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What is sustainable food?

Which foods are sustainable? And what is sustainable food production really? These are some of the issues we address in this series of articles on sustainability in behavior and food. Among other things, we must look at which specific foods are most CO2-friendly – both in terms of production and processing. Let’s get started.

Before we really get started, we need to do a shout-out for Sustainable Food Week, which Foodjob Nordic arranges in collaboration with the big danisj food companies around sustainability. Sustainability is linked to sustainable food because it has become one of the most important elements that food companies need to talk about and pay attention to. The food companies’ business strategy is partly legitimized precisely by how they think sustainability and act sustainably in all of their supply chains and thus also in the consumer’s shopping basket and on their dinner table.

We must avoid unnecessary CO2 emissions

Sustainable food is one of the most talked-about topics when it comes to our behavior nowadays. There are many issues that are raised in this context. One of the biggest is whether we should to a greater extent switch to a vegetarian diet – that is, completely avoid meat in our daily lives. It is based on numbers showing that cows in particular and the meat from the cows emit far more CO2 than in any other food produced. In addition, more animal ethical issues and considerations must also be taken into account. For example, is it ethically justifiable to kill animals and then eat them, since they are other living beings?

Our moral principles are thus put to the test to a greater extent when we are confronted with facts, but also a basic human instinct to act morally right when CO2-friendly food and climate awareness are brought to the fore. Because how should I act if I want to both reduce C02 emissions and at the same time have the animals feel good?

Some find a middle ground and only eat meat once in a while. Others will only eat meat where the animal has been treated properly, given organic feed, etc. We will alle be faced with these decisions in the coming years. The most important thing, however, is to look at how much CO2 the food actually emits, so that we can make a sustainable decision on an objective basis and act sustainably based on it.

Meat emits the most CO2 per kg.

Below are the largest emissions of CO2 per kg. of the foods concerned:

Data from: Ourworldindata.org

See more data here: OurWorldinData.org

Sustainable food uses fewer resources and less transportation

As can be seen, meat is at the top of the table of emitted CO2 per kg. food. The figures are found by looking at how much agriculture and indirect land use (ILUC) is used to produce food. In addition, the processing of the food. It also means that the more resources the food needs, the less sustainable a food is. We must now turn our attention to sustainable foods that emit significantly less CO2.

Sustainable food emits less CO2

If we look at the second spectrum of foods, what they emit of C02 is completely different:

See more data (in english): denstoreklimadatabase.dk

The most sustainable foods are raw vegetables. These are first and foremost local, but also those that require the least processing (and transportation if they are local). In other words, the only CO2 they emit is the one that is naturally produced and emitted from the earth. It is e.g. by fertilizing and irrigating vegetables and fruits.

One of the most sustainable food is cabbage

Particularly sustainable is cabbage. In fact, it applies to virtually all types of cabbage, both savoy cabbage, kale, white cabbage, red cabbage, etc. In addition to being particularly sustainable, cabbage is part of an anti-inflammatory diet, it strengthens the immune system, digestion, and detoxification of the body. In addition, cabbage also prevents us from cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.

The good thing about cabbage in Denmark is that we can produce it at many different times of the year and then they are extra good, especially as a seasonal product in the autumn and late summer.

Besides cabbage, root vegetables and onions are some of the most sustainable foods available. They can also be produced in large numbers in Denmark.

What is our view on sustainable food? – Two segments, in particular, are prominent

What theoretically is the most sustainable food – as opposed to how we actually act towards emitting less CO2 – is a real and exciting issue. Sure, there are some foods that on paper are sustainable, but in reality, we do not buy them, despite the fact that we want to be more sustainable.

In the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC) report from 2020: “Analysis of the Danes’ views on climate and sustainability” there are two segments in particular whose intentions and values ​​are interesting for the food industry’s future work. These are the segments that have:

  • Focus on natural, organic, and local Danish foods.
  • Focus on more vegetables and legumes in the food.

There is thus a general focus on trends such as – from farm to fork – and sustainable foods that have been transported at a short distance and grown locally in Denmark or close to Denmark. So it is with a focus on being self-sufficient, but also with a focus on sustainable foods in vegetables and legumes that contain many good nutrients and important types of vitamins for our general health.

Real intentions and personal values ​​when buying sustainable food

Focus on buying and consuming local foods as well as sustainable foods are part of several different issues that consumers will be faced within the coming years.  Some of the main reasons why we form our views on sustainable food production is the idea of ​​animal welfare, something that has progressed significantly in the immediate consciousness of many. It goes very well along the lines concerning our increased focus on vegetables and other local foods.

Is too much sustainable food a burden for the climate?

Sustainable food is good per se – seen from a sustainability perspective – but is too much sustainable food actually a burden for our climate? Just as overconsumption, in general, is a burden for the climate. It is difficult to answer as we do not have any data on it at all. Worth keeping in mind is that any overconsumption does something to our climate. What we as consumers have to deal with is – in that case – to consume less, to consume in a “climate-sound” or climate-virtuous manner, and to eat in appropriate quantities. It will also solve many societal diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and many other challenges for the general public health.