Want to make a real difference to the environment? Learn about these common foods that hurt the planet – and what you can eat instead
By Diane Small
By now, we all know that everything’s connected. What’s good for your body is good for the planet. Well, usually.
Unfortunately, your favourite foods may well be destroying natural habitats and wasting resources shipping them around the world.
Food waste company BusinessWaste.co.uk says that our desire for cheap seasonal goods year-round is partly to blame for ecological disasters, as well as the exploitation of farm workers.
“We didn’t think we’d be lecturing people about being an ethical consumer when we started this company,” say BusinessWaste.co.uk founder Mark Hall, “but changing people’s behaviour for a better world is at the very core of what we do.”
We asked Business Waste for some help to know which common foods hurt the planet the most, and boy, were we surprised!
In some cases, we’ve decided to stop buying those foods, even if they’re good for us. In others, we’ll plant them ourselves, or buy more locally.
Ready to learn about common foods that hurt the planet, and why they’re so bad? Read on!
10 Common Foods That Hurt The Planet
Sure, avos are filled with healthy fats, fibre and vitamins. And they taste great smashed on toast! But unless you live in a delightfully warm climate, chances are these fruits are coming to you from a long way away. What that means, for example, is a single avocado transported to the UK has an environmental footprint equivalent to 423g of CO2. Whoa! And that’s before we consider the 2,000 tonnes of water needed to grow a tonne of avocados.
Instead: There’s really no avo alternative. See these as a treat, rather than your daily staple.
2. Cane Sugar
Sugar is basically in everything. It’s in bread, tomato sauce, sushi…even some facial scrubs! It may seem like the most natural thing in the world, but check this out: it’s one of the most common foods that hurt the planet. Why? Well, The World Wildlife Fund says sugar production leads to massive marine animal deaths as sludge gets into freshwater bodies! That’s mainly because all the pesticides used in the farming process poisons beneficial insects, plants, and farmers alike. Think about that before your next Frappuccino!
Instead: Use Stevia. Or if you really must eat sugar, go for organic.
Cows fart, a lot. And that’s always been bad news for a) anybody downwind and b) the environment. In fact, they produce sixty kilos of greenhouse gasses per kilo of beef produced. Not just CO2, but also CH4, otherwise known as methane. And let’s not even get into the cruelty of cattle farming… So it seems pretty obvious why beef is one of the most common foods that hurt the planet.
Instead: Go vegan!
We love strawberries so much, we want them all year round. That means having to fly in tonnes of chilled strawberries from warmer countries out of season. Think about all the energy that flying and chilling takes! Enormous. But that’s not the worst part! Insects love berries as much as we do. So farmers spray the living hell out of them with pesticides. Since the skin of the berry is so thin, the chemicals get absorbed all the way into the fruit; you can’t wash them off. They’re killing beneficial insects, birds and bees, and are harming your health, too. And did I mention that kilometres of plastic are used to cover the roots of the berries in most cases? Worst fruit for the planet, EVER!
Instead: Grow your own! You can easily do so indoors.
5. Palm oil
Palm oil is a common ingredient in many of our favourite foods – cakes, cookies, Nutella, you name it. But the problem is that palm oil farms are responsible for wiping out entire rainforests, driving native orangutans to extinction. Somebody has to stand up for the trees and these poor animals! Shun anything that contains palm oil, always. See also: Soya, another of the most common foods that hurt the planet.
Instead: There are tons of alternatives to this oil. Avoid it like the plague!
6. Tea & Coffee
Many can’t function in the morning without a daily dose of caffeine. But you probably never think about clearing of land, use of pesticides, pollution, deforestation, and extinction of animals due to habitat destruction when it comes to cultivating coffee and tea. But you should, because these are serious issues.
Instead: Buy only Fair Trade and organic tea and coffee. Or maybe make your own herbal infusions with fresh ginger, lemongrass, or yerba mate.
OH GOD NO. But yes. Just like coffee, above, chocolate is destructive to the planet. But there’s another thing you should know: children are often used to pick cacao. Which doesn’t seem like such a terrible job, until you consider those fruits are drenched in pesticides, which the kids touch.
Instead: Buy only Fair Trade and organic chocolate
As you probably know, fish is another of those foods that hurt the planet. Mainly because overfishing is wrecking our seas and their complex ecosystems. And then there’s the global journey that some products take to the processing plant and back. It’s all absolute madness! Given all the contaminants in the oceans, fish isn’t even a healthy food anymore, anyway. Tragic.
Instead: If you really must eat fish, go fishing yourself. Otherwise, try vegan alternatives.
Is a human right. But sold across the world in plastic bottles? Has humanity gone totally mad? Yes. Yes it has. There’s simply no excuse for buying plastic bottles of water anymore.
Instead: Get a good water filter for your house. Fill up a reusable bottle with that filtered water each day, and take that with you instead.
10. Bagged Salads
Almost certainly grown under lights a long sea journey away from your local supermarket, it’s far better to buy the raw ingredients and do it yourself. According to Business Waste, bagged salads are also our most thrown away food item.
Instead: Grow your own lettuces at home. It’s easy, and you can take only what you need from the living plant. It will last for ages, and you’ll have salad on demand!
We’ve become used to global trade and getting whatever we want, when we want. And we’ve reached this stage without thinking seriously about the damage we’re doing in achieving this luxurious lifestyle, says Business Waste. This is no longer sustainable. We need to radically change our eating habits, and consider growing some food ourselves, if we want this planet to survive.