How you can make smarter, kinder choices for your plate and the planet.
marie claire, November 2014
Gaze into your weekly shopping basket. On the surface, what’s there might look like a line-up of foods ready to be spooned out or peeled in order to craft your next quick breakfast or weekend picnic in the park. But weigh the contents up for their “sustainability” and a more complex story may emerge.
Each item you take to the check-out creates an ecological and social footprint. Food kilometres, the distance ingredients trek, help determine the footprint’s size. The goods in an average Australian grocery trolley travel about 70,000km, according to We Need To Talk About Food, the City of Melbourne’s sustainability guide. That’s nearly two times the circumference of the earth. Other influencers include the effects of chemicals used and emitted in a food’s production, plus animal welfare and the work- ing conditions afforded to food producers.
“Food production contributes immensely to greenhouse gas emis- sions, water usage, land degradation and fossil fuel use,” explains dietitian Caroline Trickey. “All of this can damage our environment and contribute to climate change, which is detrimental to our food supply.”
Professor Kadambot Siddique, director of The UWA’s Institute of Agriculture, adds that buying sustainable foods has a host of flow-on effects, including securing a food supply for future generations and protecting the welfare of farmers. Here, we reveal five sustainable food choices to keep in mind ...
According to Associate Professor Timothy Gill from The University of Sydney, the meat and livestock industry contributes one-fifth of all greenhouse emissions, which stem from methane production as well as land and water use. And while seafood cultivation creates less environmental strain, it does come with its own set of issues. In order to meet global demand, decades of excessive fishing have led to the exploitation of three-quarters of the world’s oceans.
Perfect your pick: Most tuna species, especially bluefin, are listed as threatened. So fish fans should visit the deli rather than the tinned-food aisle, while farmed Australian salmon is sustainable*, says Assistant Professor Gabrielle O’Kane of the University of Canberra.
One of the top-ranked rules of sustainable eating and drinking is to “buy local”. But in the case of coffee, Australia doesn’t produce much of the bean. So if you can’t find local labels, keep an eye out for Fairtrade-certified brands. These work closely with farmers to ensure they’re paid a living wage. Home-brewed coffee – carried to
work in a re-usable travel mug – is a far more sustainable approach than buying takeaways.
Perfect your pick: Buying Fairtrade is a no-brainer, and Australian shoppers are joining the sustainability movement – 17 per cent now opt for Fairtrade-certified products at least once a month. Even Nespresso this year launched a recycling program where customers can drop off empty pod cases to Nespresso boutiques. Similarly, the brand partners with Fairtrade on various projects, and sources 80 per cent of its coffee via its sustainability program.
Due to its link with livestock and methane, dairy doesn’t win big sustainability points, so cutting back is ideal. Another concern with the industry is the rise of “feedlot dairies”. The RSPCA explains these are yarded areas in which cattle are held in close confinement. There’s now around 600 of these in Australia. But here’s good news: there are a counter-revolution in motion. “A number of ethically minded farms are taking dairy farming back to traditional methods for the benefit of our environment, animals, farmers and health,” states not-for-profit organisation Sustainable Table.
Perfect your pick: Farming dairy cows using organic/biodynamic methods has been shown to reduce a farm’s overall greenhouse gas emissions when compared to conventional farming methods. So look for organic and biodynamic dairy products in the supermarket aisle.
Our love of this gluten-free, protein-rich, ancient grain has caused a global price spike. As a result, it has made quinoa largely unaffordable for people in places like Bolivia and Peru, which provide much of the world’s supply. Tasmanian farmers have led the push for growing local quinoa, while scientists in Western Australia are researching which varieties grow best in that state. Though Aussie options are limited for now, that shouldn’t be the case for long.
Perfect your pick: Choose Australian-grown, organic quinoa, suggests Caroline Trickey. Try Kindred Organics Quinoa from Tasmania. Or, if homegrown grains aren’t an option, look out for the Fairtrade logo on quinoa sprouted overseas, says Julia Sumner, general manager of Oxfam Australia Trading.
Conventionally farmed chickens live in barns with a maximum of 14 birds per square metre, whereas organic and free-range farmed chickens – collectively called “pastured chickens” – share open spaces that allow for five to 10 birds per square metre respectively. On top of being kinder, the second option could be better for you, too. A 2010 Penn State University study found that when measured against commercial hen eggs, organic or free-range eggs have twice the vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acid content.
Perfect your pick: Organic eggs rise to the top of the ethical saucepan, followed by free-range varieties, says Trickey.