• Vanessa


Updated: Feb 23

When looking to embrace a sustainable lifestyle, most of us look to start where we know we can have the most impact. One of those first steps is often low waste living, which makes sense. We take out the trash every week, sometimes more than that, and most of us produce some sort of trash each day. So why not start where we can have the largest impact.

Well what's something that we do even more than that?

Let's say, like 3 (or more) times a day?

Eat. We eat. A lot.

So surely there's something we can do in that department too then, right?

I think you know the answer to that one, so I'll just continue....

Food consumption is one area where we all have a footprint, no matter what we do. We all *have* to eat. So naturally this is one area where everyone can make a difference.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

When thinking about the carbon footprint of our diets, a natural first step is to consider the resources, energy and time that went into producing that food. If we're able to identify the relative impact of certain foods, we can choose to eat things that take less resource and therefore have a lesser impact on the planet, right?

Yes, absolutely. But that's not the only consideration we need to make. And it's not always so simple.

It's true that reducing our consumption of animal products can greatly lessen the impact of our diets as meat and dairy products take far more resources than plant based food. And in fact, embracing a plant-forward diet is how I single-handedly reduced the footprint of my own diet by 63%.

That said, I've also taken enough economy classes to know that it will take a wide scale shift in dietary trends for the demand of these items to be impacted to the point where production decreases.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you stopped eating meat today, that doesn't stop the beef that has already been packaged from being sold at the grocery store. Or the chicken. Or the eggs.

The footprint of producing those animal products will have still occurred, you just won't be the one consuming them.

Now that's not to say that you going vegan or vegetarian won't have an impact. It certainly will. But not necessarily in the immediate.

Making an entire dietary shift is an admiral (and much needed), but long term, strategy. And one that will take a village standing up and changing the overall demand. One that I hope to see the majority of people embrace in the coming years.

But the strategist in me is never satisfied with only long term wins. I want to see quick actions we can take today, which we single handedly control and can see impact from immediately.

So what can we do in addition to reducing our consumption of animal products?

Minimising food waste is the second best step we can take to reduce the footprint of our diets today.

Did you know that the UN estimates that "roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted"?

That's huge!

And according to Michel Berners-Lee, author of There is No Planet B, an estimated 20% of that waste is at the consumer level. Which means 20% of this waste is from things going back before they're purchased from shops, not getting eaten or consumed at restaurants, or what isn't getting eaten from home and instead going into the bin.

So what can you do to help minimise food waste?

Here are four immediate actions you can take:

Buy up items that are damaged or about to go off from the grocery store. Instead of buying the freshest option of something, make the choice to purchase something with a use by date sooner than the others, but within the date you planned to use it. That way you minimise the risk of no one purchasing it and it going rotten on the shelves. Choose the slightly bruised banana. Select the dented can. Grab the milk that will expire in a couple days but you know you'll get through. Do your part to use what we can before it goes bad and leave the later use by dates on the shelf for someone else who can't purchase until the next day.

If you're leaving home for a few days or not going to use up all of something, see if your neighbours or friends will use it. We've all had that instance where we had to buy a giant bag of something for a recipe only to let it sit in the back of the cupboard again until it has gone stale and then we find it a year later. So if you know you're not going to use something again, give it away proactively to someone who will use it. Or if you have more fresh food than you'll get through before going on holiday, see if someone else would actually eat it rather than putting it in the compost or bin. I quite often bring the rest of my produce to the office before heading off on a weekend away and it will get eaten up within the day!

Only buy and consume what you need. Over purchasing is one of the biggest culprits of us throwing food away. Planning your meals a week ahead, and only purchasing what you actually need, eating what's on the plan for the day, and only making enough for the family (& leftover meals that you anticipate) will single handedly change the amount of waste you have. If you know a meals serves 8 people and you have a 4 person family, make sure you plan those leftovers for a meal the next day. And be mindful of how many snacks you're purchasing as well and if that'll affect portion sizes and leave waste.

If you absolutely can't re-home or consume something, look into composting options to properly dispose of the leftovers. There are municipal programs, private companies who will collect, indoor composting options and of course large scale options for your garden. If one of these options is available to you, make sure that you're putting food into a compost bin so it can properly decompose rather than rotting in a landfill and creating further emissions.

So just to recap here...

While yes, looking at what you eat and making a change to a more plant-forward diet is such a huge step in reducing the impact of your diet, we should all be making sure that we're mindful of the food waste we're creating every day to make sure we're minimising that impact at all stages of the food chain.