By making the choice to be a vegan, you have already started being mindful of what you eat. Whether you are doing it for health reasons, for the environment, for the animals or all of the above, you’ve taken a stand. You’ve taken the biggest step, but are you a sustainable vegan?
A sustainable vegan is someone who lives a healthy lifestyle by eating only plant-based food, buying locally produced goods, and taking care of the environment. This article will teach you how to live sustainably as a vegan so that your life can be both healthy and environmentally friendly!
While you’ve made significant steps in being more environmentally friendly by being vegan, aspects of the vegan diet are not sustainable. Primarily the food miles incurred by some of the produce.
What are food miles?
Food miles are the distances food travels from where it is grown to your plate. This can contribute significantly to our carbon footprint, putting a strain on local economies when we buy produce that’s been imported instead of growing locally.
DEFRA estimates that the movement of food equates for 25% of all heavy goods traffic here in the UK. Within the UK alone, food transportation produces 19 million tonnes of CO2 annually – That’s the same as 5.5 million average cars!
Unless you grow your own, all food incurs a fair few miles on its journey. Even from the supermarket to your plate, for example. Some food has a much greater carbon footprint, though. It all depends on its journey, the three main forms of transport are:
Some food has multiple forms of transport, i.e. by road to an airport, through the air on a plane, by the road to a warehouse, by road to a supermarket, then by road home to be eaten.
Anything that travels via air has a very heavy carbon footprint, damaging the environment. Travelling by air typically produces around ten times more carbon emissions than road and 50 times more than shipping.
Food that is perishable has to travel by air to make it to the supermarket shelves before it turns. This means things such as out of season berries. So next time you are craving strawberries in January, you should think about the air miles involved.
Unless you buy only local produce or grow your own, it’s very difficult to tell how far your food has travelled. In 2020, Quorn became the first big brand to introduce carbon labelling on its products. Certified by The Carbon Trust, the labels show its farm-to-shop carbon footprint.
Of course, not all Quorn products are suitable for vegans. But this is a step in the right direction for food manufacturers. We hope others follow suit.
In many aspects of our lives, we are returning to the ways of the past to live more sustainably. This includes things like reducing our plastic and buying loose groceries, for example.
Another leaf we can take from the book of days gone by is seasonal eating. By eating what’s in season and grown here in the Uk, we can reduce our carbon footprint even further.
What is seasonal eating?
Many of us have a general idea that certain foods grow in different seasons, but it would be beneficial to go one step further and plan our shopping lists around what’s available. Eating seasonally is another great way we can reduce the impact on the planet by eating produce grown here instead of importing from foreign countries like some supermarkets do. Being a sustainable vegan could be as simple as buying more locally when it is in season.
Strawberries, for example, are summer fruits. Supermarkets have these on their shelves year-round, causing our carbon footprint to increase. Buying them in season from local markets, farmers’ markets or even growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great way we can reduce climate change by making more sustainable purchasing decisions.
There’s a really useful list of all the UK’s seasonal fruit and veg here.
How can I reduce my food miles?
The most obvious switch would be to buy local produce where available. If you have a local farmers market, this could be a fantastic way to get fresh fruit and veg. You could even try growing some of your own if you have a garden or allotment.
Since it’s challenging to know the complete journey of any single piece of produce, the best thing we can do is be mindful. Tropical fruits are clearly not grown here in the UK. Berries are not homegrown in the winter a
The BBC has put together a handy food miles calculator that can help you assess the carbon footprint of things like bananas and avocados. Try it out here.
Of course, plants have a far lower carbon footprint than meat. You only have to look at this table below from Our World in Data on the carbon footprint of foods to see.
Another easy way to be a sustainable vegan is to opt for food with a longer shelf life, such as…
Cabbage – lasts 4-5 weeks in the fridge
Aubergine – lasts 2-3 weeks in the fridge
Sweet Potatoe – lasts 2-3 months in the fridge or 2-5 weeks in a cupboard
Pepper – lasts 2-3 weeks in the fridge
Apple – lasts 1-2 months in the fridge or 2-4 weeks in a cupboard
Butternut Squash – lasts 1-3 months in or out of the fridge
Berries – Freeze them in summer. Perfect for adding to smoothies year-round.
If your fruit and veg are starting to get a little overripe and soft, turn it into a soup, casserole or pudding instead of throwing it out. If you don’t fancy it there and then, freeze it! These are quick tips to help you become a sustainable vegan.
Most of us are more aware of our individual carbon footprint these days and look for ways to recycle and reduce our use of single-use plastics. It can be difficult to try and get your head around everything, so just remember all the little changes you do manage to implement add up. You are doing great!