‘Losing less and eating smarter' – practical steps towards a more sustainable approach to food

28 April 2021 by
‘Losing less and eating smarter' – practical steps towards a more sustainable approach to food

Sponsored article: Oliver Hall, managing director of leading independent procurement specialist, allmanhall looks at two of Katherine Richardson's four key themes for creating a solution to sustainable food systems, "losing less and eating smarter". Here he offers practical actions to help move in the direction of a more sustainable approach to food.

According to Katherine Richardson, professor at Copenhagen University, the UN predicts there will be 9-10 billion people on Earth in 2050. Providing so many people with nutritious foods is a massive challenge and one that cannot be met by simply upscaling current practices regarding food production and consumption. Providing humanity with nutritional food is at the centre of all decisions related to sustainable development. Richardson cites four key themes for creating a sustainable food system, and two of these are "losing less and eating smarter". In this article, Oliver Hall of allmanhall explores each of these.

Consumption – "eating smarter"

Rapid population growth, alongside increased purchasing power and rising per capita consumption, has put further pressure on the need for food, space and raw materials. Forecasting from the International Food Information Council has predicted that consumers will show greater concern for the planet when making their purchase decisions, with sustainability and climate change making up two of the top five trends in food and nutrition, despite many still confused about what sustainability actually means.

Currently, most of the planet eats either too little, too much, or the wrong type of food. Globally, calorific and animal protein consumption per capita is rising as more of the population moves towards a western diet. In the UK, however, one in eight are vegetarian or vegan, with 21% also becoming flexitarians. 85% of shoppers also state that sourcing sustainable and ethical foods is important to them.

In their 2017 book Sustainable Diets, Pamela Mason and Tim Lang present "sustainable diet as a code for better consumption" and that while truly sustainable diets are complex, "two hotspots have dominated attention". These are meat and dairy, and food waste.

With strong evidence to support the overconsumption of meat being harmful to human and environmental health, adopting a more plant-based diet will make food systems more sustainable. For consumers to keep within their planetary boundaries (ie, no net environmental damage), no more than 98g of red meat and 203g of poultry should be consumed weekly. Despite this, high-income countries surpass necessary nutritional requirements, consuming double this. Furthermore, animal products account for 83% of agricultural land-use, while only accounting for 18% of human calories. Reducing livestock would also reduce freshwater pollution, water use and applications of nitrogen and phosphorous.

Linking future UK diets to the outputs of sustainable food systems will be vital in mitigating further ecosystem degradation. However, encouraging consumers to choose more sustainable food is not straight-forward, but better food choice can be influenced through interventions:

  • Providing improved knowledge on a sustainable diet while combatting incorrect beliefs and ingrained habits, while allowing for cultural identity
  • Eliminating choice, such as meat-free days in menu options
  • Fiscal disincentives: changing prices and, at a government level, tax rates
  • Better information on sustainable food choices through better labelling
  • Providing a tasty and more affordable meat alternative
  • Stressing the benefits, such as reduced cost or improved taste
  • Maximising awareness, putting vegetarian options at the top of menus.

Wastage – "losing less"

The second "hotspot" as identified by Mason and Lang is food waste. One-third of global food production is lost or wasted. Reducing waste provides a major opportunity to make food more sustainable and economically efficient.

The British charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) have made some of the following recommendations towards reducing consumer wastage:

  • Choosing correct date labelling, using "best before" when possible
  • Removing "sell by" and "display until" dates
  • Extending shelf life (provided food quality and safety are not compromised)
  • Providing clear storage guidance
  • Clear advice on foods which can be frozen at home
  • Providing portioning information on packaging
  • Smaller pack sizes for products that are wasted in high volume, eg, bread loaves.

Packaging is also another critical aspect of food production, keeping food safe and thus preventing wastage. The type, weight and volume of packaging determine the transport efficiency, with more packaging increasing the transport volume, and thus emissions released. Trade-offs thus occur between having enough packaging to prevent damage and wastage, but not so much that high emissions are generated from the production and transport of the packaging.

It seems counter-intuitive to think that packaging may actually support sustainable food systems but highlights the complexities in creating one.

Change

Despite there being a range of complex barriers to achieving sustainable food systems, these are the steps that caterers can take right now.

  • Education about healthy and sustainable eating, including where food comes from
  • Greater transparency, traceability and provision of information through solutions which provide environmental impact assessments of ingredients and recipes
  • Menu planning to design a menu that is more sustainable and agile, whilst also meeting nutritional requirements
  • Taste is a key element, and a dietitian can facilitate the provision of samples, to encourage exposure to different foods for consumers
  • Food waste can be managed by considering ways the food is stored, prepared and served, encouraging regular feedback on the dishes, portion sizes etc.
  • Sustainability group creation, led by consumers is a great way to get feedback, understand what issues matter to them and to involve them in the solution
  • Ssustainable food policy, written to make sure everyone is part of the approach and communicated thereafter
  • Meat-free days and education around how to reduce meat consumption done in exciting and innovative ways.

Addressing these two issues of what we consume and reducing waste, with catering teams playing a key role, will benefit the environment and help promote sustainable food habits for the future.

Photo: Angyalosi Beata/shutterstock.com

Sources

  • K.Richardson, Professor at the University of Copenhagen: https://www.coursera.org/learn/transformation-global-food-system
  • Developing Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Meek, K. 2020.
  • Food Insight, Food Trends to Watch in 2020, in Food Insight. 2020: foodinsight.org
  • Sustainable Diets ‘How Ecological Nutrition Can Transform Consumption and the Food System' Mason, P. and T. Lang, 2017.
  • Agriculture at a crossroads, findings and recommendations for future farming, 2020. Smithers, R., Third of Britons have stopped or reduced eating meat – Report. The Guardian, 2018.
  • Lloyds Register, UK Food Trends: A Snapshot in Time, 2019.
  • World Health Organization, Global and regional food consumption patterns and trends.WHO Technical Report Series, 2009.
  • Rust, N.A., et al., How to transition to reduced-meat diets that benefit people and the planet.Science of the Total Environment, 2020.
  • Willett, W., et al., Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.The Lancet, 2019.
  • Stoll-Kleemann, S. and T. O'Riordan, The sustainability challenges of our meat and dairy diets.Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 2015.
  • Poore, J. and T. Nemecek, Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers, 2018.
  • Bongaarts, J., IPBES, 2019. Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science‐Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Population and Development Review, 2019.
  • Royte, E. and R. Olson, We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life–What About Us. Nat Geo, 2018.
  • Smith, M., et al., Microplastics in seafood and the implications for human health. Current environmental health reports, 2018.

About allmanhall

allmanhall
allmanhall

Established in 2006, allmanhall is an independent, family-owned and managed business, providing expert food procurement and supply chain management, combined with hands-on catering and nutrition advice.Working in a partnership with its clients, allmanhall's purpose is to deliver the best food, the best cost savings and the best support, and is committed to a focus on sustainable food supply.

Expert in food procurement, allmanhall provides full management of the foodservice and catering-related supply chain. Clients enjoy essential food cost savings as a result of allmanhall's supplier negotiations.

Utilising the latest industry-leading technology, procurement expertise and a focus on relationships, both with clients and suppliers, allmanhall has positioned itself as a market leader in the foodservice industry.

About Oliver Hall

Oliver Hall
Oliver Hall

Oliver Hall co-founded allmanhall in 2006. allmanhall is owner-managed and independent, which is increasingly rare in the food procurement sector. While working on the growing business, Hall studied with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, to achieve MCIPS qualification. This expertise in procurement and understanding of the complex factors that affect the supply chain is a key part of allmanhall's solution for clients. Using experience and detailed insight, Hall's mission for allmanhall is to inspire improvement in catering and foodservice for clients, through successful management of and collaboration with the supply chain. The ultimate outcome? The best food, the best cost savings and the best support… especially in times of uncertainty.

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