Having a Sustainable Scottish Diet

What you eat every day has an impact on the environment and climate change.

This is because greenhouse gas emissions are produced all the way through the process of getting food to our plates. A 2018 study found that food production is responsible for approximately 26% of global emissions. The food system also impacts the environment through deforestation, biodiversity loss and declining water tables.

So if you want to make a difference in the fight against climate change, what's the best way to do this through your diet? It's a complex issue so there are lots of things to take into account, we've put together some things you might want to consider. 

Buy local food in season

Local food has less distance to travel, so there are less emissions related to things like transport and storage. While food that is in season doesn't need to be heated in a greenhouse, so takes less energy to produce.

Scotland produces a wide range of great-tasting food for you to enjoy in each season. There's wild salmon in spring, lots of delicious berries in summer, pumpkins and butternut squash perfect for an autumnal soup, hearty root vegetables in winter and lots more over the year. Eating local also has the added benefit of supporting farmers and businesses in your local community.

Check out Greener Scotland's in-season calendar to find the best time of year to buy different kinds of food such as fruit, veg and fish in Scotland.

You could also try growing your own food if you have access to your own garden, community garden or allotment! Did you know that carbon emissions could be reduced by between two and five kilograms of carbon equivalent for every kilogram of vegetable produced?

Try environmentally friendly alternatives

Researching exactly what impact everything you eat has on the environment can be time-consuming. Thankfully, the BBC have a handy emissions calculator where you see what emissions the food that you consume produce.

Just select the item and how often you eat it and it'll tell you your annual production with what that is equivalent to if you were driving or heating your home. You'll also see how it compares to similar products in terms of emissions.

If a food you really enjoy isn't great for the environment, you could try out some alternatives or even think about cutting down on how often you have it. There are lots of ways to reduce your environmental impact so don't feel you have to make a drastic change to every aspect of your diet.

Experiment with more environmentally friendly options and find what works best for you.

It's not just about emissions

There are lots of things to consider when thinking about how environmentally friendly and sustainable food is.

Some foods can be very water-intensive, meaning a lot of water is needed to produce them. For instance, having a cup of tea instead of a cup of coffee can save nearly 5 times the amount of water.

The BBC's climate change food calculator will also tell you how water-intensive certain foods are if you are interested. Almonds are a good example of how this can impact the environment, it takes approximately 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds, and most of the world's almonds are produced in California which suffers from droughts.

Avoiding food with lots of plastic packaging or being more careful to recycle it properly can have positive environmental impacts too.

Take a 'less but better' approach

Did you know that Scotland is one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce beef and lamb

Soil Association Scotland says that taking a 'less but better' approach to eating meat is sensible due to some of the agricultural challenges we face in Scotland.

Over half of the land in Scotland is only suitable for animal farming while just 9% of agricultural land is suitable for growing crops, and we use very little of that for human nutrition. 

Therefore, much of the food we eat has to be imported which has its own emissions costs. Switching from factory farmed products to local, grass fed or organic meat is better not only for the environment but also better for your health too. 

You can read some of the benefits that following this approach can bring to you individually whilst still protecting the environment and Scotland's farmers on their website.

Nourish Scotland mapped out a potential plan for Scotland's food production to become more sustainable by 2030, you'll find lots of interesting information about how we get our food in Scotland and what sources are more sustainable than others in their report.

Food Standards Scotland have a handy tool to help you plan a healthier and more sustainable diet. 

"Eat more beans and pulses, 2 portions of sustainably sourced fish per week, one of which is oily. Eat less red and processed meats." - Food Standards Scotland, Eastwell Guide.

Have a more plant-based diet 

Avoiding meat and dairy products is claimed by a 2018 the University of Oxford study to be the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce our environmental impacts. However, this can be a big change to make and may not suit everyone.

It's also important to remember that having a vegan diet doesn't automatically mean your diet is better for the environment, especially if you're eating food that has lots of food miles or is resource intensive to produce. 

If you decide to try going vegan, vegetarian or just reducing your meat intake (you could try Meatless Mondays) then you should do a little research to find out how you can still get everything your body needs from a balanced diet.

The NHS has some useful information on what foods can provide you with the nutrients you need that you'd typically get from meat.

Find out more about plant-based diets on our webpage Keep Your Plants On

Reduce food waste

Around 20% of the food in our homes ends up wasted. That is a lot and is something which is easy to cut down on.

Food that goes out of date or is binned off plates can be be recycled if disposed of correctly. However, the best way to reduce emissions related to food waste is to try and avoid having to throw away food wherever possible.

Keep track of how much food you need and what you're throwing away so that you can plan your next shopping trip to try and avoid repeating this.

You can also sort items in your fridge or cupboards by their use by dates so that you know which things you need to eat quickly and what lasts longer.

Do what works for you

Climate anxiety is a real thing.

Don't feel like you have to change every aspect of your life, or switch to a completely new diet, to help fight climate change. You don't.

Most of the action that will help have a positive impact on the environment will have to come from government's and businesses around the world. You can definitely make a difference by making changes, but make sure that whatever you do works for you and doesn't have a negative impact on your mental or physical health.

For more information and tips about adopting a plant-based diet visit our Keep Your Plants On page.