To raise awareness of how food relates to climate change, and celebrate local efforts to create a better food system, Brighton and Hove Food Partnership is calling on residents, businesses and community groups across the city to take part in a National Day of Action on 29 September.
The food system is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Here in the UK, food contributes up to 30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we waste 10 million tonnes of food every year and 90% of fisheries are fully exploited or overfished.
In November, the UK will host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to accelerate action to tackle Climate Change. Yet despite its importance, action on food is unlikely to feature high in the agenda of the international negotiations. To achieve the UK’s climate and other goals we must reduce levels of food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods.
- Eating less and better quality meat, of all types
- Eating less cheese, and moderating milk consumption
- Shifting the balance of the diet towards more plant-based foods, including plant-based sources of protein such as beans and pulses
- Minimising food waste
We can also make a positive impact on our planet by buying meat from farms with high animal welfare standards and a low impact on nature and biodiversity. The simplest way of doing this is choosing products with a credible animal welfare certification such as RSPCA Assured, LEAF marque, organic or Pasture for Life.
Celebrate with a Low Carbon Lunch
Whether you are an individual eating lunch solo or an organisation serving food, you can join in on 29 September by organising a ‘low carbon lunch’.
A low carbon lunch is a meal with ingredients that have lower GHG emissions. It includes mostly vegetables, with high welfare meat, fish and dairy, and food sourced in ways that result in healthier and prosperous communities.
Post your photos on social media. Don’t forget to tag @btnhovefood and include the hashtags #LowCarbonLunch #Food4Planet and #FoodPartnership.
A low carbon lunch will most certainly be a colourful lunch that is not only good for the planet but good for our health and a feast to our taste buds!
The last thing to remember is to eat everything you cook or serve and if you can’t use it, take it home or give it to someone else.
Food and climate change FAQs
Does what I eat really have an effect on climate change?
Yes. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates that the food system accounts for 21-37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. In the UK, food accounts for 30% of our GHGs. That includes raising and harvesting all the plants, animals and animal products we eat as well as processing, packaging and transporting food across the world. Worringly, “The UK’s food system has decarbonised at half the pace of the wider economy, and agriculture [the largest factor in food GHGs] hasn’t decarbonised at all in over a decade”.
Which foods have the biggest impact?
Meat and dairy, particularly from cows, have a larger impact, with livestock accounting for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. That’s roughly the same amount as the emissions from all transport including all the car, lorries, aeroplanes and ships combined in the world today!
But, not all meat and dairy is equal. Where and how an animal was reared, and what it ate, matters for climate change, antibiotic use and animal welfare. We recommend buying meat, fish and dairy from more sustainable sources with higher animal welfare standards such as Organic, RSPCA Assured, LEAF Marque or Pasture For Life.
For vegetables, the lowest emissions come from seasonal, field-grown, UK-cultivated vegetables grown without additional heating or protection, which are not fragile or easily spoiled.
The BBC have a useful seasonal calendar to help you find seasonal produce and remember it’s easy to preserve or freeze seasonal food and use it later in the year.
Moreover, local supply chains generate community wealth building including local employment. For example, North Ayrshire Council estimates that for every £1 spent through the Food For Life Served Here certification programme* there is social, economic and environmental return of £4.41.
* This certification requires meals to be freshly prepared from seasonal ingredients and sourced locally from higher environmental and animal welfare standards.
Is a climate-friendly diet good for our health?
Yes, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, low in meat and dairy, and low in ultra-processed food like sugary drinks is very good for our health as well as our planet.
Consumption of meat has increased steadily over the last decades and stands above recommended levels. The Eatwell Guide recommends that adults and children should eat no more than 70 gram/day of red and processed meat but consumption, particularly in men, is higher than the recommended. On the other hand, it is estimated that diets low in vegetables are causing 18,000 premature deaths a year.
Does sustainable food cost more?
Britons spend a lot less on food than we used to and in fact the UK is one of the cheapest places for food in Europe but a variety of reasons such as high housing costs and low wages means 1 in 5 people in the UK would need to spend 40% of their disposable income to have the healthy diet laid out in the government’s Eatwell Guide.
Healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables tend to have low GHG emissions but the Food Foundation’s 2021 Broken Plate report found that healthy foods are nearly three times as expensive as non-healthy foods per calorie and that more deprived areas have a higher proportion of fast food outlets.
However, the “Livewell” diet from WWF which recommends eating healthier and more sustainable food is roughly the same price as the current UK diet while the carbon footprint is substantially smaller. If the government ensured everyone could afford this diet, it would go a long way to improving the health of many and reduce the impact on climate change.
There are a number of excellent resources to help individuals and caterers adopt planet-friendly menus. Friends of the Earth’s ‘Kale Yeah’ toolkit helps incentivise and promote more sustainable dishes.
The One Planet Plate project from the the Sustainable Restaurant Association contains a library of over 2,000 recipes with low-or-no meat.
Check out five top-tips from proveg – one of the businesses supporting the Public Sector Catering #20percentlessmeat campaign.