With the spotlight on climate change growing hotter by the day, we’re all starting to think about the small things we can do as individuals to save the planet we inhabit. Experts agree that small incremental changes do make a difference so the motivation to do the right thing has never been greater.
As we look for a healthier lifestyle for ourselves as well as the earth, it’s a great time to re-examine the role of fruit and vegetables in our diets. How do these nutrition power-houses effect positive change in the world around us as well as in our bodies?
Veges vs Meat – The Battle Of The Century
The food on our plates each day is responsible for nearly a third of our carbon footprint. So which fresh foods produce the least amount of greenhouse gases during production? Research shows that red meat is one of the highest emissions-intensive food in our diets and indicates that a move towards a plant-based diet may be a great way to contribute towards saving the planet – in fact these studies showed that greenhouse gas emissions were 22-29% lower for those on a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet than those with a diet high in meat. As a bonus, if you’re buying fresh produce that’s in season, you may just find a diet higher in vegetables than meat can be a really affordable way to contribute positively to the environment.
Vegetable and fruit growers around the country are working towards finding innovative ways to reduce the already small amount of carbon that their operations produce with crop management, storage and transport identified as areas in which further carbon-savings could be made. In the apple industry for instance, over one million new trees are planted each year, a positive contribution in terms of carbon credits as well as a delicious result for consumers. Winners of the HortNZ Environmental award, Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool are a kiwifruit pack house with strong carbon credentials. Beginning with a plan in 2012 to reduce emissions across their operation, they have succeeded in not only reducing emissions by 25% per tray of kiwifruit packed, but also have managed to reduce their waste to landfill by a whopping 77%. Providing an outstanding example of climate-friendly management, the company’s efforts have proved popular, attracting a record number of growers to their business.
A Bad Wrap
With the plastic bag ban now in place, the next step in the war on plastic is food wrapping. Supermarkets and growers around New Zealand are seeing the positive results of a switch to ‘food in the nude’ with some supermarkets reporting a rise of as much as 300 per cent in the sale of some categories of fresh produce without the plastic packaging. As individuals, kiwi shoppers can contribute to this movement by bringing their own reuseable fresh produce bags and always choosing the unpackaged items where possible. And why spend extra money on plastic wrapping for the kid’s lunches? How about using a reuseable product such as beeswax wraps to transport their snacks?
Use It Or Lose It
Globally, one third of all food produced for human consumption is thrown away and of that a huge 45% are fresh fruit and vegetables. As this waste breaks down it contributes a total of 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Making the most of all of your fresh produce is key to making a positive climate contribution, whether it’s by shopping more carefully (only buy what you need) or by getting a bit more creative in the kitchen (winter soups are a great way to use up leftover vegetables) there’s plenty we can all do each day to better manage our waste.
For growers, fresh produce waste also represents a challenge to reducing their carbon footprint. A recent initiative between the government, sustainable recyclers Eco Gas and T&G Global’s tomato growing division will see a waste-to-energy plant constructed which will convert up to 1000 tonnes of tomato vine waste and 20,000 tonnes of other organic food waste from surrounding businesses into energy to run the T&G Global glasshouses. A fantastic way to reduce, reuse and recycle throughout the production chain of one of our nation’s favourite fruit!
It’s Not All About Looks
The rise of ‘Ugly Fruit’ is another step in the drive towards sustainability and the reduction of food waste. Huge efforts are being made to increase the popularity of ‘cosmetically challenged’ produce damaged by wind or other factors from finding themselves in a landfill because they don’t meet retailers’ beauty standards. As awareness of massive food waste grows, major retailers are now experimenting with sales of less-than-perfect produce that may otherwise be wasted. Sold at a discount, they’re a great option for budget-conscious shoppers. If you see some of these ‘Ugly Fruit’ in your supermarket, give them some love, after all – beauty is not just what’s on the outside.
So much of our fresh produce is transported around the country, clocking up so-called ‘food miles’ that it becomes yet another source of CO2 pollution. As consumers, each of our purchase choices can make a difference to reducing this climate changing gas. First and foremost you should aim to buy locally-grown and in season, however, it’s not just that simple – food transported long distances by ship uses much less fuel than everyone driving to the supermarket in their cars. Consider buying through a delivery service – one van delivering fruit and veges to multiple households is much more efficient than the same number of consumers driving to their local supermarket.
Close To The Source
Proximity to growers is a real issue for many, particularly those in larger cities. With only 50,000 hectares of land in New Zealand used for commercial vegetable production, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a number of growers of a wide variety of produce near your home. As urban areas increase, so too does the pressure on our food growing areas such as the Pukekohe ‘Food Bowl’, an area of arable land responsible for a large chunk of all the fresh produce consumed in the Auckland area. As consumers we can ensure that we protect these areas and support the growers working hard to provide us with our 5+ A Day.
With just a few minor changes and an input of a little bit of thought and energy, each of us can contribute to making a positive impact on our planet. Fruit and vegetables are set to be the superstars of this new movement, providing superior nutrition for a much lower carbon footprint than any other food group. Growers and orchardists around the country are joining with consumers in adapting their processes to make our fresh produce industry not only greener but smarter and more future-focused to provide a better world for us all.