What practical steps can your school take in the quest for a more sustainable approach to food?
Consumption – eating smarter
Currently, most of the planet eats either too little, too much or the wrong type of food. Globally, calorific and animal protein consumption per capita is rising as more of the population moves towards a western diet.
Forecasting from the International Food Information Council has predicted that consumers will show greater concern for the planet when making their purchase decisions, with sustainability and climate change making up two of the top five trends in food and nutrition, despite many still being confused about what sustainability means.
For consumers to keep within their planetary boundaries (ie no net environmental damage), research suggests that no more than 98g of red meat and 203g of poultry should be consumed weekly.
Encouraging pupils to choose more sustainable food is not straightforward, but better food choices can be influenced. As well as education and labelling, this may be as simple as putting vegetarian options at the top of menus, rather than as an afterthought near the end.
Wastage – losing less
One third of global food production is lost or wasted. Reducing waste provides a major opportunity to make food more sustainable and economically efficient.
The British charity WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) have made some of the following recommendations:
● Choosing correct date labelling, using ‘best before’ when possible.
● Removing ‘sell by’ and ‘display until’ dates.
● Extending shelf life (provided food quality and safety are not compromised).
● Providing clear storage guidance.
● Clear advice on foods which can be frozen at home.
● Providing portioning information on packaging.
● Smaller pack sizes for products that are wasted in high volume, eg bread loaves.
Packaging is also another critical aspect of food production, keeping food safe and thus preventing wastage. The type, weight and volume of packaging determine the transport efficiency, with more packaging increasing the transport volume, and thus emissions released.
Trade-offs thus occur between having enough packaging to prevent damage and wastage, but not so much that high emissions are generated from the production and transport of the packaging.
It seems counterintuitive to think that packaging may actually support sustainable food systems but this highlights the complexities of sustainable food systems.
Change – what you can do
These steps are key and realistic considerations providing practicable actions for catering teams of things you can start to implement (if you haven’t already):
● Education about healthy and sustainable eating, including where food comes from.
● Greater transparency, traceability and provision of information through solutions which provide environmental impact assessments of ingredients and recipes.
● Planning a menu that is more sustainable and agile, whilst also meeting nutritional requirements.
● Samples to encourage exposure to different foods for pupils.
● Better manage food waste – look at how the food is stored, prepared and served, including portion sizes etc.
● Sustainability group and policy creation – understand what issues matter to your pupils involve them.
● Meat-free days and education around how to reduce meat consumption done in exciting and innovative ways.
By starting with a focus on both what is consumed and what is wasted, in your own school, your catering team can play a key role in promoting sustainable food habits for the future.
Whether you have started initiatives such as these – or are about to – as food procurement experts, allmanhall are on hand to provide advice. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Sources: K. Richardson, Professor at the University of Copenhagen: https://www.coursera.org/learn/transformation-global-food-system
Developing Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, Meek, K. 2020.