The Rising Demand in Sustainable Food
Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast
The Rising Demand for Sustainable Food
As you have likely heard me say before, I do not tend to pay a lot of attention to the trends of society and public opinion. This is because such things swing like a pendulum right along with our values. Additionally most of the time I tend to focus my attention on entirely different things than the typical concerns of the average person.
That said, there is one societal trend that certainly has my attention. More and more people are making sustainable choices especially when it comes to their food. This is great news of course. But is this a short term cultural change or a foundational shift in perspective. And that is what I want to explore in this episode. So join me for E159 The Rising Demand for Sustainable Food.
Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E159 The Rising Demand for Sustainable Food.
But before we get to that, let’s first talk about the good news story of the week.
Kenya Has a New National Holiday
Kenya, an African nation of 50 million people now has a new holiday. It is called the National Tree Planting Holiday and it is part of the nation’s commitment to slow down global warming. This is part of Kenya’s Landscape and Ecosystem Restoration Program, which aims to plant and grow 15 billion trees by 2032 in order to restore 10.6 million hectares, about 26.2 million acres of degraded landscapes and ecosystems.
Citizens are encouraged to plant two tree seedlings and they are even provided trees for free from sponsored nurseries.
With a population of 50 million, if everyone planted two trees then that is 100 million trees per year. That said, one of the primary drivers of deforestation is because the country depends on timber and charcoal as fuel for infrastructure and population growth. But the Kenyan governments wants forest cover to reach 30% in order to better conserve biodiversity, sustain livelihoods, protect the environment and improve climate resilience.
And yes we can celebrate one more thing that fights global warming and deforestation. Additionally, such a holiday goes a long way to support local businesses. So, this weeks applause goes to Kenya.
That said, let’s now move on to this weeks episode where we will discuss the rising demand for sustainable food.
As I stated above, I often see cultural values and public opinion swing like a pendulum from one thing to the next. This is why I rarely pay attention to such things. However, there is one trend I see that is worth watching. More and more people are looking for sustainable products especially food. But when I hear that I do question whether this is just another swing of the pendulum or is this a true foundational shift in our values. After all, it is such a foundational shift that is going to be necessary if we are going to move forward into a sustainable future.
As you likely know by now, our choices do make changes. This is because our consumer choices drive the market place. For example, I remember a time not too long ago when it was impossible to find any sort of plant based meat substitute in the supermarket. Now those products are common place. That is evidence enough that or choices do make a difference.
Almost everyday now we hear something about climate change, natural disasters, greenhouse gas emissions, and how our planet is doomed unless we change our ways. While I do understand when you are bombarded by bad news everyday it is difficult to not become discouraged. It is difficult to not be complacent because we all start to feel as if there is nothing we can do. That is the main reason I now feature a good news story of the week. But, to give you even further good news, there is actually a lot of things that we as individuals can do to make a significant difference. But in order to truly convince you of that I first have to give you the bad news.
What we already know is that our food production is inefficient and resource intensive. Approximately 40% of the land on the planet is used for food production. Our food production is responsible for about 37% of our green house gas emissions. But there is another important impact that our food production has that is seldom mentioned but is equally important.
What is often neglected in all the daily climate headlines is that water is the single most integral part of the health of our planet. In fact the availability of water makes it the single biggest barrier standing between our planet and the ability to sustain the lives of a population of nine billion people that is expected by 2050.
So why is it just as important to talk about water when it comes to our food production? As it turns out, not all foods are created equal. Every food has a water footprint. What this means is that the production of foods always requires water. How big the water footprint is for any given food product differs drastically depending on the number and variety of processes necessary to get that food from farm to table. Crops, just like any other food, require water to grow and thrive. Rainfall is typically insufficient to produce most crops thus the need for irrigation. This of course means taking water from rivers, lakes, and extracting ground water.
Now, we already know that certain foods are responsible for more green house gas production than others. But as it turns out, the same is true to how much water is needed to produce certain foods. And as I mentioned above, it varies drastically.
And just to give a few examples, let’s talk about the liters of water needed to produce one kilogram of various food products.
Bovine meat: 15,415 liters
Sheep and goat meat: 8,763 liters
Pig meat: 5,988 liters
Chicken meat: 4,325 liters
So when you look at it from this perspective, and considering that the availability of water is the one barrier standing between the planet and our ability to feed the world, you can appreciate that it truly makes a difference in what you eat. Furthermore, most experts agree that the world is going to have to double crop production by 2050 in order the feed our growing population.
Additionally, our food waste is phenomenal and this produces a significant impact. For example, annual food waste per capita in kilograms for just a few countries are as follows:
United Kingdom 77
United States 59
So as you can see this is a universal problem and it is not limited to the wealthier countries of the world. But it is hard to believe that the average American wastes nearly half a kilogram of food everyday. I am also going to provide a link to an article the shows the amount of food waste per country so you can get a good appreciation for how widespread this problem really is.
So, here is the good news. Just like so many other sustainable habits, the good news is there is a lot we can do and it truly is a matter of changing how we do things, changing our priorities. And there is evidence that such a change is already underway.
But, moving forward from here, nearly every environmental expert agrees that we all have to decrease our consumption of resource intensive foods and reduce our food waste. And I think it is fortunate that many consumers are thinking the same way. One research article I came across showed that 52% of consumers want to know the impact that their food choices have on the planet and 30% of consumers are already purchasing sustainable foods. Furthermore, 30% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable foods.
But the question remains as to whether or not this is the beginning of a cultural shift. Is this just another fashion trend or are we really walking the walk. Well, I have good news.
Recent research shows that 57% of consumers believe that leading a sustainable lifestyle is important. Those numbers are even higher among people with at least some college education. Among those interested in a sustainable lifestyle they place emphasis on the environment, animal welfare, and worker’s rights. And it appears that this attitude is one of the primary driving factors behind the growing demand for sustainable options in the products we purchase.
Furthermore, 52% of consumers want to know the environmental impact of their food choices and want to support companies that are willing to take action. And two of the primary driving forces behind this movement in consumer demand is an increased awareness of climate issues and a much broader perspective on sustainability. And the good news is that consumers are beginning to take action. Nearly 60% of consumers are now recycling and 60% are now focused on reducing food waste. And nearly 40% are using reusable shopping bags at the supermarket.
So it appears that the average consumer is truly much more concerned about sustainable choices especially when it comes to food. But, what exactly does that mean to people? What are people looking for?
The average consumer is now looking for sustainable food choices that fit into one of these four categories:
-People want to purchase products that aren’t harming the environment.
-Consumers want products that are produced and manufactured efficiently in a circular manner.
-Foods that are healthy and natural are also high on the list
-And finally products with eco-friendly packaging, meaning less plastic and more recyclable materials.
Based on several articles I read, it appears that about 30% of consumers are presently purchasing food products that they feel are sustainable. As a general rule women tend to care more about sustainability compared to men. And those with a higher education tend to place more emphasis on sustainability compared to those with no college experience.
Furthermore, the three things that factor into a buying decision seems to be quality, price, and ingredients. And while many consumers say they are willing to pay more for a sustainable product, research shows they are only willing to pay 20% more. So the 20% limit should be something to keep in mind when pricing sustainable options.
So what the consumer research shows is that women are more likely to act in a sustainable manner. Older generations are less likely to be concerned about sustainability but they will shop local, grow their own food and eat out less. Millennials are more or less in the middle of the road and Gen Z is the least engaged in sustainability. And finally higher income groups and parents are more likely to be committed to a sustainable lifestyle.
Furthermore, the primary drivers of a commitment to sustainability appear to be concerns for the environment, eating healthy and natural, knowledge of broader topics of sustainability, and purchasing products that have eco-friendly packaging.
Now all of this is good news of course. But there also seems to be some very specific barriers to purchasing sustainable foods. In particular a lot of people never even think about sustainability in their daily lives, 42% of people think sustainable products are too expensive, and 31% of people think that finding products that are truly sustainable just takes too much time. And finally there are still a large number of people who are just not aware of the importance of sustainability. And approximately 40% of the world is still unaware of climate change.
Obviously we still have room for improvement. Certainly I have shared before after many years of living off the grid, I am still finding creative ways to improve my lifestyle and grow much of my own food.
But that being said, I want to round off this episode by giving you some practical tips on how to eat a healthy sustainable diet because these are easy ways we can all reduce our personal impact.
- Avoid highly processed foods. Not only are they unhealthy but that long list of ingredients comes from multiple corners of the globe.
2) Avoid over eating. On average we consume far more calories than we need. Eating only what you need is a great way to reduce the demand on the food supply. The Japanese have a saying: Hara Hachi Bu, which means eat until you are 80% full. Consequently, they consume fewer calories and tend to be more lean.
3) Eat locally and only what is in season. Obviously transporting those delicious grapes from South America in the middle of the winter has a significant impact.
4) Eat more fruits and vegetables: Not only are they healthy but fruits and veggies have a very low environmental impact.
5) Reduce your meat consumption. You can do this by choosing plant based proteins over animal protein. Vegetables such as chickpeas, Edamame, lentils, and quinoa are all very high in protein. Going meat free one to two days per week can still make a tremendous difference. You do not have to be vegetarian.
6) Consume dairy products in moderation. What we do know is that dairy products are important sources of protein, calcium and essential amino acids. Consuming this products have also been linking to reduced risk of several chronic diseases, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain types of cancer. However, the environmental impact of these products is quite high.
You can reduce that impact by choosing alternatives such as plant based milks. If you want to try that then soy, oat, hemp, and pea milks are more environmentally friendly relative to almond or rice milk.
7) Eat whole grains. Whole grain foods are not only better for you from a health prospective, they are also much less resource intensive. They are also a good way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and to help with weight loss.
8) Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk is a great way to reduce packaging waste. We throw away over 80 million tons of packaging material every single year. So buy in bulk,
9) Eat preserved foods in the off season. By preserved foods I mean frozen, dried, and canned foods. These have far less environmental impact than veggies that are grown in heated greenhouses and shipped long distances. If you are even more adventurous, can you own. This is exactly what we did with excess fruits and veggies on the farm. We canned fresh food and that is what we ate during the winter.
10) Grown your own. And of course it never gets more environmentally friendly than growing your own. This is something that is so easy to do and it is quite enjoyable.
11) Choose nutritional foods. What I mean by this is food such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, quinoa. What you have to remember is that regardless of the food you eat, some resources are going to be utilized to make that food. Choosing nutritional foods is far better than drinking soda and eating chips and cookies.
12) Drink tap water. Drinking bottled water is by far one of the most wasteful things you can do. In the US alone we throw away more that 60 million plastic bottle per day, most of which end up in landfills. If you are worried about your local tap water, then have it tested or use a water purifier. We produce purified drinking water for less than three cents per gallon. We take raw stream water and put it through a gravity fed water purifier and it works great.
Refillable water bottles are very inexpensive and it is one easy things we can do to cut back on plastic waste.
So much of the time we are bombarded by bad news. But what I so often see is that there is good news all around us. We just have to look for it. So today I am going to round off this episode with 10 tid-bits of good news.
-People are becoming increasingly concerned about the environment. Over the past 5 years there has been a 71% increase in online searches for sustainable goods.
-Energy supplied my green technology is now cheaper than using fossil fuels. Over the past 10 years the price of solar for residential application has gone down by 50%. In 2022 for the first time ever the amount of energy being produced from renewables surpassed that produced by coal
-Electric vehicle sales and jumped almost 9% over the last year.
-National Geographic reports that considerably more people are working to green their homes. Going solar, switching out appliances for something more efficient, renovations and refurbishments for energy improvements.
-64% of people surveyed said they would pay more in order to live in a green community.
-While the recycling rate used to be 6% of the population, 32% of people now report recycling.
-There is an increasing trend on a global level for companies to be transparent about their emissions and energy usage and their environmental impact.
-More countries are realizing that their high dependence on imported foods make them less secure and has a greater environmental impact. Consequently, more countries are looking at focusing on local production.
-And there is now a growing interest in bringing back what is called ancient grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetables. Despite their being 20,000 species of edible plants, currently 75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 plants. And only three of those , that being rice maize and wheat, make up nearly 60% of the calories provided by plants in the entire human diet. People are starting to realize that diversification brings security.
-And lastly, there are some lively Brits who are reintroducing some animal species on their own. With Britain being one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, some local citizens are growing weary of a government that is slow to act. In steps the so called guerrilla re-wilders who have helped a number of species to make a comeback.
As you can see, good news abounds. You just have to look for it. And that has been a big part of the focus of this episode is to show you that perhaps people are starting to make some positive changes. In my opinion there have always been bad things going on in the world. But there have also always been good things going on. So, let’s focus on the good and keep moving forward.
I have so often said that when it comes to life in general, and especially a sustainable one, we have to take the attitude of always learning as much as we can. That said, I want to finish this episode with a quote from Dr Seuss, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Never stop learning. One step at a time towards a sustainable life means the more places you will go. Always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future.