The environmental impact of our food can be broken down into our diet and the packaging, processing and food miles that go into getting that food to us. 

Adjusting our diet to reduce our intake of animal products is arguably the quickest and cheapest way we can reduce our environmental impact. It is also an adjustment that is usually difficult to talk about or consider changing because our diet is often so deeply ingrained in our lifestyle that we don’t even think about it. 

If we’re lucky and well fed, we generally eat about three meals per day. That means we make a decision about what we eat three times a day. Some people shop daily, some weekly and some maybe even monthly but let’s say on average we shop for food once a week. This means that once a week, we make a decision about what we bring into our homes in the first place. 

No two people are going to have the same number of choices with either of these decisions. There are many combinations of circumstances and restrictions which may reduce the number of choices we have. 

Now, before we get stuck in, a quick spoiler alert. We’re not here to convert you or shame you into changing your lifestyle. How you live and what you truly value is entirely your decision and we’re not here to take that away. We’re here to give you some tips, ideas and inspiration if you are ready to make small adjustments your lifestyle to live more sustainably. We all have our own stuff going on and there’s no magic solution. What we can do is take a good look at our lives, what we truly get value out of and what we might be able to adjust. 

So, where can I start? 

Reduce the amount of beef you eat. Plain and simple. If you’re really struggling with where to start reducing your impact in relation to food, the easiest place to start is to eat less beef or even better, cut it out of your diet. It’s a small first step but for some people, it might be the perfect place to start.

If you’re ready to move beyond reducing or eliminating beef, you might consider cutting out red meat altogether. While there are some exceptions (native animals such as kangaroo in Australia and buffalo in America), red meat typically uses far more land and water and creates harmful methane gas. On the other hand, white meat such as chicken has a much smaller impact on the environment. 

By now you probably get the idea that if you’re looking to reduce your impact in terms of food, it helps to take it one step at a time and slowly adjust. Another good method is to set yourself a challenge and try it out for a set amount of time. If the idea of going vegetarian or vegan is a bit much, try doing it for one day a week and see how it goes. Trying it out once or twice a week will give you the chance to find new things to cook and eat. If you then decide to reduce your intake of animal products more permanently, you’ll have a much better chance of sticking with it. 

Packaging, processing and food miles is another big part of the environmental impact of our food. When our food is highly processed, packaged in layers of single-use plastic and shipped from the other side of the world, the environmental impact can quickly outweigh the impact of the raw ingredients. 

Luckily, in the past few years, with thanks to programs and campaigns such as ‘war on waste’, we have become much more aware of our problem with waste and amount of single-use plastic that comes with the food that we buy and eat. While waste is a big issue with our food, the distance it travels to get to us and how processed it is also has a big influence on our overall environmental impact. 

There are many different ways to reduce the amount of processing, packaging and travel that goes into our food. We’ve found that there are some simple ways to get started on this front but if you really want to get into it, there is a wonderful world of solutions from some amazing people and organizations. 

The easiest methods that we’ve found include:

  • Keeping an eye out and trying to buy Australian made. This is a great first step to reducing the food miles of your food. If you want to take the next step, 
  • Avoid the chips chocolate and soft drink aisle of the supermarket. No one is perfect and we all need to treat ourselves occasionally but if you avoid the aisle at the shops and don’t buy any of the heavily packaged and processed stuff, you won’t be tempted by it once it’s in your cupboard
  • Buy unpackaged from markets and bulk food stores if you can but if you can’t don’t stress! Start by trying to buy the things that you normally buy such as pasta sauce in jars or containers you know that you can re-use or recycle. 

Links and inspiration

Great episode of the Osher Gunsberg Podcast with Emma Roche discussing cheap and simple plant-based eating-