Putting food on the menu at COP26: 5 citizen actions to sustainable eating

Nov 5, 2021 | 2 comments

Our food system – the way we grow, harvest, process, distribute, retail, consume and dispose of food matters plays a huge role in the climate change fight, as it currently accounts for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. We know that without food systems transformation we cannot keep limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and yet the role that food and farming can potentially play in addressing climate heating is getting very little attention during current COP26 discussions. Our politicians need to place food system at the front and centre of solutions and the discussions taking place at COP and yet over 90% of countries are failing to address GHG emissions associated with food systems which could deliver 20% of global reductions we need by 2030. Lets hope food systems are front and centre of discussions at COP27, to be held in Egypt in 12 months time! 

As global citizens it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of the high-level political climate change discussions and horse trading currently taking place. As Greta Thunberg would say, and the queen was recently overheard saying, ‘its actions do not words that count’. Despite this feeling of powerless it is within our power to make a difference – through the eating choices many of us are lucky to make three times a day. (Caveat – not everyone does have a choice of course – those that don’t have access to healthy nutritious foods or can’t afford such foods and this is where governments need to come in!). Small choices in the way we shop and eat food can make a big difference not only on our own health, but the health of the planet to reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to their environment in a more positive way.

Maybe, if we all as citizens take the lead, our politicians will listen and act. Here are five of my top tips for taking action to reduce our food footprint:

  1. Eat a more plant rich diet

The recent national food strategy, commissioned by the UK Government, called for the nation’s meat consumption to be reduced by 30% by 2030. In addition, the UK Climate Change Committee, which advises government on how to achieve its Net Zero emissions target by 2050, has stated that reducing the nation’s meat consumption is key to meeting these targets. An easy way for citizens to do this is by opting for more plant-rich foods and increasing the proportion of plants eaten within your diet.

  • Swap some of the meaty dishes in your weekly diet and try substituting with healthy plant-based options at least 2-3 times a week; this will have the most significant impact on your ‘footprint of food’.
  • Make plants the star of your plate by eating at least five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day and reduce the number of times you eat animal meat to once or twice a week. If you’re up for a totally new challenge, you could even try going fully plant based. In its place, make sure you include lots of nutritious fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, and legumes within your diet.
  1. Reduce household food waste

In the UK, 9.5 million tonnes of food are wasted every year, with around 70% of that coming from our homes. This means there is a huge opportunity for us as individuals to make a positive difference and reduce the amount of food we waste at home. We should be regularly opening the fridge and checking the use by date of perishables, being craftier with leftovers and planning meals; meal planning is one of the most effective ways to make the most out of your weekly food shop.

  • Before you go shopping, check your fridge, freezer, and store cupboard, and ask yourself what you really need. Then, think carefully about what you’re going to need for the week and write a list.
  • Be crafty with your leftovers. Explore ingredients which can be used across a variety of meals.

Further great tips to save good waste can be found on the Love Food Hate Waste website.

  1. Choose products with a recognisable label

Check labels on product packaging and, where you can, choose foods that align with the issues you care about. There are different logos, badges and certifications that represent different values and ethics across the food and supply chain – ensuring products that hold these identifiers are sourced fairly and according to those values. This could include products that represent fair trade and working conditions, the prevention of animal cruelty, as well as those that ensure a more positive impact on the climate.

When doing your regular grocery shop, examine the products you are choosing and what certifications they may or may not have. Where possible, look out for those that have a positive impact on the environment or the farmers you source foods from such as products that state they are Organic, Carbon labelled, Vegan and sustainably farmed or fished (e.g., with the Marine Stewardship Council logo), Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance.

  • Get acquainted with the many product logos, certifications, and labels and what they mean for the food you regularly purchase and consume. Throughout your next shop, actively look for identifiers on the food you are already purchasing, that signify that they promise to make a more positive impact on the environment. If necessary, try new products that do have these certifications – they may be better for you, and they’ll be better for the planet.
  1. Choose less but better meats 

You don’t have to give up meat entirely – limit the amount of meat you eat to 2-3 times a week and choose better meats – those with high animal welfare or environmental standards. When choosing better meats, or plant-based foods, choose those which are sourced from regenerative or Agroecological farming systems. These are systems which tackle the nature and climate crisis and put more into the environment or society than they take out. For example, farming methods, such as organic processes which support wildlife, improve the health of our soils, and lower your carbon footprint.

  • Choose healthy plant-based meat alternatives – there are plenty to choose from including vegetarian burgers, sausages, and a wide range of other plant-based meats. Be careful though to avoid plant-based meat alternatives that are high in fats, sugars and salts You can also try using half the amount of meat required in a recipe, replacing with pulses or legumes.
  1. Reconnect with your food

In an increasingly urbanised society, many of us have been disconnected from the growing, cooking and preparing of food. We may have forgotten – or simply do not know – the story of where our food comes from, and more pointedly, in which season it is grown best. When considering your regular grocery shop, think about the food cycle in how and when it was produced. Above all, enjoy the food you eat, the connection food brings to friends and family, and value food for the precious resource it is.

  • Choose fresh fruit and vegetables – not only are they are fresher, but they are tastier too!  For further tips on what is in sesaon try Eat Sesaonbly for further information.
  • Try your hand at growing your own fruit or vegetables. Why not try growing some herbs and vegetables at home or in a local allotment plot? – if you don’t have a garden grow some in a window box or plant pots – If you have children, it’s a great way of connecting them with food and encouraging them to grow and eat foods which they may not be familiar with!

Whilst we can all make a difference through our food choices every day, it time governments put food higher up on the political agenda – without action on food, we will fail to slow down and stop the continued march towards dangerous levels of global heating. With COP27 scheduled to take place in Egypt in November 2022, let hope food is given equal or more weighting as issues such as energy and lets have food systems at the top of the conference agenda next year!

31590cookie-checkPutting food on the menu at COP26: 5 citizen actions to sustainable eating

Written By Tasting the Future

Mark Driscoll is a freelance sustainable food systems consultant focussing on food systems transformation initiatives. He works with businesses, funders and civil society organisations on a range of food systems projects. This includes research work, strategy & policy development, project management and media work. He is a passionate advocate and champion of food systems transformation which gives citizens access to healthy and nutritious foods within environmental limits.

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  1. Leslie Austin

    I wouldn’t urge people to rely on labels like the RSPCA Assurance scheme. Shocking cruelty has ofter been found when undercover filming had been done in farms certified by such schemes. You may want to have a look at this;


    • Tasting the Future

      Thanks for the flag Leslie – I agree that people still need to be cautious even with labelling and there needs to be proper scrutiny and ongoing vigilance of labelling and the ongoing need call out those organisations behind the label, where there are discretions. What labels can do though is improve transparency – they are not perfect but better than nothing in my view.


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