Food & Cooking
Meat and dairy are responsible for 14.5% of man-made global greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are produced during the production and processing of animal feed. Methane gas which is belched out by cows and sheep, is 23 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
As well as generating greenhouse gases, food production is leading to the destruction of rainforests that work to remove harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Natural habitats are being lost to make way for intensive cattle farming, growing animal feed and palm oil.
Green Fact: 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon is to provide land for cattle ranches.
Green Fact: Levels of imports of Brazilian beef means consumers in Britain were indirectly responsible for the destruction of the equivalent of 500 football pitches of rainforest in Brazil in 2018.
Palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low price, and properties that lend themselves to processed foods, have led the food industry using palm oil in half of all supermarket products. The demand for palm oil has led to the destruction of huge tracts of rainforest which have been bulldozed and torched to make room for plantations. The removal of natural habitats threatens many species with extinction, including the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger.
Green Fact: Up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every HOUR to make room for palm plantations.
Different diets also have different water footprints. A meat and dairy based diet consumes approximately 5,000 litres of virtual water a day while a vegetarian or plant-based diet uses half that.
Reducing the amount of meat and processed food in our diet helps reduce greenhouse emissions, protect habitats and endangered species and reduces our chances of developing some cancers, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Compare how diets based on eating the following 3-5 times per week, contributes to your annual greenhouse gas emissions:
Annual Greenhouse gas emission / Kg
Changing What You Eat
Making some changes to your diet can help tackle climate change. Simple swaps to reduce your meat consumption and making more meals yourself, reduces packaging, processing and palm oil consumption.
- £££ Introduce more meat free days or become vegetarian or vegan. Eating a diet consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans and less red meat will have a much lower carbon footprint. Check out the recipes in our Recipes section and aim for more meat free days.
- Switch to a plant milk. Try non-dairy alternatives to milk like oat, almond, soya and coconut milk which are all available in major supermarkets (or make your own oat milk).
- ZZZ Eat more raw foods that do not need cooking.
- £££ Eating less. Rising obesity levels tells us we often eat more than we need. Consuming less can help tackle climate change and waistlines.
- £££ Try making more of your own. Cutting back on takeaways and ready made food means less packaging and processing energy associated with your diet. Its also means you will reduce your palm oil consumption. You could try making your own bread, cakes and yoghurts. Check out our Recipes section.
- Eat food that is in season and produced locally. Food produced locally has travelled fewer miles and as a result has a lower carbon footprint. Try to eat food that is in season; salad in the summer vegetables in the winter. Even UK grown foods can have a high carbon footprint when eaten outside of the normal season if gas or electricity has been employed for heating and lighting greenhouses. Check our UK Seasonal Calendar for fresh fruit and vegetable seasons.
Changing How You Cook
Cooking cleverly using the best tools for the job can reduce how much energy you use. Here are our tips for energy saving cooking:
- A slow cooker uses less energy than a pan on the stove.
- The next most efficient cooking method is simmering on the stove-top.
- Don’t be a microwave snob! The microwave uses 50% less energy than an oven.
- Use the oven sparingly and smartly…cook multiple foods together.
- A toaster uses less energy than a grill.
- An electric kettle uses less energy than a kettle on the stove or hob so use the kettle to boil water for cooking or drinking.
- Use a stacking steamer for your vegetables. This reduces the number of pans being heated on the stove. Steaming also uses less water than boiling.
- An Eco kettle keeps water hot for 4 hours so prevents the need for repeat heating. (Prices start from £57 from The Ethical Superstore. See the ‘Eco Shops’ section of the New Leaf Company Directory.)
Green Fact: A gas oven only uses 6% of its energy to cook, an electric oven only uses 12%.
- Choose the pan that fits the size of the ring so that heat isn't lost around the edges of the ring and use the pan lid when heating food.
- Reduce preheating and turn the oven off early. An oven will stay hot and continue cooking.
- Cook in bulk and freeze portions for reheating. Your freezer works more efficiently the more full it is and frozen portions provide quick meals later that are a great alternative to heavily processed and packaged ‘Ready Meals’.
- Choose electric cooking over gas, and induction over other forms of electrical cooking.
Reducing Your Food Waste
Food waste has rocketed in recent years. Growing and transporting the food that goes to waste emits as much carbon pollution as 39 million passenger vehicles.
Storing food correctly can extend the shelf life of food and help reduce how much we waste. Here are some of our suggestions to reduce food waste:
Green Fact: Bread is the most wasted food product in the UK.
- Check your fridge temperature is between 0-5°C or food will go off quicker.
- Store the stems of vegetables in water. Storing vegetables such as broccoli, celery and asparagus this way helps them to stay fresh and crisp.
- Avoid unnecessary refrigeration. Store bread, potatoes, bananas, onions, tomatoes, eggs and exotic fruits in cool dark places and not in the fridge. Many food items can be damaged by unnecessary refrigeration.
- Avoid single use plastics like clingfilm. Store food in wax cloths, place a plate over dishes, use glass or stainless steel containers or reuse plastic tubs you already own. Reusable alternatives to cling film can be bought from eco shops, see the Household section of our New Leaf Company Directory.
- Wrap a whole lettuce in a clean tea towel to keep it fresh. Lettuce stored this way lasts much longer than bagged lettuce that has been opened.
- Freeze leftovers rather than throwing food away. Keeping a list of what is in your freezer and their freeze-by dates helps you keep track. Check what you can freeze, it’ll be more than you think! For instance you can freeze homemade hummus, pesto, minced garlic, stock (in an ice cube tray), breadcrumbs, sauces, soups, and some fruit.
- Freeze bread before it becomes stale and use it for toast straight from the freezer.
- Use yesterday’s leftovers for today’s lunch.
- Make breadcrumbs from stale bread (or the crusts) and use them in cooking.
- Keep butter block wrapping and use for greasing tins and trays when cooking.
- Cook up fruit and veg on the turn and use in pie fillings, crumbles or smoothies.
- Make soups and pasta sauces from soft vegetables. See our Recipes section.
- Use a sniff test rather than ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates when deciding whether food is past its best.
- Compost peelings and food waste rather than place it in the refuse see the Waste page for more information.
- You can visit Share Waste to find a local site where you can donate your waste for composting or register to accept waste for your own composter.
- You can join the ‘Olio’ food sharing app to share surplus food. If you have food you can’t use, take a picture and post. The picture which will appear to close neighbours who can pick up the food and avoid it being wasted.
A recent study revealed that if all mothers in the UK breastfed their babies until they were 6 months old, this would equate to taking up to 77,000 cars off the road. While breastfeeding is not always possible for many reasons and remains a matter of personal choice, this study highlights the advantages to the environment of avoiding the embodied energy in formula products from processing and packaging, as well as the energy expended in warming and cleaning bottles.
Making your own pureed baby food is also better for the environment, with less associated embodied energy from packaging and processing. It also has the advantage of being cheaper and allows you to control exactly what you are giving your baby.