Vegetarian Veal from Brazil, avocados from Mexico, lamb from New Zealand, wines from South Africa and beans from Kenya: shopping lists have a slight international touch and, with increasing concerns about the sustainability of food import from so far away We begin to wonder if moving to a vegetarian diet to reduce emissions caused by meat production is as sustainable an idea as one might think.
The influence of world food trade on local diets and cultural options has multiplied in recent years. Food supply chains operate globally and deliver rural products to almost 4 billion people living in cities and towns around the world, an idea that drove the first global agricultural research about 150 years ago when the founders Rothamsted realized the potential of farmland around London to supply a growing urban population. In the 21st century you can have any product in the world in your shopping cart.
Many people are aware of what they buy, both from a health and environmental point of view. However, it is still unclear what impact food has and we are increasingly encouraged to eat less meat as a way of coping with climate change. In fact, meat consumption, at least in the European Union, has been reduced and stabilized by around 42 million tons over the past 15 years. Now there are other neologisms to distinguish our diets: there are the Flexitarians (those who only eat meat from time to time) or reduce them (those who aim to reduce meat consumption), something that reflects the way in which People try to eat less meat.
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What about all those fruits, vegetables and staple foods that cross the world? Can we really consider them as more sustainable foods than meat? The increase in the purchase of ethical foods currently represents about 10% of food purchases in the United Kingdom, or what is the same, twice as much as tobacco. But in addition to the impact of air food transportation, both farmland around the world and the use of natural resources determine the sustainability of the food we consume: food production can destroy or displace natural resources in order to supply the growing demand for consumption. Changing land use to expand avocado production in Mexico, for example, means displacing the rainforest. There is also the case of the devastating impact of uncertified palm oil, used in many foods and other products, or the problem of food waste.
However, the first thing we should be able to do is measure the environmental impact of the food we eat, something that we can already apply to different food supply chains thanks to the carbon footprint. The problem is that consumers choose food based on their tastes, being something that changes frequently and for which the impact of climate change is rarely taken into account.
Based on these data we can affirm that a vegetarian diet reduces the carbon footprint of food. However, these data also show us that mileage in food transportation and global distribution could be the least of our problems. This is because food waste can amount to up to 20% of our shopping cart and food waste along the supply chain can be much greater. In turn, food waste increases the carbon footprint, which counteracts the possible sustainability benefits that food can have. It should also be borne in mind that perishable fresh fruits and vegetables are more likely to be discarded than fresh meat and fish.