Your food serves up one of the biggest portions of your carbon footprint.

What you eat, where it comes from, how it reaches you and how it’s packaged all have an impact. Just a few changes can make a big difference. Try some of our tips and suggestions to reduce your food carbon footprint.

Also visit our section on reducing food waste.

1 Think about meat & dairy products

Dairy cow in CumbriaYou’ve probably seen the media articles about cutting down on meat and dairy products to reduce your food carbon footprint. (Here’s a recent one from The Guardian.) It’s a view that’s often shared in green living guides, because of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by cows in particular.

Ruminating animals like cows and sheep belch methane, which is more potent than CO2 when it comes to trapping heat in our atmosphere. There are now around a billion cows on the planet, and demand for meat and dairy products is expected to rise globally. It’s one of the reasons for recent campaigns to encourage people to eat less meat, and for the rise in popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets.

On the other hand, though, grazing animals can play a vital role in keeping soil healthy, if they are managed in the right way. Healthy soils, in turn, capture and store carbon. It’s been widely reported that the world’s soils are becoming so depleted that they only have another sixty years of harvests left in them. If we’re going to address this devastating trend, then there must be changes globally in the way that land and animals are managed. (For a good overview on this, watch The Magic of Soil – an illustrated talk by Professor Phil Gregory, who gave this presentation in Penrith in 2018.)

Agriculture isn’t our area of expertise at CAfS, but, purely from a climate change point of view, we feel the key is scale and balance. We feel the current scale of meat and dairy production and mass farming methods aren’t sustainable, but we are open to the evidence mentioned above that animals can be part of a healthy system if managed in the right way.

We’d encourage you to find out more about the issues and form your own view.

2 Shop locally

Local produce at Penrith on a PlateFood produced near you AND in season will generally have a lower carbon footprint than imported produce. That’s mainly because there’s less CO2 generated in transporting it to you.

As always, there might be exceptions. Fruit and veg that need artificial heating and lighting to grow in our climate might have a lower carbon footprint when they’re grown naturally in a warmer country and transported here.  In general, though, local tends to be best where climate change is concerned.

Here are a few ideas for finding locally grown food:

  • farmers’ markets
  • farm shops
  • veg bag schemes
  • shops selling locally grown and produced goods
  • food festivals

3 Grow your own

Roe Baker from CAfS digging potatoesWe’re not going to pretend that growing your own food is quick and easy. When it comes to reducing food miles, though, you can’t get much better than a few steps from your own back door! Even if you don’t have a garden, perhaps the allotments and shared growing spaces around Cumbria might be an option for you.

There are lots of excellent resources online to help you grow your own food. You’ll find guides and how-to videos on preparing your soil, pest control and growing specific fruit and vegetables.

The Royal Horticultural Society website is a good all-rounder.

You can’t beat learning from other local growers, though. Look out for community gardening groups in your area, shared polytunnels, allotment societies and courses and events by organisations around Cumbria.

You’ll find a few links below.

Events & courses

Here are just a few of the groups in Cumbria that sometimes run event and courses on growing food. Look online for others in your district.

Allotments

District councils tend to look after allotments, although some are managed by other organisations including town councils. Check out the arrangements in your area below. If you know of other allotment links we should include here, please let us know!

Orchard groups

If you’re interested in growing fruit like apples, pears and damsons, the members of Cumbria’s orchard groups have a wealth of experience to share.