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How much does the impact of your diet weigh on your carbon footprint? How can you eat more sustainably? How to make an informed choice at the supermarket? And is there such a thing as sustainable food?

All of these questions seem overwhelming at the start but can easily be addressed with a bit of research and new habits. In the following text, I’ve tried to give you my take on some of these questions of sustainability without any guarantee of completeness. It’s a hot topic where many of us agree or disagree, however, there are three inescapable things we should all agree on when it comes down to a more sustainable way of living: reduce, reuse, recycle.

If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, start off any culinary idea with checking your regional fruit and vegetable calendar first.

Put seasonal and regional before the recipe

It’s always sunny in southern California, but we live in Switzerland…
Remember that awesome dish you had at a dinner party 3 months ago? I completely understand that you want to replicate it and show your guests your cooking prowess. However, if you had the dish in June and now it’s November, you might want to adjust the recipe and consider different ingredients. Each season has its specific array of produce, so start by putting this concept first. Don’t just take a recipe and go shopping without having consulted a seasonal calendar to find out what’s freshly available. Everybody knows that there are no strawberries in January and that you can’t get asparagus in September; these are just some of the many products that you can buy more or less all year round that nature did not intend to be always in season. This entitled demand for out-of-season produce is not helping the growing carbon footprint.

Shopping at the local market will provide you with mostly regional products that are in season but if you don’t have time or it is just more convenient to go to a supermarket, then take some time to study the “where from” label. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, start off any culinary idea by checking your regional fruit and vegetable calendar first. Finding basics that can be easily stored all year round is no problem but maybe you didn’t want to buy the apples that are stored in a cold warehouse for months that consume a lot of energy. Just check before shopping for the products that are available right now. Get your recipes in the right seasonal order (winter, spring, summer, fall). Don’t start with a fancy recipe that looks and sounds good, start with the fancy, fresh and local products that nature intended you to get hold of!

sustainable food cutting tomatoes during the summer

Choose your devil

“The dose makes the poison” – Paracelsus. Let’s add some content and context to this important quote. Every type of diet has an impact on the planet in some shape and form, however, you can choose how big it is. The average European consumes about 65kg of meat per year which equals 1.25kg a week. The production of meat, especially beef, and lamb, leads to the most greenhouse gases and has a drastic impact on deforestation and water use. On the other hand, the production of soybeans (used mostly as cattle feed) and palm oil (now found in most processed foods) are the second and third reasons for rainforest deforestation. Even the production of healthy foods such as nuts, quinoa, and avocados has negative environmental impacts since they are often produced under questionable circumstances.

So are we all doomed to adapt photosynthesis to have a liveable planet in the future? No! All these facts I just mentioned are to demonstrate that there really is no diet that harms no one or nothing. Like I said before, you can choose how big your impact is or the dose that makes the poison. If you are a meat lover maybe reduce your consumption: instead of eating 3-4 times a week a meat-based meal only do it once or twice. Be conscious about your consumption: Was your sandwich this morning with ham? Do you need bacon in your salad? All these little things add up over the year. You can’t live without your avocado toast in the morning? Eat it once a week and it will taste better because you are looking forward to it, and also try out new things. Quinoa grows in Europe too. It might be a bit more expensive but definitely has a better impact on the planet.

All this can be quite overwhelming so you don’t have to do everything at once but maybe start by looking up the impact of some of your foods with a carbon footprint calculator. You would be surprised by the outcome. 100g avocados from Peru or 100g organic chickens from Switzerland – which has the bigger impact? (Spoiler: the chicken!)

Don’t think that because you’re vegan you are totally exempt. Check the ingredients of your pre-made falafels or vegan alternatives to meat, a lot contain palm oil, so why not make your vegan alternatives yourself next time? Nobody can live up to all the advice and news but you can apply some thumb rules to your daily diet: eat fresh, local, in season, the least processed possible, and a variety of products. You can even check your carbon impact on your mobile.

About a third of Swiss-bought food is thrown out. Anybody can hugely reduce their carbon footprint by only buying food that they are really going to eat.

Support your local food seller

So far, we have touched on the topic of when to buy certain foods and how often to consume them. But where to buy foods in general? The most convenient choice would of course be the supermarket around the corner, but is it the most sustainable choice? How bad is online shopping? What would be the suitable alternatives?

Let’s start at the beginning. Before you buy food, make sure you really need it. About a third of Swiss-bought food is thrown out. Anybody can hugely reduce their carbon footprint by only buying food that they are really going to eat. When it comes down to the supermarkets there is quite a good choice in Switzerland. The two largest chains have their own programs to reduce the carbon footprint in their supply chain. The choice at the supermarket itself is yours to make regarding buying something local and in season. Do your research and make informed decisions.

As stated before, the fresh local market is best. Buying fruit and vegetables at markets lets you discover things that you wouldn’t normally find in an ordinary supermarket, with different varieties of produce that you might not even know existed. If you’re looking for an alternative to supermarkets for your dry storage foodstuffs, check out bulk stores. The products are not packaged and you can reduce plastic waste by bringing your own containers.

What about doing your groceries online? The studies on this topic aren’t that clear and it really depends on what you buy and how quickly you want to have it delivered to your doorstep. Filling up your dry storage with organic sustainable food you can’t find at your local supermarket might decrease your impact. Ordering deep-frozen and fresh goods delivered as soon as possible might increase your impact. As ever, it is your choice!

Note: This article was first published on the EHL Insights blog

This article is part of a series offering the audience sustainable alternatives for improving our environment, societies, and the larger world.

Since its inception, sustainability lies at the core of Alpian’s vision for a better world, and we have taken steps to become a part of the solution. As an organization, we have committed to operating in a sustainable manner by adhering to the highest global standards. For instance, we have woven tangible and meaningful forms of carbon capture and sequestration into the Alpian experience. As a means to contribute positively to the environment.

Stay tuned for more updates on this front.


The content of any publication on this website is for informational purposes only.

About the author

Ehrhard Busch comes from a German family of restauranteurs. After his chef apprenticeship and university studies in Munich, his qualifications took him to Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and London. He is now at Switzerland’s EHL, where four years ago he launched the school’s “The Green Corner” promoting a vegetarian/vegan menu to students and staff. Ehrhard describes himself as “a vegetarian with vegan tendencies.”

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