Food for thought


PLANT RICH A diet high in fruit and vet is not only good for you, it’s better for the planet too.

Project Drawdown, a leading resource for climate solutions, is worth checking out

Green Living
McKinley Neal

As much as it was fun to enjoy the sun of the recent heatwave as if we were in Portugal or Spain (or anywhere else, really!), the good weather also coincided with multiple major disasters around the world, from flooding to fires to extreme heat and droughts. Indeed, our own heatwave was soon followed by thunderstorms and torrential downpours that felt somewhat extreme for our climate. After the year we’ve had otherwise, such evidence of the environmental emergency feels extra heavy.
In our line of work as a minimal-waste store selling organic and sustainable products, my coworkers and I talk often with customers about what we can do, as individuals and as a community, to mitigate the impact of climate change. It’s important for us all to find ways to join together in this.
Project Drawdown is one of the world’s leading resources for climate solutions, and it’s well worth checking out. Founded on rigorous academic research, its stated mission is to help the world reach ‘Drawdown’— the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change — as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.
To help policymakers, industry and households be part of that effort, it has published a list of over 80 recommended actions, ranked by impact. Together, these actions are designed to slow climate change so that the rise in global temperatures by the end of this century is kept to to a manageable 1.5˚C. While many fall into categories like electricity, industry, buildings and transportation, many also relate to food production – and consumption.

Waste not
Coming in at No 3 on the list is food-waste reduction, both at the household level and at the industrial scale. In our own homes, we can start by planning our food shops around meals we know we will make, and by using ingredients that are versatile and can be used throughout the week. Chickpeas, for example, can go into a curry, hummus or even in some sweet baking recipe. While bread can be used for sandwiches, once it goes stale it can still be used to make French toast or for bread crumbs or croutons. Learning to ferment and preserve food also helps.
For more ideas, award-winning food writer and cook Anna Jones has a number of excellent cookbooks that give a myriad ways of use each ingredient, as well as tips on avoiding waste. These are readily available from libraries and local bookshops. Titles include ‘A Modern Way to Eat’, ’A Modern Way to Cook’, ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ and ‘One Pot, Pan, Planet’.
Buying directly from local farmers is another way to ensure less chance for waste along the supply chain. It means farmers have guaranteed customers for their produce, the food has less chance of spoiling or bruising during transport, and it will not end up being thrown into a bin if unsold (at worst, it is composted to return to the soil).
Also, growing particular plants yourself is helpful, particularly for foods that are often wasted due to their perishability, such as salad leaves and fresh herbs. These can be grown in small areas, and also reduce packaging waste.
Castlebar business offers an app that lists food available in local restaurants and shops that is up to 70 percent off retail prices in an effort to rescue surplus food before it becomes waste. It would be really great to see more customers and businesses signing up!

Diets and land use
Project Drawdown’s solution No 4 is to eat a plant-rich diet. According to a 2016 study cited by the organisation, even a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs could reduce emissions related to food production by up to 63 percent. Totally plant-based (vegan) diets could reduce food-production emissions by as much as 70 percent.
Summer is a great time to try the wide range of fresh produce on offer and to try some new recipes, so why not up your fruit, veg, seed, nut and grain intake while reducing your meat intake, and help the planet while you’re at it?
Another solution near the top (No 11) is the adoption of ‘silvopasture’, which simply means allowing grazing animals to feed in pastures that also have trees. In Ireland we have a big opportunity to restore hedgerows and native woodlands, and these should not be seen as incompatible with raising sheep or cows, as they absorb CO2 and promote biodiversity while also improving land quality and providing animals with shade and shelter. In fact, pastures ‘strewn or crisscrossed with trees’ sequester between five and ten times as much carbon as those of the same size that are treeless. Definitely food for thought!

For more on Project Drawdown, visit, where the full table of climate-change solutions is also available.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.