Everything you need to know about sustainable food in one place
For the past month on Food Tech Digest, we’ve been exploring the world of sustainable food. In 2021, looking after our planet has become more important than ever. With record-setting temperatures in North America (up to 49.6 °C in Canada!) and the UK’s first-ever extreme heat warning issued by the Met Office, climate change is really starting to sink its teeth into our planet.
With that in mind, it’s important that we acknowledge the threat we pose to the Earth and work on changing it. That includes the food industry.
If you’re interested in learning about sustainable food, the new research and practices going on and how you can help shape a sustainable future, you’re in the right place. In this blog, we’re going to summarise everything we’ve discussed in previous blogs so that you have all the information you need in one neat article. Join us, as we look at:
- The impact of the meat industry
- Plant-based alternatives
- Lab-grown food
- New farming techniques
- Sustainable food businesses
Whether you’re looking to help make the world a better place or just researching sustainable food, you’re sure to find something interesting. As always, links will be placed to the original articles so that you can take a look at things in more detail if something catches your eye.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about sustainable food in one place.
First things first – what does sustainable food mean?
When it comes to generating resources, sustainability is massively important. We talk about it when discussing things such as energy, cities, and even food. But what does it mean to be sustainable?
In our introduction to sustainable food, we explore Sustain’s view on food:
All things sustainable must be ‘produced, processed, and disposed of in ways that:
- Contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods
- Protect the diversity of both plants and animals and the welfare of farmed and wild species
- Avoid damaging or wasting natural resources or contributing to climate change
- Provide social benefits, such as good quality food, safe and healthy products and educational opportunities.’
In essence, sustainable food focuses on a variety of things. Firstly, a sustainable food system must support the livelihoods of different people. Fairtrade focuses quite heavily on this, ensuring the fair treatment of workers as well as the development of smaller farms. This is extremely useful to combat monopolising brands from stealing all the business. A world where communities and workers can’t make a living from their job just isn’t sustainable.
Secondly, the treatment of animals must be fair. No battery farms, no abusive habitats or behaviours, and the animals must be looked after.
Finally, and most importantly, we must look after the world. As we humans have proven time and time again, resources are finite. It’s possible to overfish, overfarm and harm the earth for our food (or even other animal-based products). More urgently, and as we’ll explore soon, our farming and eating habits have changed the world for the worse. Meat farming and overfishing directly affects climate change and is responsible for some of the extreme weather recently. By learning to eat and farm better, we can ensure a safer world for our children and a healthy planet.
The impact of the meat industry – why livestock farming is harmful
Did you know that livestock farming is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions? You might not believe it, but that’s more than cars and trucks combined.
The bad news doesn’t even stop there. Did you also know that 70% of arable land goes to meat production? That’s farms, slaughterhouses, processing plants, the list goes on.
The worst part is, this is all completely avoidable.
If we were all to cut down on the meat we eat and have a more vegetable-heavy diet, we can cut down on those CO2 emission levels dramatically. Not only will the world be better for it, but we’ll all be far healthier and land can be reclaimed for a number of other things.
In fact, even if you’re a meat lover, you can get involved by cutting down on the ‘real meat’ you enjoy so much. Meat alternative brands such as Impossible Foods are on the rise with new products that taste impossibly like the real deal.
Other than switching to meat alternatives, there are a number of ways we can deal with the issues the meat industry poses. Interested? Stay tuned, as we’ll be exploring new farming techniques soon.
The additional effects of overfishing
Beyond damaging the earth’s land and atmosphere, we’re also making an impact on the earth’s ocean.
Overfishing is common all over the world, with one-third of the worlds assessed fisheries being pushed beyond their biological limits. How are fish expected to reproduce if they’re not given the time before they’re fished back up?
Shockingly, in a survey taken of UK adults, about 78% continue to buy and eat fish, supporting the fishing industry, despite having concerns about sustainability and overfishing. It’s almost as if we want to harm our planet.
By continuing to overfish, we’re being unsustainable in two ways:
Firstly, small-time fishers and mariners will have a harder time working. Many of these people rely on their job to live. These people, who are often not responsible for overfishing may have a harder time catching fish, and any fish they do catch are less likely to sell with so many cheaper catches on the market from larger companies. This is not sustainable for our communities.
More importantly, by overfishing, we’re heavily impacting our ocean’s ecosystem. Other than directly taking fish from the ocean, we’re harming sea life that will struggle to hunt for their natural food. This can create a chain reaction, reducing the population of fish in our ocean dramatically.
If you’re interested in helping, be sure to check out the links provided in our original fishing blog.
How scientists are acting – lab-grown and genetically engineered food
Scientists are well aware of the challenges the food industry faces. Yes, we need to save the planet, but at the end of the day, we need to eat too. As such, scientists are working on a number of different ways we can grow food in our current environment.
Companies such as Wildtype are growing salmon using cell-based agriculture. This company, looking to reduce the amount of overfishing (and maybe one day prevent it completely) is pushing science to the limit to put food on our plates. The fish is completely safe to eat, and even though it was grown, is 100% salmon. Companies all over the world are playing with new technology like this, such as Eat Just growing eggs, or a number of other companies growing meat. Hopefully, as this technology is fine-tuned, lab-grown meat will be cheap enough to eat sustainably.
But what about being unable to grow crops due to weather?
Very recently, Northern America has been victim to a deadly heatwave that scientists claimed would be impossible without the effects of climate change. As proven before, extreme weather can make growing crops impossible. But luckily for us, scientists are working on ways to adapt.
Heat-resistant crops are a necessary development in a world affected by climate change. Even though plants need sunlight to photosynthesise, too much heat will create too many harmful chemical by-products (from photosynthesis) that damage the plant before it has time to repair its cells. Geneticists have engineered crops so that photosynthesis takes place in the cytoplasm instead of the chloroplast, protecting them from these chemical by-products. These genetically engineered plants have been found to withstand extreme heat, remaining in 41 °C heat for up to 8.5 hours.
Shockingly, the news doesn’t stop there. The same genetically engineered crops saw an increase in crop yield, especially at normal temperatures. Rice tested at higher temperatures saw increased yields of 8-10%, whereas at normal temperatures the yield could be up to 20% greater. This is massive news for farmers working during climate change, but also as the human population grows!
New farming techniques
Other than looking to reduce the amount of meat and fish we farm, scientists are looking at new ways we can farm that don’t impact the earth as negatively. Surprisingly, a key contributor to this is Walt Disney World’s Epcot.
Epcot is partially a self-sustaining resort, where a lot of the food served to guests is farmed on-site in their 2.5 million square feet of greenhouses. In these farms, scientists are keen to play with different farming techniques such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics.
With hydroponics, crops such as lettuce are suspended with their roots touching a stream of water to gain their nutrients. This technique helps combat space usage as crops can be grown closer together and can also be stacked vertically. Additionally, no earth is used in the process, leaving unnecessary resources for other uses.
Similarly, aeroponics mimics hydroponics but without the stream of water. Instead, the crops are sprayed with a mist full of all the necessary nutrients needed to grow. This cuts down on more resource usage by conserving water.
Finally, there’s aquaponics. This method combines fishing with growing crops. Crops are placed directly above a fish tank where the fish provide natural fertilisation. In return, the plants filter the water, making the environment safe and healthy for the fish. This is the perfect way to cut down on resource usage while simultaneously encouraging healthy growth.
Outside of Disney World, there are a number of ways companies are working on fixing farming. One of the more interesting techniques even affects what we eat: cricket farming.
Like it or not, crickets are a great source of protein and take up just a fraction of the resources and land that animal livestock does. In fact, to produce 1k of protein from crickets, it takes one litre less water and up to six times fewer grams of feed when compared to cows. That’s huge! Companies such as Instar Farming and Primal Future are already offering the ‘delicacy’ in different forms such as powders for cooking, potato chips and even just whole crickets. This method of farming is far more sustainable than with other animal livestock, so we can be sure to see it grow!
Which sustainable food businesses should you keep an eye on?
Outside of farming and fishing, there are a few more companies we think are worth mentioning who are doing their part to save the planet.
Too Good To Go is an application set on reducing the amount of food our restaurants waste. In the UK, over six million tonnes of food is wasted each year. Too Good To Go helps restaurants, cafes and supermarkets sell their surplus food for cheaper prices instead of throwing them out. This way, businesses save money that would otherwise be wasted, customers save money by getting a great deal, and the world is saved from more landfills or CO2.
Apeel is our second business to keep an eye on. This company also aims to reduce the amount of food wasted by making it last longer! By using the natural ingredients from the edible seeds, peels and pumps of fruits and vegetables, moisture is locked into the product while oxygen is kept out. This helps the food stay fresher for longer and prevents decomposition.
There you have it. Our current roundup of everything we think you need to know about sustainable food.
Making sure our planet and its people are safe and healthy is one of the most important aspects of food. Especially in 2021. It’s down to us to ensure that the world doesn’t suffer for our personal benefits.
Still, there’s so much to talk about with sustainable food. As news comes out, you can be sure that we’ll cover it as necessary.
If you enjoyed this foray into the world of sustainable food, be sure to stay tuned for our next delve into experience dining – some of the best experiences you won’t want to miss out on as well as how your restaurant can pull in more diners.
Can’t wait? Why not check out our articles on food delivery? Or if you’re worried you’ll miss out on future articles, subscribe to the Food Tech Digest weekly roundup today! Every Friday, we’ll send you a neat and easy to read newsletter with everything that happened that week!