Background to (un)sustainable food
As well as providing energy, it is also good if the food we eat is tasty, nutritious, affordable and easily accessible. Neither should it cause unnecessary environmental impact, either globally or at the place where food is produced and processed, and food should be produced in such a way that farmers and factory workers are not harmed, for example by being exposed to toxic pesticides.
Although food has been subject to question since the 1970s for its impact on resources and the environment, it still accounts for significant emissions, of greenhouse gases for example, the greater part of which are due to meat and dairy consumption. The environmental impact of food consumption also arises from land use, eutrophication, water consumption and the effects of toxic substances. This in turn affects biodiversity, human health and the availability of clean water.
Over the years, many analyses have been performed that show great differences in environmental impact between different food products. This means that there is already considerable knowledge of what the problems are and what changes could make eating more sustainable. Calculations show, for example, that almost all plant-based products have a lower environmental impact than meat and milk (animal-based products), with the exception of some of what is grown in greenhouses and food transported by air. One change towards sustainable eating is thus to reduce the consumption of animal-based products. Today there are plant-based alternatives to both meat and dairy products. Vegan diets have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the lowest land and water use.
Another change towards sustainable eating is to reduce food waste. One third of all food produced is lost or discarded and becomes waste. This means that a great deal of food that could have been eaten is thrown away and thus causes a completely unnecessary environmental impact . Reducing waste would mean that we would not need to produce as much food.
There are also other ways of eating that could be sustainable. Buying locally produced food can be a way of supporting local producers and increasing the proportion of local food production, which has been declining since the 1990s to the point that we are now importing half of the food we eat. Buying and eating organically can contribute to an increase in biodiversity, because organic farming uses less pesticide than conventional farming. Buying and eating fair trade labelled products can lead to growers having better conditions. However, it is not certain that all sustainability aspects benefit from eating in a certain way, and it is, as stated, part of Mistra Sustainable Consumption’s research to understand what it would mean if a certain type of eating were to become more common.
This text has mainly been taken from our report “Eating sustainably”. Read it here.
Publications about food
2021, ISBN: 978-91-8040-093-0.
2021, ISBN: 978-91-88041-36-4.
In: Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2021.
In: BMC Public Health, 21 (1332), 2021.
Årsrapport 2020 Periodical
2021, ISBN: 978-91-7873-787-1.
In: Sustainable Production and Consumption, 26 , pp. 480-492, 2021.
2020, ISBN: 978-91-576-9767-7.
Årsrapport 2019 Periodical
In: Sustainability, 2020.
2019, ISBN: 978-91-7873-129-9.
In: Food Policy, 83 , pp. 7-27, 2019.
2018, ISBN: 978-91-7729-652-2.