Five Ways to Tell if Your Food Is Sustainable

The food on your plate adds up to one of your biggest sources of personal carbon emissions. But there are some easy ways to make your diet more sustainable

Words: Ed Cooper

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There’s more to pursuing sustainability than ditching plastic and taking the bus. Many of our culinary choices, from how far our food travels to the specific ingredients on your plate, can have a direct impact on the planet, for better or for worse. Even something simple as eating what you buy, rather than throwing it in the bin, could help to nix 8 per cent of Earth’s carbon emissions.

What we choose to eat is one of the most powerful ways in which as individuals we can action climate change,” explains Jessica Sansom, sustainability director at Huel. “Our food system is responsible for more than a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock accounting for the majority of emissions. In order to meet the emission reductions needed, we all need to make changes to our diet.”

To do so, however, you don’t have to start your own allotment or attempt vertical farming at home. Instead, you can learn what to look out for when you’re picking up your groceries and begin with incremental changes that have a bigger impact than you think.

Get Techy

The internet isn’t just for swiping through dance challenges. No, honestly. By using free apps such as Nosh, NoWaste and Kitche, you can begin your sustainability journey by eliminating food waste from your kitchen. Nosh, for example, was made by scientists at the University of Essex and helps the user track expiry dates of food labels and make recipe suggestions to help cut food waste. It’s estimated that the average household loses approximately £700 a year from food waste, so why not bin the habit instead?  

Do Your Research

Just like the apps eliminating food waste, there are plenty of digital platforms that can help make sustainable eating far easier, no matter your dietary preferences. For meat-eaters, Where To Meat helps you source 100 per cent grass-fed beef and lamb from UK farms and butchers. Pescatarians should check out the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide, which offers a rating system for seafood choices. And everyone can take advantage of The Good Shopping Guide, which uses an ‘ethical rating table’ to help signpost whether a specific brand is ethical, sustainable, or not. 

Know What to Look For

You can’t track everything you eat back to the field, but there are some useful signposts that will help you pick the most sustainable products on the shelf. “When buying fresh produce, look for food that’s in season and that carries a certification such as Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade,” says Sansom. You should also look for local – or, at least, localish – produce where possible; flying avocados around the world means more carbon in the atmosphere. Meat-eaters should “look for products that come from regenerative farms, MSC certified fisheries, and producers with higher animal welfare standards, such as RSPCA assured.”

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Check if Your Food Is Huel

Cutting out animal products doesn’t have to mean adopting an entirely vegan diet. Even small changes can have a big impact over time, and sometimes it’s better to make an easy change you can stick to, rather than try to reinvent your diet only to relapse the first time you pass McDonald’s.

Swapping one meal a day to plant-based can cut your carbon emissions by up to 33 per cent, while dropping animal products at breakfast and lunch cuts them by up to half. Huel makes that switch easy because all our products are 100 per cent plant-based, which makes for a low-carbon food with a payload of nutritional value. “A 400kcal serving of Huel has half the carbon footprint of the average packaged sandwich, and a third of the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger,” says Sansom. “We also make sure that we only work with suppliers that share our values and use packaging that provides the best possible protection.”

Recognise the Red Flags

Knowing what not to look out for is just as important. Recently, there’s been a surge of retailers and producers cashing-in on green-minded consumers, Sansom explains: “Look for independent sustainability certifications that you recognise, and check any claims that are made on pack to see what action the company is really taking. Even if you only do it for brands that you regularly buy, a minute or two on the internet will provide some answers.”

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