting great pressure on world resources as developing countries adopt more western diets and corporations look for wider world markets.

The earth’s population today is over 6 billion and could grow to 11 billion in coming decades. There is enough land to feed these numbers but only if it is used more efficiently. Even today, pressure mainly from food production (and also biofuels) is causing the fastest rate of deforestation in human history and remaining unused land resources are dwindling. In the UK, most available land is used for agriculture and we rely heavily on food imports. Changes could be made to improve food security and decrease global impact. This would also help the UK balance of payments as we become a net importer of energy as well.

Healthiness

Healthiness includes energy and strength, absence of disease, and body development (skeleton, muscles, organs etc). Much research has been done, and it mostly points to the general conclusion that a whole-food largely plant-based diet is best for all (see for example “The China Study”, prof Colin T Campbell (amazon), or “The Optimum Nutrition Bible”, Patrick Holford (amazon), both quite well referenced books, stocked in Waterstones Broadmead and Blackwells Park St). There’s also pretty good agreement on avoiding fatty and sugary foods and substantially reducing meat and dairy consumption in favour of plant-based whole-foods. Fortunately this is quite consistent with making the average UK diet more sustainable on other grounds.

Local Sourcing

Because oil is currently so cheap, economics have driven a supply network for food in which locality is quite unimportant. So today it is up to consumers to reduce their personal impact by choosing more local fruit, vegetables, bread and so on, less air-freighted imports, and less animal products which come with hidden food miles.

Hidden food miles apply especially to animal products, as locally produced meat and dairy may well have involved importing many times its weight in grain or soya from around the world. Even organic standards do not preclude this. Animal rearing is a very inefficient way of producing food as the animals eat many times their own weight in plant-based foods. Even if organic animal products are reared on locally grown feed, they are probably using land that could have been much more productively used for local plant-based foods: in other words, they have used up more than their fair share of local land. So relatively speaking, animal products are the biggest problem for the local shopper.

http://www.bristollocalfood.co.uk/ lists many suppliers who try to source locally, some may be more familiar with the other concepts than others.

Animal Products

The biggest problem with the average UK and ‘Western’ diet is the large amount of animal products it contains. There is strong evidence that this is linked to the growing problems of ‘Western Diseases of Affluence’ (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity) (see Health section above). It has also been calculated that rearing animals for food and related animal feed, deforestation and transport contributes 18% to climate change, and is the biggest land user and hence driver of biodiversity loss, world deforestation, and water supply depletion. Also Social Justice suffers as demand for animal feed drives up world grain prices so the worlds poor cannot afford it. So that’s a big problem! The UN report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” gives some details. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock%27s_Long_Shadow

What can Individuals Do?

  • If you eat meat and dairy, try out alternatives on a regular basis. For example chili-bean curry with whole-grain rice instead of meat curry on white, smoked tofu instead of cheese, soya milk instead of cows milk. These foods taste different but have great nutritional benefits and taste will adapt Share your new discoveries with your friends.
  • Visit a large whole-food shop like Better Food Company, Harvest, Wild Oates etc and find what you like. Then persuade your local shops and supermarket branches to stock it. Some foods like smoked tofu are not widely available today outside specialist wholefood shops.
  • Ask restaurants for menu recommendations not containing meat and dairy – if necessary suggest dishes based on mushrooms, tofu, nuts, etc. Preferably speak to the owner or ask in advance if booking. Specifically ask for a glass or jug of tap water rather than bottled water, explaining it’s more eco-friendly.
  • Ask for these options in your canteen at work, school, hospital etc.
  • Ask your GP about nutritional advice on every occasion. They may well not have good answers immediately and you could share your research with them so it could benefit their other patients.
  • Lobby your politicians to promote healthy sustainable food choices.

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