I've always been a firm believer that making your lifestyle more socially and environmentally beneficial should be about savouring the moment, thinking about the decisions we make and embarking on small changes. With the latest reports from the UN Food and Agriculture Association suggesting that livestock are responsible for 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, one of the simplest ways to make a difference is to look carefully at the food we are eating. According to research, the following dietary guidelines are a good place to start.
1. Eat Mussels
According to Dr Michael Mosley, who recently worked on a programme for BBC Horizon entitled 'Can Eating Meat be Eco-Friendly?' mussels are the most eco-friendly variety of meat-type protein. Dr Mosley has explained that the fact that mussels are grown on a length of rope just below the surface of a loch means that it takes relatively low levels of energy to rear them and transport them to our plates. Dr Mosley and his research team have also explained that as mussels trap carbon dioxide within their shells, their carbon footprint is often up to 20 times less than chicken and 50 times less than beef. In contrast, because of cattle's largely grass-based diet, a single cow can release up to 500 litres of methane every day, which is considered to be 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
2. Choose Mackerel over Haddock
Researchers at Robert Gordon University in Scotland have traced the life cycles and the processing of fish in the harbours of Fraserburgh in Scotland and discovered that catching and processing a tonne of haddock uses 2898.4KWh of energy, which is more than the electricity usage of an average UK household in ten months. In contrast catching and processing mackerel used only 867.27KWh of energy on average. The team at the university's Institute for Innovation, Design & Sustainability are campaigning for a food labelling system which would detail the energy used in catching and distributing fish and therefore enable suppliers to sell their fish in a low energy category. Another factor to bear in mind is the potential for fish to be contaminated by sea-based pollutants such as plastic which contains chemicals. Scientists have proved that some levels of ingested chemicals such as mercury and PCB are transferred up the food chain as predators eat their prey. For this reason, larger fish such as tuna and swordfish (which tend to eat more of the smaller fish that that feast on plastic and other discarded materials) contain higher levels of contamination. While some guidance suggests we should be limiting our intake of fish to twice per week, the consensus on the whole is that the omega 3 and other health benefits of eating seafood, outweighs the risk.
3. Grow Your Own
While many people are aware of the benefit of eating locally-sourced produce which is not only likely to be fresher, but is also likely to have travelled a shorter distance to the table (therefore reducing pollution), the possibility of growing one's own vegetables is often overlooked. However, the increasing popularity of gardening as a hobby (a survey by a garden furniture company recently found that the average spend on a garden per summer has reached £518 from last year's figures of £273), now is the time to try home-grown produce. Organic gardening practices cut down on the use of potentially harmful pesticides.
4. Choose responsible restaurants
In the UK the Sustainable Restaurant Association awards up to a three star rating to restaurants in recognition of their performance against 14 criteria. The criteria include aspects related to animal welfare, whether the fish used is from a responsible source, whether communities further afield are paid an appropriate price for their produce, community engagement, minimisation of waste and managing resources. The directory for diners includes the details of restaurants including Feng Sushi and London-based The Folly which has three stars. Another point of reference is The Butterfly Mark, which is awarded not only to restaurants who are socially and environmentally sustainable (including Tom's Kitchen, Moshi Moshi, Drake & Morgan, The Refinery and others) but to suppliers and food brands themselves (including Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir) enabling consumers to be conscientious at home too.
5. Reduce Waste
In the UK, seven million tonnes of food and drink is disposed of each year and more than half of that is edible. One of the ways to make sure we are using food wisely is of course to think more imaginatively about the food we are eating and re-use ingredients. The Honestly Healthy cookbook is a particularly good source of inspiration, because it advocates using unprocessed and natural foods that are good for you. Figures suggest that if we all stopped wasting food and therefore using natural resources required in the cultivation and transportation of food, the positive environmental impact would be equivalent to taking 1 in 4 cars off of the road.