OK, it’s true — we all do need to eat. But the way we’re producing our food right now is having a pretty devastating impact on the world around us.
Of the deforestation worldwide, agriculture is responsible for 75% of it. Agriculture is also the largest contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, which are the most significant driver of climate change.
For real change to happen, we need to take responsibility for the environmental impact of food consumption along the whole food chain. And while that includes cultivation, processing, and transport, it also includes us — the consumers.
Tom Hunt, who "made the major shift" to calling himself an eco-chef in 2011, is a food writer and activist. He's now director of the award-winning sustainable Poco restaurant in Bristol. He's also the founder of Forgotten Feast, a charitable campaign that raises awareness around food waste issues by hosting banquets made from ingredients that would otherwise have been wasted.
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This month, he spoke at a food sustainability event hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Barilla Centre for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) in London, to mark the Food Sustainability Media Awards.
Celeb chef Tom Hunt turning our surplus food into lovely grub to show off what @FareShareUK does at tonight's Food Sustainability Media Award #goodfoodmediaaward#feedpeoplefirstpic.twitter.com/G31EPVFbQS— FareShare (@FareShareUK) May 16, 2018
So, in order to make this global challenge feel a bit more achievable on an individual level, we asked Hunt for his three top tips on making our diets more sustainable.
1. Reduce plastic.
We’ve all seen first-hand how supermarkets love to wrap produce in plastic. From coconuts to "cauliflower steaks," it’s practically impossible to do a shop without a lot of plastic ending up in your basket along with your food.
The leading supermarkets in the UK alone create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packing waste every year, according to the Guardian — that's over half of the plastic waste created by all UK homes put together, which is about 1.5 million tonnes a year.
First cauliflower steaks, now ready-to-drink coconuts. Whether you think they’re worth it or not, convenience foods are taking flak for their ‘excessive’ packaging. Should supermarkets be doing more to tackle the issue of plastic waste? https://t.co/IcqWokm86Dpic.twitter.com/eX8zI1BIeg— Redwood Consulting (@redwoodcomms) January 10, 2018
But there are ways to avoid plastic, particularly when it comes to buying fruit and veg, according to Hunt.
Hunt started out working under Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as a cook and food stylist and River Cottage, so he knows a thing or two about seasonal produce — and he reckons we should all focus on buying fruit and veg that is in season locally, and shopping in local markets, to cut down on plastic waste.
If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them. pic.twitter.com/00YECaHB4D— Nathalie Gordon (@awlilnatty) March 3, 2016
2. Use health shops.
According to Hunt, food that you buy in health food shops is generally much more sustainable.
“We should eat for pleasure and enjoy our food,” he said at the food sustainability event. “A large part of that is knowing where your food comes from. Then we eat whole foods and we cook real food. That is a huge first step.”
"Time and money are real issues and … it’s not always easy to make the right decision every time in our shopping," he added. "[But] eating for pleasure, eating whole foods, and eating the best foods we can ... [and] reconnecting with our food's origin and understanding where it comes from is a real step toward that."
3. Reduce meat.
Currently, one-third of the world’s cereal crop is used to feed the 70 billion farm animals that go to producing our meat, eggs, and dairy products, according to animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming.
As a model, many believe that the amount of energy and resources that go into rearing animals — for comparatively little output — is unsustainable.
Photograph by George Steinmetz @geosteinmetz Turkeys get a sprayed with disinfectant to prevent disease in a shed packed with 6,000 birds that have virtually identical genetics. Disinfectants are an important part of confined animal feeding operations, and mortality rates here average only 4% over the 18 months it takes them to from a few ounces to the 24 lbs. sell weight.
One solution, according to Hunt, is to cut out meat altogether, or to reduce the amount of meat you eat. While most of us in the West eat more protein than we need, it’s also easy for a vegan diet to get the right amount of protein. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often a lot of, protein.
If you can’t face cutting out meat, Hunt has another suggestion: practicing nose to tail. The "nose to tail" and "root to fruit" movements are primarily focussed on tackling food waste, with the central idea being that you eat every part of whatever you choose to consume. And, bearing in mind that a third of all food produced goes in the bin, it’s an important mission.
Another chef, Fergus Henderson, really pioneered the “nose to tail” movement when he literally wrote the book on it, back in 1999. He believes that, if you’re going to kill an animal, you might as well eat all of it. The “root to fruit” movement that followed believes the same, but for plants.
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