Every one of our choices, purchases, behaviors… each has an effect on the planet. What we eat isn’t an exception to this rule. Quite the opposite! It contributes to 30% of pollution caused by humans. But how do we understand the ecological impact of our food? Is sustainable food even possible? How do you assign value to food production that’s more eco-friendly?
Food’s ecological impact: the (complex) production system
To correctly measure its ecological impact, you must take into account a food’s life cycle. This is split up into 5 steps:
- raw materials
- production or manufacturing
- transportation and distribution
- consumption, usage
- end of life
On top of these criteria, we also measure food’s carbon footprint. Then, it’s by identifying the most polluting functions, we can take the appropriate actions.
For example, producing 150g of beef steak requires 1,000 liters of water, which is the amount necessary to grow the wheat and barley used to feed the animal. A soy steak produced in the Netherlands needs… 160 liters of water. What should also be taken into consideration – and a parameter of Youmeal’s recipe management software – is the quantity of water that is polluted during the manufacturing process. Finally, to calculate a food’s carbon footprint, you must measure the energy expended for the machines, livestock buildings, greenhouse heating, etc.
What about fish? Think that, since you eat more fish, you’re reducing your ecological footprint? Unfortunately, we estimate that 31.6% of fisheries do not respect the natural renewal capacities of fish stock. And aquaculture doesn’t always produce a sustainable food source. So what’s the solution? Lean more towards buying fish labelled organic, MSC or ASC.
If you then factor in transportation and distribution, you increase considerably the ecological footprint of food. One bunch of asparagus from Mexico uses 5 liters of gas for its production and transportation. That same asparagus, when grown in season in Belgium, only uses 0.3 liters. And the carbon footprint is further exacerbated by the end consumer. In Wallonie, we waste, on average, 20kg of food per person each year.
Sustainable food? Local and in season!
A more environmentally friendly, sustainable diet means choosing local products. However, this statement requires some specification. In England, a tomato grown in a greenhouse in winter will use 10x more energy and will emit 10x more CO² than a Spanish tomato, grown outdoors, in season and imported by truck or boat! Therefore, environmentally friendly food respects the seasons. To adopt a sustainable diet and balance recipes in regard to their environmental impact, you’ll need to skip those winter tomatoes…
Youmeal calculates the carbon footprint of foods
To promote more responsible food consumption, Youmeal software sheds light on the ecological footprint of food. The system details the energy expended, water used, water polluted, and soil surface for each recipe. If there’s seafood in the dish, Youmeal will indicate whether or not it’s an endangered species. Everything is also summarized in the form of a health- and ecological-based sheet that compares the nutritional and environmental qualities of the recipe.
Try it out for yourself! Ask Youmeal how to reduce the carbon footprint of our food.