Five ways to eat better for the planet

wooden bowl of couscous and vegetables

If you’re looking for something which can have a big impact on your carbon footprint, look to your belly. There are loads of delicious ways you can cut your own emissions, and plenty you can do to encourage others to get on board.

1. Cut down on meat and dairy

According to researchers at Oxford University, vegetarians have roughly half the food-related carbon footprint of meat eaters. Vegans are lower still. 

In fact, the researchers’ definition of “a meat diet” is actually about half the amount of meat the average actual Brit eats, so if you’re going from there, there is even more you can save. 

You don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach. You might find words like “reducetarian” (committed to reducing how much meat you eat), “flexitarian” (mainly vegetarian or vegan, but sometimes eating meat and fish) or even “vague-an” (kinda vegan, at least on weekdays, if it’s not your birthday, or your brother’s cooking...) helpful. Or you could just do your own thing without the need for a label.

2. Think about where and when it’s produced

We’re often told going local is best for the environment, but simply counting “food miles” (i.e. how far food has traveled) isn’t always a great indicator of carbon footprint

For example, 60% of an orange’s life-cycle footprint is embedded in their flesh before it has left the farm gate, so if you’re in the UK, oranges that have been shipped from Brazil can be some of your most carbon-friendly foods. 

Air-based food miles matter a lot though, so avoid eating out-of-season soft fruit like raspberries and blueberries. It’s also worth noting that summer veg grown out of season in the UK in polytunnels can require loads of energy to keep them warm, so it might be better to choose some grown in Spain (though keep as local as you can during the summer). You can check out this handy guide to see what’s in season right now.

vegan spring rolls with dip

3. Be ruthless with waste

According to the UN, if food waste was a country, it’d be the third biggest global greenhouse gas emitter

It’s a mix of consumers buying more food than they need and a lack of storage facilities. The former is the biggest problem in rich countries like the UK, who are responsible for 67% of global meat waste. Any food we chuck out still had to be grown and stored and shipped, meaning lots of carbon emissions - not to mention a waste of money.

So plan your meals before heading to the shops so you buy what you’re actually going to eat. Invest in some tupperwares and eat your leftovers for lunch the next day. 

Get creative with ingredients you have left over - you can put odds and ends in curries, soups and pies. And if you can’t use something up, freeze it. Seriously, you can freezer nearly anything!

4. Low carbon Come Dine with Me

As with any personal changes you make to tackle climate change, it comes into its own when you help it spread. 

One of the reasons changing your diet can be hard is how much eating we do with family and friends. But that’s also one of the things that can make it so much fun.

So don’t just cut down on meat in your own diet, cook up a plant-based feast for your friends (we’ve got plant based occasion food covered). You could even challenge your mates to Come Dine With Me with food that makes the most of leftovers, or run a plant based Bake Off at work. 

5. Badger your favourite brands

Loads of brands are catching the vegan bug, and Veganuary have a great resource of chains with vegan options. If your fave isn’t on there, why not write to them to ask why? 

You could also write to your favourite food brands about what they’re doing to tackle climate change.

If you’ve got a canteen at work or at uni, badger them about making the food more sustainable, or if they’d be up for doing some meat-free days. See if your local canteen/ restaurant would be up for “menu flipping” - instead of just one or two veggie options, make the bulk of the menu plant-based, with only a few meat items at the end. 

Skye Goldingeat & buy