Eating in a Net Zero Future
UK Research and Innovation
In this article, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) looks at what eating trends could look like in a Net Zero future.
Image credit: Jennifer Schmidt
Over 45 years after the publication of the milestone book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, it seems that a greener, more ethical and sustainable diet has finally become more normalised.
Unlike in 1975, there is no more denying that our diet has an important impact on our environment, that red meat has a particularly high carbon footprint (source), that lobster, octopus and crabs are sentient beings (source), and that we need to cut some of our diet’s carbon footprint if we want to reach our net zero future.
Add to this Veganuary, a growing number of people adopting veganism, and carbon labelling in food and drinks, and there is no surprise that vegetarian, vegan and more sustainable diets are on the rise. According to a survey by Deliveroo, 1 in 5 Brits will eat meat-free meals this Christmas! (source).
Peter must be proud. But what does this rapid U-turn in Western diets mean for the climate emergency? What about the other changes that need to be made such as eating more locally grown food, more in-season veggies, reducing the single-use packaging on our food or reducing waste? What will our plate look like in our not so distant net zero future?
With an emphasis towards more sustainable choices – such as plant-based proteins – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has visualised how we could eat in a Net Zero future.
Every step of a more sustainable diet should contribute positively toward society whilst also helping nature recover from human consumption demands.
The Impact of Agriculture
The agricultural industry is a huge contributor to global warming and subsequently, reducing our carbon footprint in this industry becomes increasingly important with climate change looming large over us all. The production of greenhouse gas emissions in this sector alone contributes significantly more than other sectors – so reducing those numbers is essential to protect our planet.
The recently published National Food Strategy, an independent review carried out for the UK government, breaks this down for us;
- Agriculture – especially beef farming – is still the main cause of land-use change, including tropical deforestation.
- Farming, hunting and fishing are the principal causes of species decline in Europe.
- Global farming productivity is already 21% lower than it could have been without climate change.
- The UK’s land footprint for food is 140% of the size of the UK.
- Around 50% of Earth’s habitable land is used for agriculture, of which 77% is used to graze animals or to produce crops to feed animals.
- The global mass of farm animals is now 22 times heavier than all wild animals combined.
Protecting our Planet with Plant-Based Foods
In order to reduce our carbon footprint, it is crucial that we use the resources of Earth wisely. The biggest reductions will come from sourcing and buying local foods and limiting the animal products we consume in favour of more vegetarian or plant-based meals.
According to World Meat-Free Week, a company of 500 people choosing veggie for just one meal saves;
- The global warming potential equivalent of driving a car 5,059 kilometres
- The equivalent of 12 years of water use for 1 person
- The daily recommended calories of 18 men
How Could our Favourite Dishes be Changed by the Climate Crisis?
The research supported by UKRI has found that Net Zero Eating can help us reduce our carbon emissions without sacrificing healthy eating patterns. Cleaner eating will not only help save space for nature but also ensure our environmental footprint doesn’t add unnecessary stress onto the world around us.
Breaking Down the Nations’ Favourites
This is how UKRI has visualised our favourite meals in 2030…
Net Zero Burger
Plant or Insect-Based Burger
In 2030 we could be eating low emission insect burgers! Insects require less space, water and 12-25 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein. Funded by Innovate UK, Bug Farm Foods has created VEXo – a minced meat replacement made from insects with over 80% reduced saturated fat content and other health benefits.
In 2030, we could be eating more sourdough. The benefits of sourdough bread are plenty as it is one the most sustainable options with no chemical fertilisers used in producing commercial wheat and yeast needed for the homemade dough to grow.
In 2030, we could be eating longer-lasting salad leaves. Research shows that reducing water use by 20% when growing salad results in smaller and tougher leaves, meaning a longer shelf life.
Net Zero Fish and Chips
In 2030, we could be eating lab-grown fish. Blockchain technology will help give consumers more visibility into where their food comes from and their sustainability levels. Start-up Wild Type is developing salmon products using cellular agriculture – removing the need for fishing or farming.
In 2030, we could be eating more seasonal or dried vegetables. Increased UK veg production will allow us to eat home-grown veg all year-round and dry imported peas have less impact than fresh, as they are transported by sea or road rather than air.
In 2030, we could be eating engineered potato crops to reduce waste. A Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI) project successfully integrated host resistance and fungicides to protect potato crops and reduce the need for pesticides. The project also used genetic engineering techniques to reduce pre-and post-harvest losses in potatoes.
Net Zero Full English
Low-Emission Fed Hens
In 2030, hens could be fed more sustainable feed. Alternative feeds such as Lemna (duckweed) can reduce the carbon footprint of eggs.
Sustainably Fed Pork
In 2030 we could be eating more sustainably fed pork. Swapping to more sustainable pig feed made from locally available waste products will reduce the carbon impact of pork.
In 2030 we could be eating ozone-protected fruit. New research funded by NERC shows that ozone can protect fruit like tomatoes from decay for weeks after exposure – leading to less waste.
Net Zero Sunday Roast
Smaller Portions of Meat
In 2030 cows could be wearing emission-blocking masks and we could be eating smaller portions of beef. UK company Zelp has created a burp-catching mask for cows designed to reduce methane emissions from cattle by 60%. Although methane inhibitors in feed could reduce impact by around 30%, meat and in particular, beef, is one of the highest impact foods.
In 2030 we could be eating faster-growing veg. Controlled-environment agriculture allows veg to be grown where it’s needed year-round.
Innovative Potato Packaging
In 2030, innovative packaging could reduce potato waste. Research funded by BBSRC shows that new packaging that delays greening in potatoes by blocking certain wavelengths of light could help reduce the number of potatoes thrown away.
A Greener Future
By changing our behaviour and expectations to make greener, more sustainable food choices, we can all be part of the UK’s Net Zero initiative.
Cambridge Cleantech members are playing a pivotal role in promoting sustainable food practices, including the following initiatives;
- Goodery – the local online grocery store on a mission to care for people and the planet.
- Street Food Box – the only infinitely reusable fold flat, super compact and convenient food-to-go box, revolutionising how we think about the future of food-to-go packaging.
- Switch Up Your Lunch – Our sister organisation Oxfordshire Greentech co-founded a very successful campaign called Switch Up Your Lunch, asking businesses to opt for one plant-based meal one day of the year. Find more about #SwitchUpYourLunch.
Eat well and stay safe in 2022.