A government report released today tells us that we should eat less meat, including a couple of meatless days per week to increase “food security”. Food security is the concept of making sure that there is enough food for everyone to eat, and a lack of food security is part of the reason why food prices in Europe have increased so much over recent years. The ideas within this report are fairly familiar, but we thought we’d like to use this opportunity to remind you of some facts. Across the world, one third of all food is thrown away. ONE THIRD. Take a moment and think about what this means. How much land is used to produce food that no one will never eat. How much water is diverted from people who need it in areas of drought so that it can be used to irrigate crops that will be transported long distances (using oil and gas to do so and hence contributing to climate change) and then never eaten.
Sadly, a large part of this problem is to do with how restaurants and supermarkets work, and there are campaigns to change this, but 50% of the food thrown away in the UK is thrown away in private households and on average each of us throws away 120kg of food per year. That’s twice my body weight.
I’m not here to offer you a guilt trip (for a start, in my experience guilt rarely leads to action, and I want action!), I’m here to offer you a few facts and suggest that if we all change our habits ever so slightly by planning meals ahead and being creative in order to use up left overs, then this can give massive results which help the environment, some of the world’s poorest people, animal welfare (farming too many animals leads to intensive farming) and your family’s wallet (the food thrown away by an average family costs £680 per year – eek! That’s a lot of days out!).
But this is all general food waste. The report I mentioned at the beginning specifically concentrated on meat. That’s because, every time you move up a trophic level (a scientific way of saying that you’re moving up the food chain) you need to put more energy in to get energy out. In other words, if you eat a lettuce you’ve used water and the nutrients that the lettuce has taken from the soil, so you have used relatively few resources. If you eat a pig, you must first grow what the pig eats, and then the pig must eat, and finally you eat the pig. You must put in more energy than you need to produce vegetable matter. Intensive farming (keeping lots of animals in a very small space) is even worse for this, as animals tend to be fed on grain, which needs to be farmed, rather than grass, which often grows naturally.
I’d just like to add that none of this is about being extreme. It’s about making tiny changes to your life that make a massive impact on the environment and mean less of an impact on the poorest people in our world. It’s OK to use resources responsibly, and it’s OK to eat (obviously!), but if we think about what we are buying and are careful not to waste what we have (either by learning to be creative in the kitchen, or by freezing what we don’t use), then we use less resources, and that’s good for everyone including our bank balances.
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Blog post by Linda Seward of Seward Technical Writing, providers of original science content.