About one-third of the average Australian resident's ecological footprint is based on the production and transportation of their food.
Even if you’re not in a position to go off-grid, you can still do a lot to reduce your impact on the planet and improve your personal sustainability status by making a few simple shifts in the way you buy and consume food. Here are Michael’s top tips.
1. Buy local and buy in season. A massive component of our ecological footprint from food is transport. Put simply: the less distance food has to travel to make it’s way onto your plate, the less energy is required to transport it and the less greenhouse gases are produced. So the simple answer is, wherever possible, buy food that’s come from as close as possible to where you live.
Consider this example: seedless green grapes begin appearing on Sydney’s supermarket shelves around August. The only way these could be in Australia at this time of year is if they were brought in from offshore and, in fact, most grapes available in Australian supermarkets in winter have come from the United States and travelled at least 16,000km to get here. So, try waiting for the local grape season to begin in late spring and early summer and you’ll find that your fruit is coming from just a few hundred kilometres away; you’ll be paying as much as $10/kg less; and you’ll be supporting local farmers.
If you have any doubts about where fresh produce is coming from ask your supermarket. For canned, packaged or frozen foods you’ll find that information on the packaging.
Buying fresh produce from local farmers’ markets is a great way to ensure your food is being produced as close to you as possible. Under the general ethos of these markets, the stallholders should have grown, raised, caught and processed anything they sell. Find your nearest framers market here.
The simple beauty of buying from the farmer is this: you can ask them directly “Do you use chemicals?” or “Where is your farm?”. Instead of relying on hard-to-understand labelling you’ll be talking to the source of the food you wish to put in your mouth. As you return to the market you can grow your relationship with farmers, learn of their difficulties with the weather and the things that give them pride in their livelihood.
2. Grow your own. This, of course, is a guaranteed way to know where your fresh products are coming from and of course there’s no packaging – see point 5. But, for those of us living in the city that’s not often practical. There is, however, a growing network of community gardens springing up across Australia now. Many local councils have websites with locations and contacts for community gardens in your area. A growing number of cafes and restaurants are now either or both growing their own food or actively inviting locals to bring them their surplus fruit and veggies. They, too, proudly make this known: you’ll be amazed about this growing resource when you begin to enquire.
And even in the smallest courtyards, recent developments with vertical gardening equipment can allow you to at least grow your own herbs or small vegetables, such as lettuces.
The concept of edible landscapes should be the basis for design of all subdivisions and landscaping of urban space because, if a house was to do no more than grow all its own food it would save more pollution and use less water than if it were self-sufficient for water and energy from on-site systems.
3. Reduce waste. Each year, Australians throw away billions of dollars worth of food. Keep an eye on the use-by dates of the food you buy. Buy only what you need. And compost whatever you can. Turning your kitchen scraps into a rich fertiliser for your garden through the process of composting reduces the amount of organic waste in landfill sites.
4. Buy less-processed foods. Generally, the more processed a food is the more energy and materials have been used to produce, package and transport it. And then, of course, there’s the issue of disposing of the packaging to deal with once you consumed the food. So wherever possible opt for fresh fruit and vegetables in preference to canned or frozen – another reason to by seasonally.
5. Opt for low levels of packaging. It takes a lot of resources firstly to produce packaging and then to use it to package food products and it’s either not always needed or could be reduced. And then, of course, there’s the issue of disposing of packing after you’ve consumed the product inside. So, choose foods with no or minimal packaging.