Is food sustainability on the menu?

Worldwide 2 billion people are hungry or malnourished and in Australia food insecurity affects our most disadvantaged including 15% of young Australians.(1, 2) Do our current dietary choices and expectations, high volume of wastage and pursuit of packaged, convenience-foods jeopardise food security for the next generation? Are we essentially eating our children’s food and leaving them with a broken food system?

Food system activities are interdependent and multi-directional activities which include food production, processing and packaging, distribution, retail and marketing, access, consumption and disposal.(3).There is a growing body of research confirming that how we manage these activities worldwide is unsustainable and that they are negatively impacted by powerful, interrelating environmental, social and great barrier reefcommercial factors.(3, 4) Such factors include climate change, food and water wastage, population growth, urbanisation, economic effects of industrial farming and global trade agreements.(2-5) In Queensland, unsustainable food system activities degrade the environment increasing the salinity of agricultural lands and placing our Great Barrier Reef under threat from runoff, a reef already currently experiencing an acute, unprecedented bleaching event.(6-9) Elsewhere forests are being razed and burnt to grow oil palms so our processed foods and personal care products can be made more cheaply.

Food-intake patterns in Australia see an increased consumption of resource-intensive animal-products, with processed, packaged foods being favoured over whole fruits, vegetables or minimally processed wholegrain products.(10) Few Australian adults consume the recommended quantity of fruits and vegetables and only 3.45% of 19-25year olds eat sufficient quantity and diversity when measured against the Dietary Guidelines 2013.(11, 12) Though for many, this is attributable to poor personal dietary management, others suffer from limited access or availability to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate foods. Reasons may include significant physical or economical barriers in accessing or purchasing nutritious foods or that their preparation and cooking skills or equipment may be lacking.

Such poor dietary intake significantly contributes to the extremely high rate of diet-related disease with 63.4% of Australians being overweight or obese, 4% having Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and 21.5% with hypertension.(13) These are all significant risk factors for circulatory diseases which account for 29.9% of the deaths in Australia,(14, 15) conservatively estimated to cost Australians $5billion/year.(16)

However, despite the dire environmental and health consequences, food sustainability is still not at the forefront of public discussion, often only being considered within or as supplementary to environmental or public health publications or research.(5, 16, 17) At Life Nutrition, we value food sustainability and endeavour to consider this in all of our nutritional recommendations.

But we’re all just individuals, what can we really do about it?

It is really difficult to fathom that your personal choices or behaviour could make a difference, and I will also be the first to admit that there’s a lot more our family could do to generally become more ‘eco-friendly’. So I don’t intend to preach from the moral highground, or lecture to you from any righteous standpoint – but instead provide the following suggestions more as a prompt for all of us to assess more closely what we do in our personal or working environments.

  • Consider more carefully what food you are purchasing and from where. Where possible, purchase local, seasonal produce and products with sustainably sourced palm oils or fish – though unfortunately our lax labeling requirements don’t always make this very easy to determine. Please don’t continually bypass the uglier fruit or vegetables in the supermarket in search of ‘perfection’– they deserve to be loved to!
  • Eat fewer animal products – an estimated lifestock60-80% of agricultural emissions are linked to the livestock (including dairy) sectors(18). Animal products are rich sources of proteins, vitamins and minerals and are valuable additions to the diets of many. However in general, Australians consume well above that considered reasonable for health – try incrementally introducing more meat-free meals into your week.
  • Minimise wastage with more careful meal planning, being creative with leftovers and better storage approaches.
  • Though tempting from a convenience perspective, buying food and drinks in a more ‘bulk’ form that is not already portioned will save packaging and money. For example, buying a 1kg block of cheddar may only cost you $12 compared to buying individually-wrapped cheese that can cost $50 or $60/kg – you could instead be eating smoked salmon instead for that price!
  • Can you grow your own produce? I’m personally herb gardenhopeless at growing things, and everything I touch dies – a true Grim Reaper in the garden. However, for those with green thumbs – growing and picking herbs or citrus fruits in particular, will save you time, money, packaging and your produce has only had to travel a few metres by foot to your door.
  • If your garden is suited to a compost, this will save your raw fruit and vegetable offcuts from rotting in landfill and can in turn can enrich your garden’s soils.
  • If keen, you could also undertake the Food Sustainability Spring Clean Test – see how you score!
  • Teach your children about food sustainability so that it becomes a natural consideration for them.

As a busy mother, I totally understand that life is busy and that packaged or convenience-foods can be ‘lifesavers’ during a busy week, with few of us having time to create every meal from scratch. However, even just writing this article has been a good reminder for me to review what our family is doing in terms of influencing food systems and the environment in general. I hope you feel the same and that I’ve given you some ‘food for thought’.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Nolan M, Williams M, Rikard-Bell G, Mohsin M. Food insecurity in three socially disadvantaged localities in Sydney, Australia. Health promotion journal of Australia : official journal of Australian Association of Health Promotion Professionals. 2006;17(3):247-54.
  2. Friel S. Climate change, food insecurity and chronic diseases: sustainable and healthy policy opportunities for Australia. New South Wales public health bulletin. 2010;21(5-6):129-33.
  3. Garnett T. Food sustainability: problems, perspectives and solutions. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2013;72(1):29-39.
  4. Premanandh J. Factors affecting food security and contribution of modern technologies in food sustainability. Journal of the science of food and agriculture. 2011;91(15):2707-14.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4626.0.55.001 – Environmental view and behaviour, 2011-12 [Accessed: 2/4/2015]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4626.0.55.001.
  6. Albert S, O’Neil JM, Udy JW, Ahern KS, O’Sullivan CM, Dennison WC. Blooms of the cyanobacterium Lyngbya majuscula in coastal Queensland, Australia: disparate sites, common factors. Marine pollution bulletin. 2005;51(1-4):428-37.
  7. Bui EN. ENVIRONMENTAL AUDITING: Risk Assessment in the Face of Controversy: Tree Clearing and Salinization in North Queensland. Environmental management. 2000;26(4):447-56.
  8. Rayment GE. Water quality in sugar catchments of Queensland. Water science and technology : a journal of the International Association on Water Pollution Research. 2003;48(7):35-47.
  9. National Land and Water Resources Audit. Dryland Salinity in Australia. 2000.
  10. Australian Bureau of Statstics. Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-2012. Report 4364.0.55.007 [Accessed: 31/3/2015]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4364.0.55.0072011-12?OpenDocument.
  11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4338.0 Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-2013 2012 [Accessed: 31/3/2015]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4338.0main+features222011-13.
  12. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 1301.0 – Year Book Australia, 2012 [Accessed: 2/4/2015]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1301.0~2012~Main%20Features~Home%20page~1.
  13. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics – Key Findings 2011, 2012. Report 4364.0.55.001 [Accessed: 31/3/15]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.001Chapter1002011-12.
  14. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3303.0 – Causes of Death, Australian 2012 [Accessed: 31/3/2015]. Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2012~Main%20Features~Contents~1.
  15. Landini L. Modification of Lifestyle Factors are Needed to Improve the Metabolic Health of Patients with Cardiovascular Disease Risk. Current pharmaceutical design. 2014.
  16. National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia). Eat for Health Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013 [Accessed: 31/3/2015]. Available from: http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/.
  17. Trevena H, Kaldor JC, Downs SM. ‘Sustainability does not quite get the attention it deserves’: synergies and tensions in the sustainability frames of Australian food policy actors. Public health nutrition. 2014:1-10.
  18. Friel S, Dangour AD, Garnett T, Lock K, Chalabi Z, Roberts I, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture. Lancet. 2009;374(9706):2016-25.