Opinion

Eat With and Within your Environment: Four Tips for Food Sustainability

With the 2017 Food [at] Sydney Seminar Series just around the corner, consider these four tips to making your food choices more sustainable.

Image by vic xia - FlickrCommons

In April 2017, SEI in association with Sydney Ideas commences the 2017 Food [at] Sydney Seminar Series, which explore what can be done to enable individuals and communities to redesign their food systems—to eat with and within their environments.

Our modern food system from production and processing, to distribution and consumption, is broken. Our current methods of producing, packing, transporting, selling, and consuming food are placing a significant strain on the earth’s natural resource base of which we depend on to produce and consume our food.

If we are to address present and future issues of food insecurity, we need to make changes at institutional, societal and individuals levels. In an attempt to address these issues and establish change, Food [at] Sydney will bring together city planners, public health advocates, food system scholars, urban developers, food producers, retailers, and eaters to discuss how Sydney’s food issues can be addressed.

In preparation for the 2017 Food [at] Sydney series, we have created a list of four tips for making your food choices more sustainable. This list was compiled from the topics and research in past SEI blogs, news, podcasts and events on food. For details on SEI’s food research, including key academic contributors, blogs, and news, and events, click here.

In no particular order, here are four tips for making your food choices more sustainable.


Become a ‘localvore’ and eat the farm next door.

Food from the supermarket often travels thousands of kilometres from farm and factory, before it gets to our tables. The daily transportation of food by trucks in Australia, costs the planet an estimated 16,989 tonnes of CO2–e.

Luckily, there are many ways you can eat locally:

  • One approach is to join a food co-op. Food co-ops allow you to and access healthy, fresh produce grown locally and support local and small-scale agriculture, which ultimately reduce your environmental footprint. The University of Sydney has its very own not-for-profit, volunteer-run, organic and ethically sourced food co-op, which can be accessed by students, staff and the wider community. For details and to become a member, click here.
  • Purchasing fresh produce from a farmers’ market can help you buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. It also gives you an opportunity to find out important information on how your food was grown and harvested, often from the producers themselves. Click here to find a Sydney farmers market near you.
  • Another approach to eating locally and sustainably is to join a community garden. The Ground up community garden at the University of Sydney is open to staff and studentsand aims to “promote sustainable, organic food production by cultivating healthy, home-grown produce.” If you are looking for a community garden near you, the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network have created lists and maps of all the community garden projects happening around Australia. For details, click here.

Related SEI content:

Blog: 

Alana Mann – Smart cities: Eating fair and local

Rebecca Simpson – The Food Justice in Community Gardens


Avoid the meat, try some beets?

It is no secret that animal agriculture significantly contributes to climate change. Globally, the livestock sector causes “37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2).”

Not only do the initial production of raising livestock contribute to these figures, but so does transportation, refrigeration, and waste. As we progress into the future, it is clear that the world cannot sustain our current practices of meat and dairy production, consumption and waste.

While switching to a vegetarian, or vegan diet is often more sustainable (click here for research on this fact), it is unrealistic to assume that this diet is possible for everyone. So, if you are one who wishes they could, but can’t make the switch to plant-based full-time, simply try reducing the amount of meat and dairy you consume and be more mindful of your consumption and waste habits surrounding these products.  In addressing our food practices around meat and dairy, we can reduce our reliance on animal-based food products, reduce the number of animals used for our food and reduce our environmental footprint.

Related SEI Content:

Blog:

Dinesh Wadiwell – The Sydney Declaration: Could Shifting Away from Animal Based Foods Promote a More Sustainable Campus?

Fiona Probyn-Rapsey – Carbon hoofprints: should we have a vegetarian campus?


Stop wasting food!

Annually, Australians waste approximately $10 billion worth of food. All this wasted food required a lot of resources to produce and is a burden on our scarce environmental resources. Wasted food also begs the question, how do we address the fact that too much of the world’s food goes to waste while we have so many people needing food?

Bill Pritchard in his blog called Think. Eat. Save highlights that food in many Australian fridges exists “in situational limbo between being bought, semi-consumed, and then, some days, weeks or months later, discarded.” Bill argues that “we live in a society where we think we’re still better off if we buy in bulk, leave the detritus of our choices in our refrigerators, and then dump it at zero personal cost for our local Council garbage collectors to pick up.”

How can you cut down on food waste?

The 2014 Food [at] Sydney seminar Tackling Food Waste, suggested that an easy way to make your food choices more sustainable is by being mindful of what, and how much food you are consuming and wasting and to be diligent on how you buy, store, prepare and discard your food. Click here for audio from the event. The City of Sydney released a list of ten easy steps to help cut down on food waste, that is applicable for people living in urban areas. Click here for details.

Related SEI Content:

Blog: 

Bill Pritchard – Think. Eat. Save


Beware of your plastic addiction.

SEI recently held the public lecture Plastic Plague: Global Governance and the “Plastispherewhere it was discussed that we have a ‘plastic plague’ that ends up clogging our oceans and outliving us all in landfill. A significant proportion of plastic comes from modern day packaged and processed foods and drinks, which are often held, stored in or wrapped in unnecessary plastics. Plastic bags, containers, rings, bottles, etc., pose a real risk for the planet.

What can you do?

Ideally, we need to be diligent in cutting plastic out of our day to day lives and purchase alternative products that are reusable and designed for long-term use. Obviously, the anti-plastic stance isn’t possible for everyone, but to start overcoming your ‘plastic addiction,’ you could consume more wholefoods to avoid excess packaging that comes with processed foods. Also, see this list of tips to reduce plastic pollution by Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

Related SEI Content:

Finally, it is important to recognise that these tips for sustainable food choices are often easier said than done. With 80% of the world population living on less than $10 a day, these steps are not economical or possible for a lot of people. A blog by SEI PhD candidate, Luke Craven highlights that due to financial pressures “1.2 million Australians regularly struggle to put good, healthy food on the table.” Professor Elspeth Probyn argues that discussions on food sustainability place too much attention on consumer choices, and argues that the “structural inequality isn’t going to be solved by middle class people not buying this or that.” As such, we need to also address problems of injustice in the food system so that “everyone has the right to access fresh, nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food.”

However, it is important to recognise that you have the power to make a positive impact on the environment through your food choices and that the minor changes described above, can go a long way for food sustainability.

Disclaimer: This list is by no means exhaustive, and SEI recognises that there are other measures for sustainable food choices that did not make our list. Do you have a tip for sustainable food choices? Let us know, in the comments below.

Register here for the first event in our 2017 Food [at] Sydney Seminar Series; Cultivating Our Campus


Anastasia Mortimer is SEI’s Knowledge Translation Officer & Communications Coordinator. In 2016, Anastasia completed Honours in Sociology at the University of Sydney and was one of SEI’s Honours Research Fellows.