Tuesday, August 3

Eat this to save the world! The most sustainable foods, from seaweed to venison | Food

WAs always such a misused word as “sustainable”? “Healthy” comes close and, in fact, the two are often combined, in trivial “good for you, good for the planet” phrases that often appear in foods that are anything but. The question of what we should eat to help combat climate change and environmental degradation has never been more important, or more confusing. In July, the government will publish its National food strategy, based on a year-long independent review, which should shed some light on the matter. In the meantime, there are some foods that, with qualifications, you can make fun of with a clear conscience.

“Good nutrition begins at home, and one of the most important things we can do for the future of the planet is to minimize food miles, so our staples should be foods that can grow perfectly in this country,” advises Patrick Holden, executive director of the Sustainable Food Trust. Another basic principle is to do your best to understand the story behind what you are eating, be it vegetable or animal: “If you know who produced your food, you are responsible to you and are more likely to worry.”

Grass-fed beef and lamb

Farmers feeding sheep in a field in Suffolk
Livestock is an integral part of regenerative agriculture. Photograph: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

These meats are the most controversial, complex, and heavily noted inclusion on this list, but Holden, an early proponent of regenerative agriculture (which involves raising livestock within a mixed farming system to restore organic matter, and with it , carbon) to the soil) makes a case for eating them. Soil is an invaluable carbon sink; However, the separation of crops and livestock has left half the country dependent on artificial fertilizers, the application of which “reduces organic matter and microbial diversity,” he says, resulting in carbon leaching. By rotating livestock with crops (as was done for centuries before the intensification of agriculture), farmers can “accumulate carbon in the soil and thus offset livestock emissions”, and make the most of grass, a plant that We can’t eat it, but it grows in abundance in the UK.

Consumed in moderation, red meat is highly nutritious and also increases the bioavailability of nutrients in plant foods. “There’s a good reason humans have coevolved alongside grass-eating animals,” says Carolyn Steel, author of Sitopia: how food can save the world. “Grass is rich in nutrients, but we cannot digest it. So we eat animals that can. “


Overhead view of oatmeal in a bowl
UK-grown oats are more sustainable than breakfast cereals made from imported corn from the United States. Photograph: Winslow Productions / Getty Images / Tetra Images RF

The case for eating oats is strong, although they are not the sustainability miracle solution that they are sometimes said to be. For example, they are not a nutritional substitute for dairy and can be as harmful as any other monoculture if grown intensively. But if they are “grown without artificial chemicals, in a way that is eco-friendly,” their consumption should be encouraged, says Tim Lang, professor of food policy at the City, University of London. “They can be grown at high altitudes and are a good ‘resting crop’,” that is, a crop that can be planted between harvests to replenish the soil. By adapting well to the British climate, they can, and should, replace the imported American corn that we usually eat for breakfast.

Locally grown vegetables (fresh, fermented, or pickled)

Apples on a branch
Eat UK grown fruits and vegetables, with the shortest supply chain possible. Photograph: Rory McDonald / Getty Images

“Britain grows on 50% of all the vegetables you eat and 16% of all the fruit.. We should be growing twice that, ”says Lang. We talk a lot about agriculture, “but it is horticulture that we have to increase and invest in, and education about what seasonality means.” Strawberries grown in heated plastic tunnels in February are not the answer; a mix of fresh seasonal produce and preserved produce from previous seasons. Look for the shortest supply chain possible – the weight and water content of fruits and vegetables make transportation very ineffective. If you can’t grow your own, find your local farmers market, vegetable box scheme, or community garden; And if you must shop at supermarkets, try not to shop out of season. “The reason supermarkets import apples from New Zealand is because people want to eat them all year round,” says Steele. “If we ate seasonally, there would be room for more local traditional varieties.”

Mussels and other bivalves

An underwater photograph of mussels tied to a rope.
The mussels are attached to strings. Come back in two years and harvest. Nature sustains itself. ‘ Photography: David Villegas Rios / Alamy

Nutrient-dense bivalves and adept at sequestering carbon and purifying seawater, are right up there with algae when it comes to sustainability points. These mollusks (oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops) feed on microscopic organic matter, including agricultural runoff; so its cultivation transforms waste into carbon storage and delicious food. Wild mussel fisheries also “create microhabitats for fish and other small invertebrates,” says Katie Keay, senior director of fisheries outreach for the Marine Stewardship Council. Growing mussels is simply a matter of throwing ropes into the sea, says mussel fisherman Kenny Pottinger. “They stick to the strings. You don’t have to feed them. You come back in two and a half years and then you harvest them. Nature sustains itself. “


Like red meat, legumes are a nutrient-dense food, says East Anglian grower Josiah Meldrum Hodmedod. “So if we go to the type of farming system where we use livestock in a crop rotation, they can supplement the protein from the meat, where there is a limit to how much we can and should produce.” Then there is its ability to self-fertilize the soil, through root nodules that contain bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. “This means that even if they are not grown organically, legumes do not need any artificial fertilizers, which degrades the soil,” says Meldrum, while nodules also increase organic matter within the soil by feeding microbial life which, when dies, “ensures that the carbon is locked.” Although Hodmedod sells UK-grown dried legumes, many beans and lentils are imported into stores.


If any plant is worthy of the term “superfood,” it is algae, both for its environmental benefits and its powerful nutritional properties. Like any plant, algae absorb carbon dioxide, but they can also reduce ocean acidification, allowing microorganisms and marine life to flourish. It also “relies on nitrogen and phosphate to grow, so there is the potential to grow algae in areas where there is agricultural runoff … and turn those pollutants into nutrients,” says Professor Michele Stanley, associate director of science, business and innovation at the Scottish Marine Science Association.


A deer among ferns
Venison is abundant in the UK. Photograph: Saskia Pasman / Getty Images / EyeEm

Venison is a great example of nutrient-rich meat produced from grass and forage plants and trees that cannot be used by humans. It is also abundant as, Since predators are no longer in the wild in the UK, deer populations are routinely euthanized so that they do not outgrow the supply of wild vegetation and invade farmland.

‘Waste food

If, as a planet, we stopped wasting food altogether, we would eliminate 8% of our total emissions – so an easy way for the planet to eat would be to tackle that, Steel notes. That could be by preserving and making meat and fish bone broth, but it could also be as simple as eating as much fruit or vegetables as possible. “The skin, the seeds, the leaves, this is where the phytonutrients are,” he says, citing Nigella’s Banana Skin Curry as an example. Supporting companies that are reusing waste – surplus bread in beer, surplus fruit in condiments and chutneys – is another easy win.


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