If David Attenborough's Save our Planet wasn't enough to spur changes in consumer habits, the latest pandemic was the Earth's way of telling us that enough is definitely enough.
As an individual, where and how you choose to spend your money will undoubtedly have a profound effect on your health. But did you know that a few simple changes can not only transform your body, but can also save you money? Better yet, researchers have found that voting with your spending can have a profound influence on how the Earth will fare in your generation and the ones to come. Time is even running out for your generation as Sir Attenborough explains, so the time to act is now.
When you're at the supermarket it can be hard to make the link between buying cheaper meats and the conditions that workers in meat processing plants face, or the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance - that's what happens when the bacteria which threaten our health no longer respond to antibiotics.
But according to the Sustainable Food Trust, while you think you're saving money through buying cheaper products, society pays for this damage through taxpayer's money. This is spent on subsidies for intensive large-scale farming, clearing up the environment, and the rising cost of healthcare. Researchers note that there are also "irreversible types of damage that will inevitably have enormous economic impacts, including antibiotic resistant superbugs, climate change, and the loss of natural resources".
While it's clear that we end up paying for it in other ways, unfortunately the damage isn't reflected in the price we pay for food. It's interesting that between 1957 and 2017 the relative amount spent on food versus other household expenditure actually halved. According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
, UK consumers spend only 8% of their budget on food. They say this is because "our incomes have grown, we have smaller households and a greater choice of products at different price points". Thankfully a 2019 study that examined the daily diets of more than 5,000 UK households showed that green meals are possible at even the poorest level of income.
So what's going to be the motivator for change? The UK government has promised to slash greenhouse ga emissions to combat the climate crisis where approximately a fifth of these come from food. The challenge therefore is to convince consumers that they can make a difference to personal health and that of the planet, with the added benefit of saving money. Researchers at Oxford University
have also noted that environmental labels on food products could really help.
(I LOVE Oatly Milk - and check out their cleverly designed labels - they've really cracked this!)
The Nordic countries are already leagues ahead on this front as their New Nordic Recommendations originally published in 2012 are about to be updated again in 2022. They expertly explain the link between eating food that is in season and produced locally, and increased health benefits such as a lowered risk of chronic disease and improved weight management. Reducing food miles and time in storage improves the nutrient density whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers have also found that focusing more on plant based foods in place of animal products is also associated with health benefits for human life and for the planet.
So what can consumers do to fatten their wallets, slim their waistlines and breathe a breath of fresh air into the planet? Here's what the British Nutrition Foundation says
Eat a more plant based diet - reduce intake of animal protein, especially red meat. Replace this with nuts and seeds, beans and lentils and sustainably sourced fish.
Tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables are sustainable and green options as they have energy-efficient supply chains.
Eat fewer sugary and processed foods such as cakes, sweets, crisps and processed meats. Replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water and limit fruit juice to 150mls per day.
Reduce food waste at home by taking extra portions to work the next day or freezing them. Plan meals before going to the shops. Buy food that has the longest "use-by" date as this is the last date that the food is safe to eat.
Set your fridge to the correct temperature. Click here
to learn how to do this. Apparently 3 million glasses of milk are poured down household sinks in the UK every day - did I say how much I love Oatly? It also helps to promote a good night's sleep as the oat plant, technically known as Avena Sativa, has calming properties.