Air Pollution From Food is Killing us

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, celebrated on 5 June, is “air pollution” – one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time.

This is a call to action to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time; a call for all of us to introspect and take action towards limiting our impact on environmental damage as individuals.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air. Air pollution is identified as the most important health issue of our time, causing 1 in 9 deaths globally and an estimated 7-million premature deaths every year. Apart from causing respiratory diseases, air pollution is a major cause of heart attacks, lung cancer and stroke. Air pollution also harms our natural environment, decreasing the oxygen supply in our oceans, making it harder for plants to grow and contributing to climate change. But the good news is that air pollution is preventable.

So how does the food we consume impact air pollution? Again we dipped into the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, a very interesting read which we are taking in small bites to find out how we can contribute to limiting our environmental damage from a food perspective. Here are some nuggets to chew on…

What should you know about healthy and sustainable food?

  • air pollutionThe food we eat, the ways we produce it, and the amounts wasted or lost have major impacts on human health and environmental sustainability. Getting it right with food will be an important way for countries to achieve the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Read more about Food Security…
  • A diet that includes more plant-based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable and good for both people and planet. It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact.
  • Today, agriculture occupies nearly 40% of global land, making agroecosystems the largest terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use. Land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.
  • Foods sourced from animals, especially red meat, have relatively high environmental footprints per serving compared to other food groups. This has an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and biodiversity loss. This is particularly the case for animal source foods from grain-fed livestock.
  • What is or is not consumed are both major drivers of malnutrition in various forms. Globally, over 820-million people continue to go hungry every day, 150-million children suffer from long-term hunger that impairs their growth and development, and 50-million children are acutely hungry due to insufficient access to food.
  • In parallel, the world is also experiencing a rise in overweight and obesity. Today, over 2-billion adults are overweight and obese, and diet-related non-communicable diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart diseases are among the leading causes of global deaths.
  • Healthy and sustainable food can be a powerful driver of change: The EAT-Lancet Commission outlines a planetary health diet, which is flexible and recommends intake levels of various food groups that we can adapt to our local geography, culinary traditions and personal preferences. By choosing this diet, we can drive demand for the right foods and send clear market signals all the way through the food value chain back to the farmers.
  • air pollutionGlobally, the planetary health diet favours increasing the consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes alongside small portions of meat and dairy. In parts of the world, this diet involves increasing access to certain food groups, while in other areas requires a significant reduction in the overconsumption of unhealthier foods.
  • Shifting from unhealthy diets to the planetary health diet can prevent 11-million premature adult deaths per year and drive the transition toward a sustainable global food system by 2050 that ensures healthy food for all within planetary boundaries.

From our own research and observation, the biggest impact we can make is leaning towards a more plant-based diet. Ultimately, our food choices not only impact us as individuals – they also impact the planet. It is important that we use our power as a collective to make sure that our food choices drive a message to food producers. We can transform the food system. It’s a matter of choice.

Disclaimer: External information referenced is for purposes of this article only and does not imply partnership or association with the organisation or its specific viewpoint.

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