The production of food, like other goods, is a function of supply and demand. As consumers, we directly impact the level of demand on the products we buy. This is valid for food too. For example, the more meat products we continue to buy, the more the meat production will increase. Choosing to eat low emissions food impacts the type of food that is produced and eventually decreases the production of high emissions food.
The greenhouse gas impact of food is only one of many different indicators of food sustainability. A food can only be truly sustainable if it also prevents soil degradation, comes from workers paid a fair and living wage, is produced locally, is affordable and available, has a minimum amount of packaging, preserves biodiversity, etc. At Lighter Foodprint, we only look at one of these many dimensions of food sustainability, and we urge you to consider these other factors every time you make a food purchase. To learn more, check out Our World in Data.
Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For most foods, this is not the case. Land use and farm-stage emissions combined account for more than 80% of the footprint for most foods, particularly for large emitters like beef, lamb, etc. Transport, on the other hand, only accounts for less than 10% of emissions. In beef from beef herds, transport accounts for only 0.5% of total emissions.
An exception in this case is food that is air-freighted because of the high emissions associated with air travel. These tend to be foods which are highly perishable and where there is a strong emphasis on “freshness”. A general rule is to avoid foods that have a very short shelf-life and that have traveled a long way (many labels have the country of origin which helps with this).
Yes, certain food brands are more sustainable than others. To identify these, it is important to understand the food production processes and their impact (find more information on www.ourworldindata.org). When we understand which products and processes impact our environment the most, we are then able to make the right decisions when purchasing and consuming food. We can identify these “more sustainable” brands by (1) looking at a restaurant menu and opting for low emissions options, (2) reading the packaging information of any product, (3) opting to consume in non-chain restaurants since they generally have higher emissions, (4) research and learn more about the restaurants or production company you are consuming from. Look out for labels such as Fair Trade or try to find out how the farmers producing the food are paid and treated.
Take a look at our blog “Learn more about Food and Climate Change” as a first step into the topic and learn how to make more sustainable choices.