The 4 Least Sustainable Foods
Updated: Aug 29
As an eco-conscious warrior and a lover of planet Earth, it can be overwhelming to figure out which products you should (or shouldn’t) consume.
Unfortunately, some of your yummy favourites may not be as sustainable as you think. Several foods go through processes that are damaging to the planet before they make it onto your dinner table.
But fear not, we’re here to help you. Continue reading to discover the four most unsustainable foods in supermarkets today.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases worldwide; this makes it the least sustainable means of producing food. Putting aside the ethical questions that arise from animal agriculture, the sustainability issues lie in how it is produced, packaged, distributed, and consumed.
It all boils down to land, fertility, and resources. We do not have the amount of fertile land needed to maintain the quantity of meat we are consuming worldwide, and as the human population grows, so does the demand for meat. Not only this, but with all this livestock, we are running out of places to keep the animals. This has led to deforestation and animals being crammed into living spaces that are far too small.
Animal agriculture practices also require a considerable amount of water; this puts a massive strain on local water sources. It has been widely documented that beef is the main culprit for unsustainable food practices. Cattle produce up to 220 pounds (100kg) of methane each year. However, in the US, lamb has a 50% higher carbon footprint than beef. This is because half of all the lamb eaten in the states is imported.
We’re not suggesting people must give up meat altogether if that’s not something they want to do. However, eating less meat and eating locally sourced meat would make a massive difference to the sustainability of animal agriculture.
Almond milk has overtaken soy milk as the most popular plant-based milk. But due to the amount of land and water needed to produce almonds, they are up there high on the list of unsustainable foods.
81% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, USA. Unfortunately, California is a dry area that suffers from terrible droughts, and a single almond requires roughly 1.1 gallons of water to produce. That’s one thirsty nut! This is what makes almond production unsustainable for the demand.
Almonds are high in protein and antioxidants, they make a great snack, and they can be used to create a tasty, vegan milk alternative. Enjoy almonds, but in moderation. And if you’re looking for an alternative to cow milk that is more eco-friendly and just as delicious, the most sustainable plant-based milks include coconut milk, rice milk, and oat milk.
Fish is one of the most traded foods in the world. But it’s also one of the least sustainable. Industrialised fishing practices are threatening marine life worldwide. The days of a simple rod and line are over. Now fishing boats the size of football pitches swarm the seas to track down fish using state-of-the-art fish-tracking electronics.
These massive boats stay at sea for months and store thousands of tonnes of fish on board with every voyage. One type of fishing practice is called trawling. This method involves dragging a huge net behind the boat to catch the fish. These nets can be up to one mile long and big enough to hold ten jumbo jets. The amount of fish being caught each year is simply not sustainable.
Another problem with commercial fishing is the amount of bycatch. Around 40% of the animals caught in commercial fishing practices each year are unintentional. This includes 250,000 turtles (including endangered loggerheads) and 300,000 sea birds. It’s also estimated that 650,000 marine mammals, such as dolphins and whales, are seriously injured or killed each year by commercial fishing practices.
If you want to do your part to secure a healthy ocean for future generations, cutting down or quitting fish is the best way to help. To quote Sylvia Earle: “We have the power to damage the sea, but no sure way to heal the harm”.
98% of British people consume dairy products, and 5 billion litres of milk is sold each year in the UK alone. Yes, dairy is a good source of calcium, but is it sustainable? Putting aside the ethical questions that arise with the dairy industry and looking at sustainability alone, the rate at which we consume dairy is not sustainable.
Nitrous oxide and methane emissions are the main reasons for this. Nitrous oxide accounts for up to 35% of the carbon footprint of milk production. It is made through losses of slurry and fertiliser application and as a side effect of other environmental pollutants such as ammonia. And methane emissions create more than half of all emissions made on farms. The economic growth of the dairy industry is, unfortunately, at the expense of the environment. If we want to secure a healthy future for planet Earth, we need to be consuming less dairy.
Food for thought
A great way to lead a more sustainable lifestyle is through your food choices. These are just some foods that don’t score high on the sustainability scale.
We are not asking you to give up these foods but reducing your consumption of meat, almonds, fish, and dairy can make a huge difference.
Read more informative sustainability content in our free online magazine, Earth Mother Magazine. You can even download it as a pdf to read offline.