Whose Larder?

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Building on the land-use and diets part of Zero Carbon Britain, Laura Blake, a food and diets researcher at CAT, has embarked upon an exciting new project, tentatively titled ‘Laura’s Larder’. In the first of a new series of blog posts, she explains the importance of thinking holistically about our food.

“Whilst working here at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), I have been doing some research into the environmental and health implications of our diets. This work was primarily conducted as part of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain project, but more recently I have been developing something new (more details to follow!)

My interest in food has been ongoing for many years now. I became vegetarian at a young age and, with the help of my Mum, learnt how to get all the nutrients I require from non-meat sources. This was the beginning of my interest in nutrition, which I eventually went on to study for my undergraduate degree. I then went on to do a Masters in Food Nutrition, which, combined with membership of a fair-trade society, meant I became more aware of the inequalities of our current supply system.

There are many different issues surrounding the foods we choose to eat – from the effects of the greenhouse gases (GHG) released in their production, processing and transport; to the inequality in the profits of large companies who benefit from paying producers (often overseas) next to nothing. Recently commissioned research into shoppers’ buying habits noted that sales of Fairtrade products increased by 18% last year, despite people generally spending less on their shopping. It appears that we care about issues relating to the food we eat, and when we are provided with trusted information we can make good choices that have benefits on a global level – choosing to buy fair-trade, for example, really does make a difference to people’s lives.

As I continued my work in food issues I began to realise that the effects of climate change (droughts and soaring temperatures, floods and other extreme weather events) have already begun to affect our ability to grow food. My Masters helped me understand that farmers who are already lacking access to clean water, medical supplies and facilities – as well as struggling to make enough money to buy food for themselves – may find it even harder in the future to grow their crops, making life even more difficult. But climate change will not just be a problem in other parts of the world: the effects may hit poorer farmers hardest but they will also affect our growing abilities here in the UK.

As climate change results from high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, this makes reducing our food-related greenhouse gas emissions another important consideration when buying sustainable products – the story goes full circle.

Through my work on the Zero Carbon Britain project I was able to carry out some in-depth research into the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK today. This was one of the two main focuses of research that went towards the recent publication of Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future here at CAT. It turns out that the best way we have currently of cutting emissions related to our food and agriculture is simply to choose to buy and eat different things that are lower in carbon. By looking at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different types of foods that we commonly consume in the UK, I could come up with a diet that both met all of our nutritional requirements and significantly lowered our greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout my time working on the ZCB project I was often asked questions such as “how much cheese could I eat if I didn’t eat beef?” or “how much chicken could I eat if I gave up lamb”. These questions reflect the fact that we clearly care very much about making good choices with respect to our food, but we don’t currently have enough information. We all have different tastes, and foods that we would potentially prefer to swap over others in order to reduce our emissions. All of these thoughts have formed the backbone of my new project, something I will tell you about in more detail in my next post!”


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