We often try to buy food sustainably but many of us are ill-informed. These misconceptions, commonly formed by our experiences, are in fact causing more harmful consequences than we ever intended. We’ve rounded up the six biggest myths about sustainable food.
Problem: Whilst organic food has many benefits it isn’t a flawless solution because of the additional land needed to grow a certain amount of food. So the total greenhouse gas impact from organic farming (a type of agricultural system without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides) is higher than conventional farming.
Solution: It is far more environmentally sustainable to eat organic chicken instead of conventionally produced beef. However, consuming a lot of organically produced meat will still have a bigger environmental impact than eating conventionally produced plants. Additionally, it is better to buy locally produced organic vegetables that are sold in nearby farmers’ markets.
Problem: Without carefully considering where our food comes from and how it is grown, our diets can have unintended consequences. Eating pineapples from South America and grapes from South Africa is significantly more destructive to the planet than eating Gala apples in September from a close-by British farm.
Solution: Therefore, it’s important to buy seasonal home or locally grown food and preserve it so it doesn’t get wasted to cut off the 19 million tonnes of CO2 released every year due to long distance transportation to the UK.
Problem: Unsustainable palm oil is often boycotted because it causes vast deforestation, driving orangutans and other animals to extinction for substitutes such as rapeseed oil, however, these substitutes lead to an increase in deforestation and biodiversity loss because of increased land used (palm oil grows relatively economically).
Solution: We should try to support farmers who produce sustainable palm oil, which only accounts for 21% of the global supply. By just looking at the label to see whether the product is sustainable.
Problem: Milk substitutes, whilst less destructive than dairy milk, are still harmful.
Almond milk is extremely water-intensive. It takes 5 litres to produce an almond and it kills honey bees because they are brought to pollinate almond trees in areas full of insecticides. Soya milk causes mass deforestation in South America, and while it uses less water than oat milk, it produces more emissions. Coconut milk is the second-best alternative because water use is relatively low, and trees don’t have to be deforested to produce the milk, but they are transported a long way to reach the UK.
Solution: Drink oat milk instead. Not only does it produce relatively few greenhouse gases and uses up one-eighth the amount of water that the almond milk uses. Also, oats can be grown locally and don’t cause as much deforestation as soy does.
Problem: As a cash crop for farmers, forests have been cut down to plant more avocado crops. Also, according to the Water Footprint Network, 2,000 litres of water is needed to produce just a kilogram of avocados.
Solution: If you want to eat avocados sustainably, purchase avocados certified by a scheme like Fairtrade or Equal Exchange. But even if you choose this option thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide are still being released to transport across half of the world so it’s best to avoid it.
Problem: To produce 1,400,000,000 cups of coffee that are drunk everyday growing methods have drastically changed. Fertilisers have become a necessity, monocultures have had a seriously detrimental effect on biodiversity and don’t forget the 140 litres of water it takes to produce a single 125 ml cup.
Solution: Look out for Organic, Rainforest Alliance Certificate and most importantly Bird-Friendly certificate because these labels ensure a seller is conserving biodiversity, taking no part in deforestation and reforesting non-productive areas of farms.
Note that Fair Trade does not address the environmental impacts of coffee growing.
As a general rule of thumb for all foods try to eat sustainable, seasonal and locally or homegrown produce. Luckily many times it says if it’s locally produced on labels.
Written By: Deep Shah