Food System Impact: How to Adopt a Sustainable Diet

Editor | Cassandra Lau

Many probably recall being told off for wasting or playing with food as a child. Many might also recall hearing the familiar phrase, “Don’t waste food! There are children starving in Africa!” Digging into why its such a commonly used phrase, here are some interesting comments by people on Quora:

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“Not wasting food” seems to be a basic principle and even a personal moral code, but wasting food not only damages one’s table manners and fills one with feelings of guilt, it damages the environment. This means that it could affect people from across the globe whether it be Africa or Australia.

Impact of Food Waste


A lot of the time, food waste ends up in landfills when consumers fail to properly plan meals or discriminate against ‘ugly’ looking produces. This food then rots in landfills, releasing a large amount of methane which is a one of the two contributors, the other being CO2,  to global warming and climate change. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) 2013 report lists cereals (34 per cent of total), meat (21 per cent), and vegetables (21 per cent) as the “major contributors to the carbon footprint of foot wastage, excluding land use change.


Asides from food waste being harmful to the environment, it can also be a waste of money. In London, “910,000 tonnes of food from our homes, of which 540,000 tonnes (60%) is good food and drink” is thrown out annually — That is £1.4 billion spent on food that will be binned!

According to Recycle for London:

  • Food waste costs the average person £230 a year. For a family of four, it costs £70 a month, which adds up to more than £840 a year.
  • Disposing of London’s food waste costs our waste authorities over £50 million each year.
  • 2.6 million slices of bread are thrown away every day from London households.
  • Food waste generates approximately 19 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Simply reducing the amount of good food we throw away could remove the equivalent of 1 in 4 cars from our busy roads.
  • Food waste contributes more to climate change than packaging waste.
  • For every 5 bags of shopping bought, we essentially throw away an entire bag of good food; food that could’ve been used to feed hungry mouths. We live in a city where both needless food waste and food poverty co-exist.

Impacts of Food Production

Based on the 2014 Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) report, Tara Garnett explains how the food system is “destroying the environment upon which future food production depends.” Amongst the many damages, food production “is the leading cause of deforestation, land use change and biodiversity loss,” as well as 20 to 30 per cent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

IPCC (2014)based on global emissions from 2010

Considering this, what can we do to adopt a sustainable diet?

Minimise Meat Consumption

Though the use of pesticides and chemicals can be harmful, “the rearing of livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates some 14.5 per cent of total global GHG emissions and utilises 70 per cent of agricultural land”. So instead of featuring red or white meat as the centre piece, it could be used as a side or complementary dish.

Go For Greens

In general, looking past the detrimental affects food waste and production have on the environment, nutritionists advice people to consume 4 portions of vegetables with every portion of meat. This is because vegetables contain a good balance of water and fibre to help your digestion.

Vegetables are also a main source of many nutrients including potassium which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure; dietary fibre to reduce blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease; folate (folic acid) to help generate healthy red blood cells, and vitamins A, E and C (click each vitamin for more information).

Look Local

Local produce can be more difficult to locate and may include a smaller range to select from. However, purchasing local produces helps support your local farmers and locally grown fruits and vegetables will contain less chemicals which can help the environment as well as your health.

Near Royal Holloway, there is the Egham Market which is help on the 4th Saturday of every month along the High Street. For more information about the market, click here.

Useful links:

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