Sustainability is often seen as an all or nothing game.
For many, it feels like you have to be an off-the-grid vegan or nothing. But that’s not appealing or even possible for the vast majority of us. We have jobs, and families, and social lives that take precedence most of the time. For others of us, health or financial reasons restrict our ability to become eco-warriors.
The good news is that it's far more effective if a lot of us make small changes than the odd few going all out. The cumulative impact of small behavioural changes of everyone, combined with word of mouth, is immense. The classic example is that of plastic straws: one person using one plastic straw doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when everyone uses one, we suddenly have 8 billion plastic straws in our oceans. The same concept applies to sustainable food choices.
So here is a celebration of amber choices, and the impact that these small changes can have on the planet.
At Sustained, we divide foods into three categories: green (A and B), amber (C, D and E) and red (F and G). Simply put, foods with a green rating have a low estimated environmental impact, and those with a red rating, have a high estimated environmental impact. Amber foods are those with a medium impact.
However, rather than focussing on the impact that amber foods have, in this post, we want to focus on the impact that they’re not having. In other words, the CO2 that is not being produced, water not being used or land not being wasted. We want to reframe the conversation around amber choices.
One of the greatest complaints that we hear when talking about sustainable foods is ‘I don’t want to give up meat’. But, if we’re focussing on amber choices, you really don’t have to.
For example, did you know that it takes 15,415 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef, but only 4,325 litres of water to produce a kilo of chicken? That means, every time you choose to swap to chicken, you’re saving over 11,000 litres of water. You’ll also be saving over 50 CO2e.
To take another example, by swapping hard cheeses such as cheddar to softer cheeses such as camembert or stilton, you can also contribute to a healthier planet. These softer cheeses are thought to be less energy intensive as they take less time to age, thus reducing the amount of emissions created. No more giving up cheese for us!
We can also look at the proportions and frequency that we have high impact foods in our diet. For example, if you are a keen beef eater, it would be wholly unsustainable to suggest that you would have to give up steaks for the rest of your life. Much like following a strict, calorie controlled diet, at some point you will crack and eat as much beef, if not more, than you would have previously.
Instead, we can look at reducing the amount of beef that you have in a week. If you eat beef twice a week, try swapping one of those meals out for a veggie meal. Or, if you find that after a couple of bites you’re satiated, perhaps reduce the serving size, and fill up on locally grown, seasonal veg instead. More often than not, there’s a way to work around people’s preferences.
To conclude, I think we all need to take less of a militant approach when it comes to sustainability, and most importantly, when it comes to judging others. There is room for improvement in everyone’s diets, whether you’ve been plant-based for a decade, or only just started to learn about the environmental impact of your food. But the most important thing is that we all try to take consistent actions to eat more sustainably, rather than going all out one day, and doing nothing the next. After all, the whole point of sustainability is to be able to maintain things at a certain level for a long time.
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