The world is currently more interconnected than it has ever been. And that is great for food, as people internationally can enjoy cuisines that they never could have before. But are these increasingly popularised cuisines and ingredients sustainable? And if not, can they be replaced with sustainable substitutes? 

 

1. Avocados

Avocados are extremely popular. From spreading smashed avocado on toast, to using them in smoothies, they seem to be used in just about everything! However, we should probably re-think some of the love that avocados are receiving. According to e-CSR, a media platform that covers environmental issues, avocados have a substantial environmental impact. This is due to a couple of reasons.

Firstly, avocados are single-crop fruits. This means that they are grown on the same land over and over again. This can lead to fewer nutrients in the soil, and make it more susceptible to disease. This also makes it more likely that pesticides and fertilisers are used. (For reasons why this is bad for the environment, go to this post about organic and biodynamic farming.)

They also have extremely high food miles. According to the Global Development Research Centre, food miles are:

…the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user.The more food miles that attach to a given food, the less sustainable and the less environmentally desirable that food is.

According to new research commissioned by food tech company It’s Fresh!, an average pack of just two avocados has an emissions footprint of 846.37g CO₂. For context, a kilogram of bananas is only 480g of CO₂, and a single banana is only 80g CO₂. Avocados also have a carbon footprint three times the size of a large cappuccino (235g CO₂). This is because avocados are mainly grown in the Southern hemisphere in countries such as Chile, Peru, or South Africa, and are flown thousands of miles to the UK.

Avocado with vinaigrette and crispy bacon

Avocado with vinaigrette and crispy bacon

So, what foods can be substituted for avocado? If it’s a creamy paste that you’re looking for, pesto might work well. We have a delicious recipe for a traditional pesto, as well as a couple of ideas of how to change it up. And if you’re looking for guacamole, you can find many different recipes for spring pea guacamole. This drastically reduces food miles, as spring peas can be grown in the UK. 

 

 

2. Almonds

At the moment one of the most popular lactose-free alternatives is almond milk. It’s easy to see why – it has a lovely nutty flavour and it is nearly as creamy as cow’s milk. However you might want to think again before you go pouring it into your morning coffee. 

Almond production takes up a lot of water. According to the New York Times, most of the world’s almonds are grown in California, a state which has experienced drought since 2011. The University of California San Francisco’s Office of Sustainability explains that it takes around 15 gallons of water to produce only 16 almonds, which makes the almond tree one of the heaviest water-using plants. 

almonds at the mercado de san miguel

almonds at the mercado de san miguel

An alternative to almond milk is pea milk. This fits the bill in many different ways, as it is vegan, nut free, soy free, lactose free and gluten free. Pea milk is made by separating the pea protein from pea fibres, purifying the pea protein, and blending it with water, sunflower oil, and vitamins. It’s preservative-free, a natural source of vitamin B12, and, thankfully, tastes nothing like peas. It also has less water consumption than almonds. There are a couple pea milks that can be found in the UK, such as Sproud

 

 

3. Sugar

Many of us are trying to cut down our sugar intake for our personal health. However, there are many other reasons why we should perhaps be reaching for sugar alternatives. 145 million tonnes of sugar are produced in 121 countries each year. And according to a report by the World Wild Fund, this has had a large impact on human health in a variety of ways.

For example, in the Gorakhpur district of Nepal, pollution from sugar factories has led vital water streams unfit for drinking, bathing, or irrigation. The increased use of pesticides has also led to harmful results: 

The negative impacts of pesticide use on human health are considerable; the WHO estimates that there are 25 million cases of acute chemical poisoning in developing countries each year related to pesticide use in agriculture. 

Air pollution is another problem that has been escalated by the growth of sugarcane. Elevated levels of carbon monoxide and ozone in the atmosphere have also been found around sugarcane fields in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

Of course, sugar has also aggravated environmental issues, too. The growth of sugarcane has led to the deforestation of new areas in Brazil, now meaning that only 3% of the original rain forest cover remains. And large areas of the Florida Everglades have been given over to cane cultivation, leading to dramatic declines in biodiversity as well as habitat loss. 

So, what could act as an alternative to sugar? Well, there’s always honey! It’s much easier to get local honey than local sugar. As discussed above, using local ingredients cuts down on food miles. And in this case, supporting local beekeepers will also assist with the environment, too! Bees are pollinators, which means that as they go from flower to flower, they transfer pollen, allowing plants to grow. Michael Schacker, author of the book A Spring Without Bees, explains:

Today there are 250,000 species of flowering plants and trees, providing most of the crops and ornamentals we depend on. Of those plants, 130,000 rely on insects, mostly 20,000 species of bees, to ensure reproduction.  Bees are thus essential to biodiversity, a main indicator of health of an ecosystem.

Two delicious British companies that you could buy from are the Miod Raw Honey Co and The Scottish Bee Company. They are both committed to sustainable beekeeping and assisting with the growth of the UK’s bee populations. 

If you’re interested in sourcing food and drink from Miod Raw Honey Co or The Scottish Bee Company, you can find them on our food service platform, Tried and Supplied.

Iain and Suzie Millar, founders of The Scottish Bee Co

 

4. Bananas

Finally, we might want to re-think our consumption of one of Britain’s favourite fruits – the banana. New food waste research from Karlstad University in Sweden reveals that bananas are the most-wasted produce item in supermarkets. This is in part due to the industry itself, as standards currently require bananas to be green during shipment and distribution. Any bananas that have ripened in transit are unsaleable, and are wasted. 

However, consumers are also partly to blame. According to The Guardian, Britons throw away 1.4 m perfectly edible bananas every single day. Part of the reason behind this is because people tend to only eat spotless yellow bananas. This is a problem, because they’re actually edible from the time when they’re bright green to when they’re completely black. (Dark bananas are actually sweeter than yellow ones, too.) This lack of knowledge not only leads to £80m worth of bananas being wasted, but causes bananas to produce the highest wasted mass for grocers and supermarkets. 

There’s also the problem of the lack of biodiversity. Despite the fact that there are over 1,000 different banana cultivars (varieties produced by selective breeding), 99% of global banana exports and nearly half of all cultivated bananas are Cavendish bananas. This lack of crop diversity has caused bananas to be prone to disease. This is a serious problem, as this is exactly what happened to the previous ruling banana cultivar, Gros Michel. It was the predominant type of banana for over 100 years, but in the 1950s, nearly all of them were wiped out by a fungus borne disease called Panama Disease. Unfortunately, this is happening again, and in August 2019 Colombia declared a state of emergency to to the return of Panama Disease. This is a worrying development, not only for people who eat bananas, but also for those who grow them. This is because:

Colombia is the fourth-biggest banana exporter in Latin America, and it is the country’s third-most valuable agricultural export. 

Clearly this disease will lead to considerable financial insecurity for everyone who relies on bananas for their livelihood. 

 

So the next time you’re in the supermarket, weighing up what you want to eat for dinner, make sure you take a hard look at where your ingredients are coming from, and whether a particular dish is worth the environmental impact that it may have. 

 

 

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