It was while I was working for Knorr in South East Asia that I began to think about what sustainability really meant. I saw real extremes from over-priced, shrink-wrapped bananas in my local supermarket in Singapore, to the woman I met cooking in a humid attic room in Central Vietnam desperately trying to stretch her ingredients to feed three generations of her family. These experiences made me understand that attitudes to food and sustainability vary as much as local flavours.
Back in the UK, we like to think of ourselves as responsible consumers, we try not to waste food and dutifully fill our recycling bins. But even here our understanding of one aspect of sustainability - our water footprint - is limited. To save water, most of us think about things like turning the tap off when we brush our teeth or having a quick shower instead of a bath, but it's about much more than that.
On average we use just 140 litres a day on domestic activities. But that's just a drop in the ocean when you compare it to the hidden water that goes into the production of our food, particularly during farming. Add this in and your water footprint balloons to as much as 3,800 litres. That's something most of us don't think about when we fill our basket in the supermarket.
Does it matter? Yes, because whether you live in Vietnam or the UK, water is running out. For half a billion people in the world, water is already scarce and the UN predicts that by 2030 half the global population will be facing water shortages. We just don't link it back to food and farming.
Food may not be an obvious place to start, but it is a great one, because we're living through a foodie revolution. Recipe books top best-seller lists, cooking competitions dominate our television screens and the hashtag #foodstagram has been used 16 million times. We're talking about, thinking about and photographing food more than ever before. We're also asking questions about where it comes from and the ingredients used to make it as we strive to make more responsible food choices.
So now, more than ever before, it's not such a stretch to think about how your food was farmed, how much water was used to grow and produce it and the impact this leaves behind on people and the planet.
On a personal level there are things you can do to make a difference. For World Water Week this year Knorr worked with the Water Footprint Network to come up with some simple food swaps that help you to make more responsible food choices by opting for food that requires less water to produce. For example, did you know choosing potatoes over bread saves over 1,300 litres of water per kilo you eat?
But, working in the food industry, I know that the bigger responsibility lies with us - food brands - to really make a difference. Whatever people's personal attitudes to sustainability, it's the brands that make the products we buy that make the biggest difference.
Many people may be unaware quite how big that difference can be. For example Knorr products are used by 320 million people every day, so any change we make to farming practices and the way we produce food can achieve a massive positive impact across the world.
Every year around 90 per cent of the world's total surface and ground water is consumed growing crops. This is why we've been working for the last six years with farmers across the world to help them cut the amount of water used in food production as part of our mission to farm our ingredients sustainably.
We are helping them to recycle water and introduce methods like drip irrigation, where water is drip fed direct to the root of the plant to avoid wastage. Over the last three years the farmers we work with have saved an average of 10.6 kilotons of water - that's 5.7 million glasses of water.
This is where your trip to the supermarket comes in again as you can look for Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade or the Knorr Sustainability Partnership logos on the food you buy. Choosing these shows that you're buying a product that uses ingredients that were sourced sustainably, and part of that means saving water.
If this all sounds a bit too much like preaching about saving the planet, choosing sustainably produced food isn't just about feeling good, it's about tasting good too. We can all tell the difference between an overwatered greenhouse tomato and one grown outdoors in the sunshine and, at Knorr, we have found that working to save water has helped us to make our tomatoes and other ingredients tastier too.
So next time you find yourself browsing the supermarket aisle, take a moment to think about the positive impact you could make through what you choose to cook for dinner tonight.
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