Food’s Environmental Impact – How to Eat more Climate Smart

Today, there is much talk about the environment and how it is affected by our lifestyle. A great deal is about the particular diet we eat and what foods we choose to buy. In some countries, a meat tax has been discussed because of the environmental impact that meat has. But how do other foods affect the environment? Here are some tips on what you can think of in the shop to reduce your climate impact.

Food is one of the most environmentally impacted product areas, due to high energy consumption and high carbon dioxide emissions throughout the food chain. Some foods have a great environmental impact, while others have less, so our food choices are very important.

Fruit and vegetables

Choose locally produced fruits and vegetables firsthand as it allows you to find fruit and vegetables grown with fewer pesticides. By buying locally, you can also avoid long transports, which is very good from an environmental point of view. Fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed sparingly or not at all, such as organically grown foods, are a good alternative as they contribute to a non-toxic environment. Feel free to choose fruits and vegetables by season and preferably coarse vegetables such as cabbage and root vegetables, instead of more delicate vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. The coarser vegetables are very durable and are often grown outdoors rather than in greenhouses.

This is positive as greenhouse cultivation is very energy intensive. The coarser vegetables can handle storage longer, which means we can reduce waste both at home and in stores. For the vegetables that can withstand longer storage, more environmentally friendly means of transport can also be used. Many imported fresh fruits and vegetables are transported by air for them to arrive while they are still fresh.

This makes the climate impact very great. Of the vegetables grown in greenhouses, such as tomatoes, it is an advantage to choose locally-grown when they are in season. In the Netherlands, for example, most of the greenhouses are heated by fossil fuels, which contributes to a large climate impact. During the winter, Spanish free-range tomatoes are an alternative.

Vegetables

Peas, beans, and other vegetables are very climate-smart foods. Emissions from cultivation are low, so overall it is the transport that accounts for the great climate impact in this food group. First and foremost, we should consume locally-grown vegetables. But even imported vegetables are low in emissions, especially if used as an alternative to the meat, which has a significantly higher climate impact. Since vegetables contain a lot of protein, they can advantageously be a more climate-smart alternative to meat.

As with vegetables, fresh imported legumes such as sugar peas and haricots are often transported by air, which has a great impact on the climate. Dried vegetables can be stored for a very long time and can be imported with more resource-efficient means of transport. Soy has become a popular food and is often used as a substitute for animal products in sausages and meats, for example.

From an environmental point of view, it is important to think about where soy comes from. Cultivations in South America have contributed to the degradation of rainforests to give way to the cultivations. Try to choose soy products that are labeled, so the soy has been grown in a sustainable way without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Nor does the organic soy contribute to the decomposition of rainforests.

Cereals, rice, and potatoes

Compared to meat and fish, potatoes, rice and cereal products such as bread, cereals and pasta have a relatively small climate impact. Organically grown products are a good alternative as they are not sprayed with chemical pesticides and then contribute to a non-toxic environment. The rice has a greater climate impact than cereals and potatoes when it is grown on water-drenched crops.

Methane gas, a potential greenhouse gas, is released from the wet ground. As transport contributes to a large climate impact in this group, it is good to choose domestically grown and locally produced foods to the extent possible.

Meat

Meat is the individual food group that has the greatest impact on the climate. However, there is a difference between different kinds of meat. Beef is the meat that gives the most emissions and has the greatest climate impact, then comes the pork and then the chicken that has the least climate impact.

One reason that beef has the most climate impact is that cattle are ruminant animals and their digestive process releases methane gas, which is a potential greenhouse gas. From an environmental point of view it can, therefore, be an advantage to reduce the amount of meat. When choosing meat you can think of reducing the amount of beef and choosing more chicken instead. Also, choose meat from animals that have grazed on natural pastures. This means that the landscapes remain open with high biodiversity. In organic animal breeding, the animals are raised on feed that has not been sprayed, which contributes to a non-toxic environment.

Dairy products

Milk is relatively climate-impacting because it comes from cattle that emit methane gas. Choose locally produced milk. Dairy products such as cheese, for example, also have a large climatic impact as a relatively large amount of milk is required to produce a kilo of cheese. Cows from organic milk production go longer and eat more hay and grass than conventional cows. They are also fed with organic feed which reduces the use of pesticides.

Fish

Look for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification. These markings take into account that the fish comes from healthy and strong stocks and that the fishing is done in a correct and sustainable way without destroying the ecosystem where the fish are caught.

The certifications mean that the boats are environmentally adapted. Look for these labels when you are in the store. Some fish species are currently threatened by overfishing. If you want to know which stocks are stable, you can take help from WWF’s fish guide. Fish and shellfish farming can cause local eutrophication and damage sensitive coastal environments.

This applies, for example, to the cultivation of giant prawns. When growing salmon and cod, large quantities of fish are required for feed, which in many cases are fished in a way that is not sustainable. Sparrow cuttings can, unlike many fish farms, actually reduce eutrophication in the seas, this is because they take their nutrition directly from the seas by removing plankton from the water.

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