Food for thought: The environmental impact of the food we eat

The Green Impact blog is being handed over to the SITraN team this week! This post is by David Stevenson, the team’s Green Impact Project Assistant. If you or your team would like to contribute to the blog, email

In my last post I looked at the 5p plastic bag charge, and mentioned how at a group level our individual actions are vital for sustainability. In this post I’m going to look at ways we can reduce the environmental impact of the food we eat.

david blog 3

1. Meal planning

Food waste is a major problem in the UK, although a lot of focus in the media is on food waste by supermarkets, 50% of food waste occurs in homes. Proper meal planning for the week ahead is one of the best ways to reduce food waste. Sit down with a pen and notepad and work out what you are going to have for lunch and dinner every night of the week and work out exactly what you need. This is easiest if you rely upon a weekly big shopping trip, but even if you rely upon multiple smaller trips you can still plan ahead for the next few days. Supermarkets excel at getting us to buy things we don’t really want or need with BOGOF offers and deals, go in armed with a pre-planned list and stick to it.

2. Use by dates vs. best before

Use by dates on produce are there for food safety reasons, and you should never eat food that has gone past its use by date. Best before dates however, refer to the quality of the food instead of food safety, food that has gone past it’s best before date is safe to eat providing you have stored and handled the food correctly, making sure to follow any instructions on the packaging. (Eggs past best before date must be cooked until both the white and yolk are solid). However you should also use common sense, for more details see NHS guidance on food dates here.

3. Cook creatively – chuck leftovers in

We often find ourselves with a fridge full of ends and oddments left over from various recipes. If you have leftover ingredients that are still safe to eat, why not be creative with them and try adding them to a recipe? Soups and casseroles are great ways of using up left over vegetables instead of binning them. Here’s an adaptable bean soup from food writer Nigel Slater, soups like this are versatile and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have exactly the right ingredients in your cupboard.

4. Shop sustainably

Be mindful of the environmental impact of what you eat. Supermarkets have lead us to expect fresh produce all year round regardless of season, grapes from South Africa, and blueberries from Chile etc. All of this produce is flown in resulting in sky high carbon footprints, by shopping seasonally for fresh produce from the UK and Europe instead we can reduce the food miles and the resulting carbon footprint of the food we eat. Here is a convenient table of British produce by season.

5. Eat less meat

In recent years studies have highlighted the energy inefficiency of meat eating, the conversion of energy between plants and animals is only ~10% efficient1. Global food security is under threat, with an estimated 9 Billion people to feed by 2050, however if everyone ate a vegetarian diet it may be possible to provide enough food to feed the population in 2050 without needing any more cropland2.  Whilst going vegetarian or vegan is a more advanced step increasingly many people are reducing the amount of meat in their diets due to environmental concerns. Ruminant meat (e.g. beef and lamb) have the greatest environmental impact, the production of ruminant meat results in around 60 g of CO2 for every gram of protein produced, 250 times greater than that for legumes (e.g. lentils and beans)2. The BBC Goodfood website has a huge selection of vegetarian recipes including this ace sweet potato and lentil curry.



1.           Godfray HCJ, Beddington JR, Crute IR, et al. Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science. 2010;327(5967):812-818. doi:10.1126/science.1185383.

2.           Tilman D, Clark M. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature. 2014;515(7528):518-522. doi:10.1038/nature13959.

Here's some other posts you might want to read!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *