Sustainable Food Places Network (SFP) members are joining a food and climate day of celebration and action September 29 in the run up to COP26. Sofia Parente encourages you to join in too by having a low carbon lunch on this day and asking your council to take action.
COP26 is just around the corner, when a lot of attention will be on the climate change negotiations. Globally, food systems account for 21-37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and are at the heart of many of the world’s major challenges today including biodiversity loss and enduring hunger and malnutrition. Despite its importance, action on food is unlikely to feature high in the agenda of the international negotiations.
At the national level, food contributes up to 30% of total GHG emissions, we waste 10 million tonnes of food every year and 90% of fisheries are fully exploited or overfished. The Climate Change Committee called for a transformation in land use across the UK alongside a reduction in food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods to reach Net Zero by 2050. 75% of councils declared a climate emergency and many have set a carbon neutral target for the area but very few are taking action on food in the context of climate change.
SFP Network members are joining a food and climate day of celebration and action on September 29 by asking councils to take action and celebrating local work already taking place. You can join in too.
Whether you are an individual eating lunch solo or an organisation serving food, you can join in on the day by organising a low carbon lunch on September 29 and posting your photos on twitter. Don’t forget to tag @FoodPlacesUK and include the hashtags #lowcarbonlunch #Food4Planet and #FoodPartnership.
Low carbon food has been tainted by sensationalistic headlines of late. Our SFP vision is one where a low carbon lunch includes mostly plants, with meat, fish and dairy from more sustainable sources with higher animal welfare, and food sourced in ways that result in healthier and prosperous communities.
A low carbon lunch will most certainly be a colourful lunch that is not only good for the planet but a feast to our taste buds.
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.
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 Sustainable Restaurant Association contains a library of over 2,000 recipes with low-or-no meat. And check out five top tips from ProVeg – one of the businesses supporting the Public Sector Catering #20percentlessmeat campaign.
Are you proud of local action happening in your area? From less and better meat in catering and procurement, to re-directing nutritious food surplus, veggie cooking classes, planting fruit trees, converting land to farming, and involving diverse and marginalised communities in climate action, there’s lots to celebrate! Post examples of local action on Twitter and facebook and join in the UK-wide celebration.
It is important that emissions are seen in the wider context of sustainability rather than as a single goal. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods and small amounts of animal products sourced from sustainable systems, present a major opportunity to reduce emissions while generating significant co-benefits for human health and nature. And let’s not forget the co-benefit of inclusion: plant-based dishes can meet the needs of different religious and cultural practices around food, as well as being suitable to those with dairy or fish and seafood allergies.
We cannot shy away from the fact that despite differences between the type of livestock product and the specifics of the production system, all meat, dairy, eggs and fish production have a high impact in terms of GHG emissions when compared with foods of plant origin. Meat from ruminants, such as beef and lamb, have the highest emissions per kilogram.
Hence from the perspective of tackling climate change we need to eat less of all types of meat and animal products. Eliminating the meat generating the highest emissions e.g., beef and lamb could lead to a damaging switch to chicken and pork, without consideration for what these animals are being fed and how they are reared. At present in the UK half all egg-laying hens are still reared in cages, albeit enriched cages. And about 60% of pigs are reared indoors in barren environments.
While we promote eating better meat and animal products for that which is still eaten, this only makes sense in the context of consuming considerably less. This means:
• Eating less 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
This requires sourcing less and better meat prioritising systems that ensure high standards of welfare for livestock and low impact on nature, biodiversity and low use of antibiotics.
Unless we have direct experience of conditions on a particular farm, the simplest way of doing this is choosing products with a credible animal welfare certification. At the very basic level we are talking about sourcing meat that complies with current UK production standards but wherever possible exceeds it should meet higher welfare certifications such as RSPCA Assured, LEAF marque, organic or Pasture for Life.
This approach recognises and awards those businesses producing better meat and dairy and the need for a transition to more genuinely agroecological and mixed farming, diversifying production, nature restoration and sustainable diets. We cannot forget that many nature-friendly farmers already struggle to make a decent living and there is a threat that new free trade deals will result in imports of meat and dairy produced at lower standards – this is the real threat to farmers and our diets, not less and better meat.
Post-farm gate GHG emissions including processing, transport, retail and packaging account for a small percentage of overall emissions. Nevertheless, there are other reasons for choosing local, seasonal and minimally processed food ingredients, both meat and plant-based. Firstly, 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 (which requires meals to be freshly prepared from seasonal ingredients and sourced locally from higher environmental and animal welfare standards) the programme returns a social, economic and environmental value of £4.41.
Freshly prepared meals from minimally processed ingredients, low in meat and dairy and high in vegetables are also better for our health. 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. One-third of the meat that children and adults consume is processed and high in fat and salt. On the other hand, it is estimated that diets low in vegetables are causing 18,000 premature deaths a year.
Councils have a significant role to play in tackling the climate emergency and will be key players in reaching the 2050 Net Zero target set by the UK Government. Their role in decarbonising transport or housing is well acknowledged and resourced, but considerably less attention is given to their role in tackling emissions from the food system. Nevertheless, councils are well placed to influence the local food system and reduce GHG emissions associated with procurement, food waste or land use. As institutions they have a wide range of levers, which may include direct control over school meals, planning decisions, allotments, food waste collection and management, and in some cases even ownership of farmland. They have some degree of influence over local food businesses and frequently reach out to residents via their own comms channels and campaigns. Despite their direct control and influence, few councils are including action on food as part of their climate action strategies and action plans. That is why as part of the food and climate day of celebration and action, members of the SFP Network will be asking their councils to sign the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration and to move from declaration to action.
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