Food for Thought

Chrissy’s Tutorial Group
Student lead discussion session 1, lead by Amy.  

For my tutorial I led a discussion with Antonia, Ariana, Emma, Rob and Chrissy on two papers regarding the environmental impacts of food. One paper  compared the greenhouse gases associated with the average UK diet to various scenarios of vegetarian and vegan diets. The other study looked at GHG emissions and blue water scarcity index  of three carbohydrates commonly eaten in the UK – potato, pasta and basmati rice.

The first paper made the conclusion that the vegan diet has the potential to reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas footprint to the equivalent of a 50% reduction in exhaust pipe emissions from the entire UK passenger fleet. The study on carbohydrates found that whilst potato consumption in the UK has fallen since the 80s and pasta or rice are now preferred, potatoes have the least environmental impact because of their lower water footprint and locality.

The group thought that both papers provided valuable information but there were doubts as to how widespread the studies can be applied. The paper based on different diets used data from the US and UK, but the environmental footprint of foods may vary from country to country, depending on factors such as food miles.  We thought the papers were good at taking a variety of aspects into account, such as food waste and packaging, however the results could have been presented more efficiently and concisely.  The conclusions were somewhat 1-dimensional as there are other ways that food can damage the environment – for example pollution from pesticide run-off, land-use change such as deforestation causing loss of species, and erosion of land from poor management practices.  However, it would be difficult to take everything into account and both studies gave valuable ideas of ways that we can reduce our impact on the environment three times (or more!) a day.  More plant foods and local foods!

We weren’t sure how much of a difference the findings would make to people’s eating habits but Rob came up with an interesting idea – supermarkets could provide footprint information on the packaging of food. This would at least make people more aware of their impact, and particularly of the large differences there can be between foods.

Most members of the group disagreed that a tax on the highest GHG producers  (meat and dairy) is a fair way to deal with things as it could impact local farmers – but thought that tax could be higher on items that have travelled far to reach the consumer country. Increased awareness of food footprints, encouragement of local food and less food waste were some of the main areas that the group thought can decrease the environmental impact associated with food consumption.

By Amy


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