How we can save the planet – one meal at a time
With sustainability at the heart of our values, GingerMay is always keen to learn how we can be greener. Across 2022, we’ve invited Caroline Burgess-Pike, founder of Eden Green PR, to run workshops on options the team can explore for personal and planetary good — and because we feel knowledge is better shared, we’ll be giving you the lowdown in our blog.
Probably the best place to start is Veganuary: the first month of the year where many choose to switch out meat, fish, and dairy from their diet – possibly to make up for the decadence of December. The trend has been growing year on year, with a record-topping 600,000 official sign-ups in 2022, up from 250,000 just three years ago.
The lifestyle change associated with Veganuary is also entering the mainstream outside of this month-long challenge, with the number of people opting for a plant-based diet having quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In 2020, 62% of Brits dipped their toe in plant milk — not literally, of course — and the shift towards sustainable food choices drew in over half (56%) of the UK population.
Going plant-based is widely recognised as a more sustainable way of living. But even for those who aren’t ready to say goodbye to animal products forever, research shows that doing so for two-thirds of meals could reduce food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60%. So, let’s gather up some of that Veganuary-inspired motivation and infuse it into the next 11 months, maximising the benefits to our environment.
Why our dietary decisions make a difference
Even if all fossil fuel emissions were brought to a halt tomorrow, the current global food system would eclipse the environmental targets established in the 2015 Paris Agreement, pushing a rise in global temperatures beyond 1.5C within 45 years.
Meat and dairy production, while accounting for only 18% of calories globally, requires one-third of land across the world and as much as 70% in the UK. Animal produce supply chains also cause over half (58%) of agricultural GHGs, 57% of water pollution, and 56% of air pollution, contributing to a total of 14.5% of global GHG emissions.
However, despite these sobering statistics, one study theorised that a change in food consumption among roughly 50 high-income nations towards a more planet-friendly diet could cut agricultural production emissions by two-thirds. When paired with a process of re-wilding former farmlands, the whole endeavour could also clear the atmosphere of 98.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The take-away? Individual decisions we make can have a massive impact on addressing these figures.
Three steps towards sustainability
The path towards minimising the environmental impact of our diets is not as intimidating as it may seem. There are actions we can all integrate into our everyday food choices, such as:
- Opting for alternative ingredients: food technology has progressed significantly in recent years, with the quality and variety of products made with plant proteins improving rapidly. Meanwhile, major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Waitrose are responding to consumer demand for alternative ingredients to animal-based produce, and new brands have sprung up to cater for plant-based diets.
This means there is more choice than ever for those interested in changing up what’s on their plate; be that trying a pea protein or bean burger, investing in meal kits to test ‘plant-only’ days each week, or experimenting with plant-based recipes. The sky is (almost) the limit on ways to eat greener — and potentially gain health benefits in the process: making your ‘five a day’ the stars of the show, rather than the side dish.
- Knowing where our food comes from: as highlighted in the #Regenuary campaign, food imported from other countries has a large environmental impact; as much as five times the level of homegrown produce. Paying closer attention to where our meals are coming from can help to reduce the negative effects of buying food that has to be flown or shipped in; with climate change food calculators offering useful information about how far items have travelled. Additionally, taking this a step further and aiming to purchase from sustainable local producers and suppliers can be even better for the planet.
For instance, buying food from farmers using regenerative methods where possible will help support farming practices that bring many benefits: such as promoting better diversity, keeping water cycles balanced and improving topsoil quality. Simply adding more local and sustainable items to the weekly shop can be good for us and the environment, whether they are plant-based or not. At the office level, companies can take a similar tack by choosing sustainable caterers, such as fooditude or eatfirst.
- Minimising food waste: being sustainable also involves smaller, more manageable habit changes such as reducing food waste; UK households alone throw away an incredible 5 million tons of edible food every year. Planning out weekly meals and ingredients, both animal- and plant-based, can support the fight against climate change.
Food customs and practices are deeply woven into our cultures and remain a personal choice. Going vegan is one option in the fight against climate change, but there are many more ways to help. Adapting our diets, sourcing local and seasonal produce, and being more conscious about the food we buy goes a long way towards addressing sustainability concerns. Upping the veggies, nuts, and pulses, being creative with recipes, and even getting to know your local food producers can make a big difference, without too much impact on your usual routine.