In pursuit of adventure, travel and the natural world...

Friday, 15 August 2014

How bad are bananas?

I recently read a book by Mike Berners-Lee which looks at the carbon footprint of lots of things, starting from the small stuff (sending a text message) and ending with the earth shattering stuff (war). One thing that struck me the most was the carbon footprint of some of the foods I was consuming.

I've changed a lot of my day-to-day habits after reading this book and I wanted to share some of the more interesting food related references that are touched upon (because let's face it, we all love to talk about food). 

10 facts you should know about the food you eat 

1. So lets start with the blog post namesake - how bad are bananas? 

Actually not that bad at all. And here's why… 

  • A banana has 80g CO2e each 
  • They are packed with nutrition, including vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre, and are a healthy boost of energy 
  • They are grown in natural sunlight and therefore do not require hot housing 
  • They keep well so although they are not grown locally, they are transported by boats (which is about 1% as bad as flying) 
  • There is hardly any packaging because they provide their own 

Just make sure you're buying the fair-trade version. And don't let any go to waste. If you have a brown speckly banana then I recommend you peel it, put a skewer or chopstick through the middle, and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. Then ta da…you've got a delicious banana ice lolly (I do this a lot and trust me, they taste heavenly). 

2. Oranges 

An orange has 90g CO2e each or 1kg CO2e each if it is air freighted for the start of the season 

Make sure you only buy oranges when they're in season (between January and March) as the out of season stuff can be air freighted rather than transported by boats. 

Choose the fruit over the juice - production of the juice is often inefficient with the pulp going to waste, procession emissions, packaging, transport miles and refrigeration. 

3. Strawberries 

A punnet of strawberries has 150g CO2e when grown in season in your own country. 

A punnet of strawberries has 1.8kg CO2e when grown out of season and flown or grown in a hot house. 

That's quite a difference - the out of season stuff has more than ten times the footprint of the naturally grown version! Read the packaging and always check that the fruit has been grown in your own country - otherwise buy yourself a pack of fair-trade bananas instead.

And again, don't waste any of the fruit - if its starting to turn then stick it in a blender and have a strawberry smoothie. Or freeze them and use them at a later date. 

Strawberries are in season June and July. 

 4. Carrots 

1kg of carrots has 0.25kg CO2e if grown locally and in season 

1kg of carrots has 1kg of CO2e if they are shipped baby carrots 

If you opt for the local seasonal veg, these are a healthy and climate friendly option. Seasonal carrots have a small carbon footprint because they are grown in natural conditions, don't require artificial heat, and don't go on aeroplanes. 

What you do to prepare the carrot will increase its carbon footprint. For example, if you boil it for ten minutes you need to add a few more grams to the footprint. Its best to just munch on a fresh and crunchy raw carrot - great for dipping - as this also has the most nutritional value. 

Carrots have been around for about 5,000 years and were originally grown for medicinal use. They are a good source of vitamin A and you can get more than 200% of your daily allowance from just one carrot. 

A carrot a day… 

5. Porridge

A bowl of porridge has 82g of CO2e if you choose the traditional Scottish type and have it with water 

A bowl of porridge has 300g of CO2e when made half with milk 

A bowl of porridge has 550g of CO2e when filled with milk and sugar 

These measurements are based on the porridge being cooked on the stove. 

Oats are an awesome healthy low-carbon breakfast option. They are nutritional, they fill you up, reduce cholesterol, support your digestive system, and can even give you better skin. 

So far these have all been pretty carbon-friendly options, but lets see what foods don't fare so well in the climate fight. 

6. Ice cream

A 60g ice lolly has 50g of CO2e, if its eaten on the day of purchase

A dairy ice cream from the ice cream man has 500g of CO2e.

This ones a no-brainer - an ice lolly is just frozen sugary water. Further up the scale is the creamy dairy filled cone with a flake. This one obviously has the bigger impact - it's dairy based. You have to account for all the inefficiency of livestock farming. 

If you have the willpower, go for a refreshing lemonade lolly. Better for the planet and the waistline. 

7. Dairy milk

A pint of milk has 723g of CO2e.

It's a high carbon product because it comes from a cow. Cows play a big part in releasing bad gases into the atmosphere. They waste more energy through keeping warm and walking around than they do creating meat and milk. Cows also burp up methane - this doubles the footprint of the food they produce.

There are a lot of people saying that the livestock industry is one of the biggest causes of climate change. For more on that, check out this website

The carbon footprint of milk includes not only what takes place on the farm, but also transport, packaging and refrigeration.

There are lots of alternatives to milk that are much more climate friendly - soya milk, almond milk, rice milk - and also a lot more healthy. These are becoming more and more popular and are now more widely available in shops.

There is an issue with soya driving deforestation, but this isn't from human consumption. Most of the worlds soya is fed to cows. 

8. Asparagus

A 250g pack of asparagus that is local and seasonal has 125g CO2e

A 250g pack of asparagus that is air freighted from Peru to the UK in January has 1.3kg of CO2e

When 1kg of produce is being moved, a mile by air has more than 100 times the climate impact of a mile by sea. This is because it takes a lot of energy to keep a plane in the air.

Locally grown asparagus cuts about 97% of the footprint compared to the overseas type.

You should also eat asparagus within 48 hours of harvesting for the best taste.

Air freighted food is NOT sustainable and more than likely, it never will be.

Be responsible and buy local or shipped produce. The following foods are likely to be air freighted if they are bought out of season:

  • Baby corn
  • Baby carrots
  • Mangetout
  • Green beans
  • Fine beans
  • Okra
  • Shelled peas
  • Lettuces
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

For more information on when fruit and veg is seasonal, check out this table.

Low carbon options to eat instead include kale, carrots, parsnips, swedes and leeks. 

9. Trout

Tinned trout has 5.9kg of CO2e

Fresh or frozen trout has 6.9kg of CO2e

Fish is healthier and more carbon friendly than meat. Unfortunately, most of our fish stocks are getting dangerously depleted. People are taking more fish from the ocean than can be replaced by those remaining.

WWF have said that unless something is done about the current state of unsustainable fishing, then all the oceans fish stock will be gone by 2048.

The Marine Conservation Society has a fish purchasing guide, which tells you fish sustainability ratings and what to avoid. 

10. Lamb

A leg of lamb has 38kg of CO2e

This footprint includes transport, basic processing, refrigeration and packaging. The reasons for this having a high footprint are similar to that of the cow - they release a lot of methane. And typically they have a higher footprint than beef.

It has been realised that livestock in general is causing the planet quite a few problems. The industry is a bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions than all the worlds planes, trains and automobiles combined.

If you want to buy meat then try to do it less and buy responsibly. And remember that red meat is the worst offender.

If you want to read more on this have a look at this article.

If you have got this far, thank you for taking the time to read this 

Climate change and sustainability is by far the biggest problem facing the planet and population, whether they acknowledge this or not.

Some ways you might improve your eating habits is to buy local produce. I get veg and fruit deliveries from Abel and Cole.

I recently watched an incredible documentary called An Inconvenient Truth. If you haven't already seen it and you are interested in climate change issues then check it out. I got a copy off eBay for about £3. I'm going to lend it to any global warming sceptics I encounter.

I'm going to sign off with a quote by Winston Churchill…

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences."