By Dietitian Kylie Markow
Our food system has some problems…
We all rely on the food system (which includes food production, distribution and consumption) to feed ourselves and our families. However the way we produce, distribute and eat food poses some problems which threaten environmental sustainability and the future of our food supply. Some interesting stats that put things into perspective:
- 20% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production alone (Bradbear & Friel 2011)
- Over 20% of the food we purchase is wasted (Do Something! 2013)
- 3 in 5 Australian adults are overweight or obese (AIHW 2012), suggesting that we eat way more food than we need
In short, we are producing food unsustainably, we eat too much, and we are wasteful.
Making small changes to our eating habits can help…
The revised Australian Dietary Guidelines now includes stronger consideration for environmental sustainability, with the addition of an appendix called ‘Food, nutrition and environmental sustainability.’ This provides some helpful tips for Australians to eat for health whilst reducing their footprint on the earth:
1. Eat and drink only what you need: Eating and drinking more than you need not only puts pressure on your body because it stores this extra energy as fat, but also puts pressure on the environment because you’re consuming more resources via the energy and packaging associated with food production, transport and waste disposal. So the overall message here is: eat and drink to your needs. Some tips to help with this include:
- Plan your meals ahead of time
- Before food shopping check the fridge and cupboards for what you already have and write a shopping list based on what you need rather than impulse buying
2. A healthy diet is good for your body and the environment: Eating a diet that is high in cereals and wholegrains, fruits and vegetables and low in highly processed, ‘discretionary’ (or sometimes) foods will help you to achieve a healthy weight and tread lightly on the earth.
3. Minimise and recycle food and packaging waste: Food and packaging waste accounts for a large proportion of household waste, is often unnecessary, and results in a significant amount of potentially edible or recyclable items going to landfill. Try to minimise or recycle food/packaging waste in your household:
- Avoid buying more food than you need
- Store foods appropriately to help them last longer
- Keep perishable foods safe by storing them in the fridge at less than 5°C
- Recycle food waste by using a compost bin, a worm farm or keeping backyard chickens. Some council areas now also allow you to dispose of food waste in your organics bins for recycling. Check your council website or the Zero Waste website to see if you are eligible
- Select foods with minimal packaging or packaging that can be recycled and recycle appropriately.
4. Eat with the seasons: Fruits and vegetables that are in season do not need additional resources that are required to produce foods out of season, for example, electricity to control the temperature inside greenhouses. Seasonal foods are also more likely to be grown locally thereby reducing the ‘food miles’ (distance) your food has travelled. To find out what’s in season in South Australia now, see the Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market Seasonal Produce Guide
5. Conserve water and energy: If you’re looking for more ideas, reducing household water and energy usage, for example by turning off the tap while brushing your teeth and maintaining electronic appliances, can provide enormous savings on resources, not to mention household finances. Check out other great ways to save water, energy (and money) in the home
A few other ways to challenge yourself which can support the food system that supports you:
- Enjoy a meat-free day each week: Meat production has been shown to be particularly problematic because of the release of various greenhouse gases (McMichael et al. 2007; Friel et al. 2009). While meat can form part of a healthy diet, eating meat in excess can be negative for both environmental sustainability and personal health (due to meat’s saturated fat and cholesterol content) (Friel et al. 2009). If you eat meat at most meals or in large quantities, consider having smaller serves and experiment with some of the delicious vegetarian dishes available online. In the meantime, why not have a crack at the African Couscous Salad below to get you started?
- Consider sustainable seafood options: Eating seafood has great health benefits because of its omega-3, vitamin D and zinc content, however our sea’s fish stocks are suffering because of overfishing. If you do eat seafood consider choosing species that are not under threat from overfishing by checking out the Sustainable Seafood Guide.
There are many ways we can lead lives that foster personal and environmental health. This week, why not challenge yourself to try one or two of the ideas above and see how you go? Once you’ve got those down pat, try one or two more, and so on. If we all do a little, we can make a big difference.
A recipe to get you started…
This recipe is based on grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit and is quick and easy to prepare. Store leftovers in an air-tight container for lunch the next day.
African Couscous Salad
800 ml reduced salt vegetable stock
400 g couscous
50 g sultanas
50 g dried apricots, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of mint, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
Pepper, to taste
50g semi-dried tomatoes, in oil, roughly chopped
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 red capsicum, washed, halved, deseeded and chopped
1 green capsicum, washed, halved, deseeded and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
- Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil. Remove from heat and pour in the couscous, sultanas and dried apricots. Cover and leave to stand for about 10 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork, then chill.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice and oil in a bowl. Season with pepper. In a separate bowl combine the semi-dried tomatoes, chickpeas, capsicums and onion.
- Combine couscous and dressing. Add mint just before serving.
Recipe adapted from http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/couscous-salad
For further information check out the Australian Dietary Guidelines
AIHW 2012, ‘Australia’s Health 2012’, Cat no. AUS 156, AIHW, Canberra.
Bradbear, C. & Friel, S. 2011, ‘Food systems and environmental sustainability: a review of the Australian evidence’, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health Working Paper, Australian National University, Canberra.
Do Something! 2013, ‘Household Food Waste’, Do Something!, viewed 29th October 2013, available: http://foodwise.com.au/foodwaste/household-food-waste-landing-page/
Friel, S., Dangour, A.D., Garnett, T., Lock, K., Chalabi, Z., Roberts, I., Butler, A., Butler, C.D., Waage, J., McMichael, A.J. & Haines, A. 2009, ‘Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture’, The Lancet, vol. 374, no. 9706, pp. 2016-2025.