The food we eat is the primary source of our environmental impacts. Food accounts for:

  • 28% of our Carbon Footprint
  • 46% of our Water Footprint
  • 49% of our Eco (land use) Footprint

It is therefore not surprising that changing your diet is one of the most effective ways of reducing your environmental impacts. For example cutting 1 kilogram of beef from your weekly diet could have as much impact on a household’s carbon footprint as not using any electricity.  Your daily grocery shop will likely require more water than you use in your home during an entire month. (Meatless Monday is a growing global movement of people seeking to make a difference by cutting meat from their diet one day a week)

Reducing your impacts doesn’t have to mean giving something up, sometimes swapping foods within a food group can greatly reduce your impacts as well (for example choosing pork instead of beef). This table shows the carbon and water footprint of a variety of different foods.

The impacts of a food are highly dependent on the method of farming. For example grain fed beef has a much greater footprint than range fed beef owning to the additional energy and water required to grow grain. Tomatoes grown in Greenhouses have a much greater footprint than ones that are grown outdoors in a suitable climate.

When looked at across the lifecycle the method of farming is the largest single contributor to the impacts of food. In recent years the idea of local food has gained a lot of popular attention, not least from environmental circles who see this as an important way of reducing so called ‘food miles’ (the distance travelled by a food from paddock to plate). Although transport related emissions are not unimportant from an environmental perspective it is more important to ask how a product was produced than where it was produced.

With a growing population there is increasing concern about our ability to produce enough food to feed the global population. Friends of the Earth UK published a very interesting report that examined our ability to produce sufficient food to feed a growing population under a variety of different farming systems. The conclusion of the report is that we cannot provide a western style diet to the global population. But the report also found that we can grow enough food using organic farming systems to provide everyone in the world with a diet that would comply with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Just like farming contributes to the environmental footprint of food at the start the lifecycle food waste creates significant impacts at the end of it. A study by the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2011 found that between 20% and 60% of food is wasted across the supply chain. In Australia almost 30% of all the food we buy ends up as waste.

When food ends up in land fill it decomposes very poorly and creates a lot of methane (CH4) a greenhouse gas that has 25 times the global warming potential of CO2. Emissions from landfill account for 66% of the carbon footprint of the Sunshine Coast Council. A large share of this is generated by food waste. Reducing your impacts can be as simple as making sure you don’t buy more feed than you need and composting or worm farming any food waste you do end up with.

To find out where to visit local farmers markets and how to support our Aussie farmers go here.

Leave a Reply