How sustainable is your dinner?

Categorie(s): Cases, Food for Mankind, Saving Energy

“During dinner  a discussion grows about the sustainability of the meal. This chicken, how did she live? What did she get to eat? The rice is from Thailand, the package tells us  that, the pineapple is from Kenya. So, this meal is very international, nice to know, but maybe not so good for a sustainable world. Is it possible to survive on local food?”

Read this article and consider your own eating habits in this light.

Eating local and seasonal helps our climate

Many people think only about driving a car when they try to live sustainably. But in reality your meals are more harmful for the environment than a trip by car. Food production means usually pollution by pesticides, but  produces also a lot of CO2. By taking care of a few things you can save hundreds of kilo’s of CO2. Look at this:

  1. Veggies and fruit can come from the fields – and from nearby,  but they also can come flying from far away countries.
  2. If you want to eat from faraway, choose food that  comes by ship, like pineapple or frozen fruit juices made from concentrate.
  3. Veggies and fruit can come from gardens or fields, or from unheated greenhouses, or, in the cold season, from heated greenhouses
  4. You can eat meat from animals that get their fodder from faraway,  or you can get your proteins (partly) from plant products (like nuts or beans). Animals need many kilo’s of protein rich food to produce one kilo of meat.
  5. You can eat things that have been processed extensively and packed in expensive packaging, or (unprocessed) things in a simple bag.
  6. For instance, in Northern Europe: you can eat potatoes grown nearby, or rice grown far away,  which needs much water, producing a lot of greenhouse gasses. In other regions you also best eat local grain or tubers.

In many cases somebody’s eating habits  mean some 3.300 kg CO2 per year. By taking these points into account you can easily save 20-25%. In many cases it is also healthier and cheaper, and maybe even tastier! The cooking itself does not make so much difference, 10-15% of the energy for food is used in the kitchen. Transport, heating of greenhouses, production of fertilisers – all this takes the bulk of the energy – and CO2 production of course.

Food that has been produced in your own country, does not need to be transported over long distances. If you want to eat food from far away, choose things that can be transported by ship, so do not choose strawberries when it is winter in Europe, and they have to be flown in from Africa. Strawberries grow very well in Northern Europe, but only in summer.

So, eat veggies and fruits when they are ripe in your country. You can find what is available each season on a vegetable calendar for your region,  like http://eatseasonably.co.uk/what-to-eat-now/calendar/ for the UK. If you live somewhere else there will be one for your country. You can make a print of the calendar and hang it in your kitchen.

The greatest producers of CO2 are the cows. Not only do they have to eat a lot of food, they produce in their stomachs a lot of methane, a very strong greenhouse gas. A steak of 150 grams means as much greenhouse gas as  three complete sustainable meals. A bit less meat, but now and then  beans, nuts or other protein rich vegetarian stuff really helps. By the way,  chicken is a bit better for the climate than beef.

Ready meals from the supermarket are not so bad, they are made in bulk a very efficiënt way, so they have asked less energy. But look out where is comes  from!

Plastic around a cucumber or pepper looks not very environmental, but in this way the cucumber stays much longer fresh, so not so much needs to be thrown away. Therefore in this case plastic is environmentally better (if it is recycled anyway!)

Look at the pictures underneath. they show the difference. Sorry, the names are in Dutch, but you can see what it is!

This dinner produces 6,5 kg CO2 pro person
This dinnerproduces 3,5 kg CO2 pro person
This dinner produces 3,3 kg CO2 pro person
This dinner produces 0,9 kg CO2 pro person

…(and the last one even less if you take a vegetarian product in stead of meat.)

During a whole year somebody who eats sustainably produces ca 600 kg CO2 less.

This is
– about 3.000 km by car
– 3,8 years laundry in washing machine plus dryer
–  3 months heating your house

That much you can save!!

Suggestions to start working on this:

  1. Find out which veggies and fruits you can have in every season, grown in your own country or region – and not in heated greenhouses.
  2. There are  growers who heat their greenhouses in a ‘climate neutrl’ way with warmth fron the earth, or solar energy,  sometimes even producing mor  energy than they need, and selling is to houses nearbij. Find out if this happens in your reagion. Visit such a farm if possible.
  3. Make for every season a climate friendly menu that is not only environmental but also tasty!

On this site you can find more interesting material about this:
Diet for a small planet
Beef industry the biggest climate changer
Why we spend too much on food

and more…