10 questions to ask yourself when greening your diet | WWF South Africa

10 questions to ask yourself when greening your diet

Posted on 06 May 2016
Human diets have changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10 000 years.
© WWF / Diego M Garces
What does it mean to green your diet and how will it benefit you? Find out with WWF-SA's Tatjana von Bormann as she tackles 10 key questions.

1. Where do you buy the bulk of your food?
We’ve come to think of food as something straight from the grocery store instead of bounty from the careful stewardship of land and sea.

To think differently, you have to start at the source. Ask your local restaurants and stores where they get their food, particularly fresh produce, meat and dairy. From this you can find out how it’s grown, raised and processed.

The more you know, the more empowered and informed you become.

Buying from farmers’ markets and farm stalls are an easy way to start buying local and guilt-free. Fresh, seasonal food from local farmers supports the local economy, is more nutritious and avoids pollution caused by transporting food.

​2. How often do you eat meat?
Most livestock production threatens global biodiversity through land use changes and degradation, greenhouse gases, consumption of water and transmission of diseases.These impacts can, in some cases, form a chain of environmental damage that spans the globe.

Globally, livestock produce 22% of methane emissions – more than any other human-related activity. One third of global cereal and grain supply and protein supplements are used to feed cattle, dramatically reducing what’s available for human consumption. A significant amount of land is used for livestock.

Water used for crops and animal drinking, pollution from livestock and feed grain production seriously impact freshwater supply.

In SA, as elsewhere in the world, overgrazing has eroded land, leading to reduced vegetation diversity. More than 75% of SA’s beef is raised in a feedlot or factory farm. If you care about clean water and soil, choose your meat carefully. If a factory farm, where animals are raised in confined conditions is poorly managed it can result in animal waste poisoning the air, soil and water around them.

3.When eating meat, do you consider grass-fed, free-range and predator-friendly?
Negative impacts of meat production can be mitigated to some extent through better farming practices and responsible consumption. Better practices are being actively pursued in SA and many retailers are in the process of implementing stringent guidelines.

Look out for grass-fed or free range labels on meat and if in doubt as to the validity of the label ask the retailer for more information.

As some livestock farmers use lethal trapping methods to eradicate predators. In recent years efforts have been made to reduce this conflict through the introduction of non-lethal alternatives to predator management.

Meat production is a major contributor to climate change.​

4. Do you consider organic, sustainability and seasonal when buying food?
Intensive farming has many negative impacts on the natural environment, people’s wellbeing and farmer’s ability to adapt to change. Overuse of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides reduces long-term soil fertility, causes soil erosion, pollutes water supplies, poisons fragile ecosystems, exposes farmers and farm workers to toxins and contributes to climate change. If you care about biodiversity, endangered species and farm labour conditions look for food that was farmed with environmental and social standards in place.

Eating seasonally not only helps reduce transport emissions but also ensure a much more delicious experience when the produce is at its peak in terms of nutritional value and flavour.

Cooking with your family and friends is an ideal way to establish a healthy approach to food. If you’re shopping at the farmer’s markets, there no microwaveable foods on offer so you have to cook it. Involve children in the task it will help instil a love for cooking and they are more likely to eat something they have helped prepare.

5. Do you grow anything yourself?
The ideal way to reclaim your stake in what you eat is to start your own vegetable garden. There’s nothing fresher than your own grown food! If you have children, be sure to involve them in this project and help them understand where their food really comes from.

6. How often do you eat highly processed food (like chips, ready-made meals)?
“Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” says author Michael Pollan, in his book Rules for Eating. Wise words for the people of the US, a nation bombarded by over $36 billion in food-marketing dollars ($10 billion directed to kids alone). The messages are for all sorts of new fangled foods and convenience meals.

Those aren't foods, quite; they're food products. Margarine is another such product – initially dyed pink so that it was not mistaken as food. But for years it was promoted as the healthy alternative to butter – not so anymore thanks to new understandings of trans fats.

Another reason to eat fewer processed foods is that together packaging and processing siphon off more energy than any other activity in the food chain.

Growing your own food is still top choice.

7. How often to you buy bottle water?
It can take up to three litres of ‘natural’ water to produce one litre of bottled water; this in a water-stressed country like South Africa is not a sustainable solution, where supply is likely to exceed demand by 2025. If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: the price of bottled water is 500 to 1000 times that of tap water!

Another reason to avoid bottled water and fizzy drinks is that plastic bottles are an ever mounting environmental blight around our cities. Over 90% of the pollution on South Africa’s beaches is plastic.

8. Do you look for the Conservation Champions sticker on South African wine?
Over 95% of our wine is produced in the area known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. One of six such plant kingdoms in the world, it is the smallest and the richest, with 70% of the plants found here, not found anywhere else on earth. Today, thanks to the WWF Conservation Champions, South African wines lead the world in production integrity and environmental sustainability. Now South Africa’s discerning wine drinker play a role in protecting this precious natural heritage by choosing wines with Conservation Champions sticker or from champion farms on this list: wwf.org.za/conservationandwine

9. When buying seafood do you consider the SASSI list?
There is growing scientific consensus that our oceans are in crisis. Six of the ten most popular linefish in South Africa are classified as collapsed. In the past the inaccessibility of our oceans and fish stocks provided a level of de facto protection. This has changed as increased demand for seafood and technological advances have literally stripped our oceans bare. 

It costs nothing to opt for the fish on the SASSI Green list but it does require informed choices. SASSI has developed a colour-coded species list. Fish are grouped into three categories: Green (healthy, relatively well managed species); Orange (legal, but there is reason for concern because of depleted populations, biological vulnerability or severe impacts of the fishery on the environment) and Red (illegal to sell in South Africa).  The lists are available in wallet-sized cards and in SMS form, called “FishMS”.  Simply by sending the name of a fish to 079 499 8795 you can receive an instant response regarding the species’ status.  Learn more at http://wwfsassi.co.za/

10. How much food do you estimate is wasted in your home each week?
As much as a third of our food is wasted between the field and our homes. While most of this food waste is due to poor management in the supply chain we, as consumers, also have a role to play in limiting the amount we waste.

Aim to buy just enough and adopt a discipline of using what you have before buying more.

Throwing out five teaspoons of milk has more negative environmental consequences (because of the impacts at a farm level) than throwing away the empty milk bottle.

With the SASSI app, making informed choices has never been easier.
With the SASSI app, making informed choices has never been easier.
Human diets have changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10 000 years.
© WWF / Diego M Garces Enlarge
Eating seasonally not only helps reduce transport emissions but also ensures a much more delicious experience when the produce is at its peak in terms of nutritional value and flavour.
© Global Warming Images/WWF Enlarge
The ideal way to reclaim your stake in what you eat is to start your own organic garden.
© Karim Schermbrucker Enlarge