How to Eat Healthy and Delicious AND Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Written by Ilke and Simone
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Photo by Anushruti RK on flickr!Have you thought about the difference in taste of a nice deep-red strawberry in its high season or a pale pink one in wintertime? But it is not only a problem of taste… Did you know that 1 kg of strawberries transported from Spain to Belgium causes 2,5 kg of CO2 emissions and that 80 tons of out-of-season strawberries are imported to Belgium each week? While local strawberries harvested in season produce only 0,2 kg CO2? Did you know that transport by airplane generates 177 times more greenhouse gases (GHG) than shipping does? And that a cooled truck is almost as bad as an airplane when it comes to GHG?

But you probably know already that every bite you take has an impact on our planet. The transport of your food – or food miles – is only one aspect of the total cycle of the food you buy. More and more people start looking at the total carbon footprint (and some call it carbon FooDprint) of what they eat: pollution of soil and air, use of fuel, consequences on biodiversity, type of storage, packaging and waste of food. Then again, every bite you take can also be regarded as a vote for a better planet!

What can you do yourself?

A lot can be done by making some easy changes in your diet and you may pick some ideas from this list:

  • Go for seasonal and local vegetables and fruit. You can find a Belgian seasonal calendar and addresses for organic baskets in your neighbourhood. Make a stock of your favorite ones yourself or - when the season is over - go for the canned or dried version.
  • Have you thought about eating less meat and less fish? There are many reasons to reduce this part of your diet. Learn more about sustainable fish here.
  • Try to go for the pure biologic/organic food and go for eco-friendly cultivation (the Dutch term is "milieuvriendelijke teelt"). By the way, buying in season makes organic food cheaper!
  • Try to avoid food miles. If you really crave for exotic food opt for fair trade brands, such as Max Havelaar and Oxfam (most of the fair trade products are bio and transported by ship and not by airplane). Or maybe you can buy the canned version here as well.
  • You might do an effort to avoid unnecessary packaging and try to buy in bulk or bring your own boxes/bags/caddy. If you cannot avoid it, you could reuse and/or recycle packaging or plastic bags.
  • A lot of people grow their own veggies, herbs and fruit in their garden and even on their terrace (BTW, the kids just love it).
  • Others try to plan their weekly shopping/cooking better in order to avoid throwing away too many leftovers or unnecessary driving back and forth to the shops and markets. They re-use leftovers in the next meal or freeze them in for a lazy day.
  • Composting in your garden or on your terrace is an excellent way of reducing waste.
  • Processed food has a higher impact on the environment - home made dishes with fresh ingredients taste better and are healthier.
  • You can also try to avoid buying frozen food (think of all the energy needed to keep it cool!).
  • You might even want to rethink your own transport: take a bike or caddy to do the shopping in nearby shops or markets.
  • And last but not least: switch over to drinking tap water. You can reduce your carbon footprint enormously (learn more about tap water in the Brussels area at Vivaqua).

Recommended websites: Planet Green, TerraPass offsetting, WWF Belgium, FAO

Recommended books: “Harvest for Hope” by Jane Goodall and “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

Quote on BBC News:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, while transport takes a 13% share.

This article can be found in the March 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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