It’s not the industrial smokestack but our food system that does the most damage to our natural environment. So how can we change this? The World Wildlife Fund has six recommendations for the next time you plan your dinner.
Estimates are that global food production uses up 40% of the Earth’s land surface and 70% of freshwater resources with major impacts such as habitat loss and environmental degradation. Rethinking where our food comes from and how it gets to our tables is essential if we are to make a meaningful change.
Consider your food footprint
Animal protein requires significantly more land and water to produce and is also associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions. Processed foods need more energy and water than wholegrains, fruits and vegetables and provide far less calorific value. Processed foods also have the highest freight carbon footprint across road corridors in the country.
What you can do: Buy more seasonal, local produce from farmers’ markets.
So how do we provide a healthy diet to an estimated 10 billion people on our planet by 2050 without causing catastrophic environmental damage? The EAT Lancet Commission, which was made up of 37 scientists from 16 countries, recently released a report advocating a radical dietary shift to what they dubbed the “planetary diet”. A “planetary health plate” is largely plant-based. It should consist of half a plate of fruit and veg, with the rest made up of whole grains, plant proteins, unsaturated plant oils and modest amounts of animal proteins.
What you can do: Eat less meat and more vegetables.
But make it good meat
To quote, Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International, the meat we choose to consume should be sustainably produced and integrated with landscapes and ecosystems. Here in South Africa, WWF has been working with community cattle farmers in the grasslands of the Drakensberg to encourage more harmonious farming practices to the benefit of both nature and the community.
What you can do: Check the labels and buy free-range.
Cut back on food waste
A startling statistic is that a third of all edible food in South Africa is wasted. It either rots on farms or ends up in landfill, adding further pressure to an already over-extended waste-disposal system. This is against a backdrop of a country in which an estimated 12 million South Africans regularly go hungry. The financial burden of food loss and waste in South Africa is estimated to be around R61.5 billion or 2.1% of the GDP.
What you can do: Support food donations to those who need it and buy only what you need.
Stop the plastic avalanche
While packaging plays an important role in reducing waste and extending the life of foods it is also the primary driver of plastic waste. We need a massive rethink to reduce volumes of plastic food packaging and to improve reuse and recyclability.
What you can do: Say “no” to the bag and invest in reusable transparent net bags for weighing your own fruit and veg.
Get help from the smartphone
Consumers have a major role to play in asking the right questions. Is the fish on your plate on the WWF-SASSI green list which means it is sustainably fished? Or is it an “orange” species which suggests you should think twice? Aren’t those very expensive avocados out of season? And has the wine in your glass been produced with nature in mind?
What you can do: Download the SASSI app which will give you an instant answer about the green, orange or red status of a fish species. And look out for the “sugarbird” label on the bottle of wine which means it’s from a WWF Conservation Champion wine farm working to protect its natural environment.