As well as being a Coeliac, I’m also incredibly interested in the Environment and the best things we can do to look after our Earth; our home; and preserve all that I hope can still be enjoyed by future generations! This is why I choose to avoid meat, try and recycle wherever possible, use energy saving lightbulbs, and try and buy fewer packaged foods.
Living gluten free doesn’t guarantee a lighter carbon footprint but it’s certainly possible to be happily gluten free and a whole lot ‘greener’ at the same time! I’ll be the first to admit no saint and I definitely get it wrong, or get complacent at times. I’m only human. But just by changing a few things here and there and putting in enough conscious thought and effort to strategically form better habits, I’ve found it doesn’t take much to very soon start making a big difference. This is one of those situations where every little really does count, and the more we can do as families, as communities, and regionally, nationally and globally, the better!
Here are our ideas if you want to live a ‘greener’ gluten free life!
One ingredient foods are almost always better for your health, and far more eco-friendly even if they’ve been transported in from other countries. This is because the energy that goes into the production of foods like meat, dairy, baked goods and so on, along with the energy that goes into their production, from pesticides to fossil fuels, add up to far greater output of carbon emissions.
What’s more they’re usually far better for your health, and trying out new fruits and vegetables you may not have tried before or looking up recipes to prepare them in different ways can actually be really exciting! Skip the cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli and carrots and pick up some butternut squash, artichokes, rhubarb, or dragonfruit. Vary your choices to keep meals exciting.
Try and buy and prepare meals with lots of fruits and vegetables and grow your own if possible.
The closer it’s grown to home, the ‘greener’ it’s likely to be. Local food reduces the impact on the environment, as it requires less environmentally harmful practices and equipment, is better able to balance production according to local needs, and significantly decreases transportation needs. By contrast, Industrial production relies entirely on refining and burning fossil fuels. These release harmful greenhouse gases; one of the biggest contributors to climate change. I try wherever possible to buy gluten free foods born and raised in the UK. I’m the first to admit I don’t manage this all the time, and I try not to sweat about it, but I do try and stay conscious about my choices. They may seem like a pretty small deal once the food is dished up on your plate or happily in your belly, but over time, it can make a substantial difference.
You could be munching on the cleanest gluten-free fodder around, but if you account for all the energy used in the production of chemical fertilisers & pesticides, transportation, processing and packaging, of products shipped across the country, it results in a whopping great carbon footprint. Just one 3 pound package shipped by trick across the country creates 12 pounds of carbon dioxide! (ref) Check out the labels for the product origin and try and buy as local as possible whenever you can. Studies have shown that sustainable agricultural practices can actively reduce harmful effects of farming on climate change, while simultaneously increasing food production by up to 80%!
Pay Attention to Packaging
The less packaging there is the better. Stay conscious of goods that are over-packaged and check for the recycling logo to make sure the packaging can be recycled. That which can’t ends up in landfills and waterways threatening the marine environment.
Try to avoid plastics, and products packaged in clingfilm, or styrofoam. It’s not always possible to do as they’re so heavily available, but remind yourself these are not just dangerous for the environment, but also for your health. BPA (Bisphenol A) found in plastic bottles, and certain cans, can disrupt hormones, damage the brain, and harm the prostate gland in developing foetuses, infants and children. It has also been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and is linked to heightened cancer risk in adults. Phthalates in plastic wrap, styrofoam and polystyrene are also known to be carcinogenic. Choosing minimally packaged products and those with recyclable, biodegradable or cellulose-based packaging, can help you avoid harm and aid the environment to boot!
Drop that Palm oil from your palms!
Palm oil is pretty common. Coeliacs and gluten-free foodies are likely to come across it as it’s often used as a cheap replacement for butter in gluten free snacks. (No idea why it’s more common in these- butter is gluten free after all!) The extraction of palm oil is horrendous. Huge tracts of rain-forests and peat bogs have been destroyed, subsequently endangering thousands of animal species, threatening biodiversity. Rainforests and peat bogs in particularly, also help to balance the affects of climate change by their ability to sequester carbon dioxide.
If that isn’t enough to make you drop whatever palm-oil infested food you’re clutching right now, palm oil can also be detrimental to your health! Palm oil has been shown to raise harmful LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and usually has been grown with high doses of pesticides. So unless it’s organic, try and give it a miss.
Use other, healthier and less refined oils instead! Raw coconut oil from LucyBee Coconut Oil or Coco Veda, or Pipkin is a definite shout! Coconut oil is one of my favourite products in existence. Time and time again, it leaves me questioning ‘what can’t it do’!? Use it in cooking, baking, raw goods, on your skin, in your hair, and more. It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti- and last a ridiculously long time. Basically, for best results, pour it over your entire life, and chuck the palm oil away.
Cut Down on Meat
Having to cut out gluten can often mean increasing the meat and fish on your plate. Particularly if you’re leaning toward Paleo or Primal lifestyles, meat can become quite a focal piece on the plate! However, all that meat is also a massive focal piece in the fight to save the environment and address climate change. As much of a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are a result of animal agriculture. A study carried out at the University of Oxford by Peter Scarborough and his colleagues, collected data on the diets of over 50,000 UK citizens, and calculated their carbon footprints. This led them to the phenomenal discovery that turning vegetarian can cut your carbon footprint in half!
Now imagine if everyone turned vegetarian or to be more pragmatic, simply cut their meat consumption in half! Collectively, the positive effects would be staggering. The study went on to show that if the average person eating 100 grams of meat a day simply cut this to approx. 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would drop by a third, saving almost a tonne of CO2 per year!
I’ve been vegetarian and more recently pescatarian, for about seventeen years out of the twnty-six years I’ve been alive. Not bad. So I was pleased to discover that pescatarians – fish consumers but not meat-eaters – are more or less as carbon-friendly as vegetarians, creating only about 2.5 per cent more food-related emissions.The true champions are of course, vegans, who churn out approx. a further 25% less emissions than vegetarians! Very commendable!
Carbon emissions however are not the only environmental effect of meat production and consumption. It also massively contributes to water pollution and deforestation, and waste. The perpetual over-consumption, production and demand, creates an increasingly detrimental pattern. Nearly 70% of forested land in the Amazon was cut down for the purpose of animal agriculture.
Even small cut backs can make a big difference! Try and lower your consumption of meat and dairy by substituting with beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If you can’t possibly imagine a meal without meat, then try and use more pork, chicken and turkey than red meat, such as beef, as red meat has been shown to have a higher detrimental impact. Also try and buy local and organic meat if this is available, and avoid processed meat products and fast food, helping to lower the demand for companies who most resoundingly exacerbate the problem with their large scale over-production, waste and widely acknowledged animal-cruelty.
Watch the Rice
Rice makes a really great go-to for coeliacs and gluten-free foodies. It’s delicious, nutritious and has been a staple food for generations in many countries. Gluten-free flour alternatives and baked goods are also often made with rice flour. However, you may not know that growing rice majorly impacts our environment. This is because rice production uses approximately one-third of all global fresh water. It also contributes to methane gas production, and soil erosion. Rice also is often heavily doused in pesticides. One study by the Pesticide Action Network identified over 40 different pesticides on rice grown in California, many having proven toxic effects.
One way to avoid this might be switching to organic. However, even organic rice sometimes uses insecticides which may contain arsenic, and can linger in the soil for decades. Farmers are being helped to develop more environmentally sustainable practices, producing more rice with less water and pesticides. Until then however, consider lowering your rice consumption and swapping it for some of the other delicious gluten free alternatives. Quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, are just some of the few that can be substituted in recipes and taste equally delicious! Of course, few people want to cut out rice altogether! I try and look for more eco-friendly companies such as Suma Wholefoods.
Well, while technically you could even use your own ‘waste’, it’s probably better you don’t, if just to protect your nose! But there are plenty of things you can re-use, or up-cycle and I’m not just talking plastic bags!
Re-use jars, bottles & boxes
If you take I’ve been able to use fancy boxes, jars and bottles to make some of the most thoughtful and most gratefully-received gifts I’ve ever given! We love these articles below from sites like LifeHacks & Diply, amongst others, which suggest some terrific ideas:
34 Wine Bottle Projects to Freshen Up Your Interior Design from Home Aesthetics
Use decent boxes for storage or, if you have children you could use them for crafts. Get the paints out and design some fun boxes for storing toys or putting gifts in.
Make it Playful
Similar to the craft ideas above, creating games, competitions and challenges creates a great incentive for more people of all ages to get involved in helping to save our Earth.
We’ve come up with a few ideas:
Grow your own plants and vegetables
Setup a vegetable patch in your back garden, on your balcony, or begin planting some fruits and vegetables at your local allotment. You can get the kids to help with their shovels and spades, teach them how to plant seeds and take care of the plants so they can grow healthy and strong, and encourage them to draw some colourful signs to stick in the ground next to each plant, so you know what’s growing there!
Have a competition to see who can pick the most berries
Get a group together or team up as a family and head to your local allotment, your own vegetable garden at home, a local farm where you can pick fruits and vegetables, or somewhere you know that (safe) wild berries are growing. Separate yourselves into teams and head off to see who can pick the most berries or tomatoes or whatever it is you choose to pick that day! Make sure you agree on a prize for whoever wins. This is a great one to get kids involved, but who doesn’t like a competition at any age!?
Pack a gluten-free picnic and take a hike
Instead of going to the cinema or driving miles to a theme park and buying packaged foods during an expensive day, have more days out in nature. Pack foods from home and head out exploring. Forests such as Rendlesham and Thetford offer some really innovative playgrounds built into their forests, featuring a range of climbing activities, swings, balancing challenges, slides, and even musical objects, all designed from wood and in-keeping with the forest habitat, which are exciting for both children and adults to explore and play around with! Climb trees, or hire bicycles – cycling saves more carbon than walking!), play rounders, tennis or piggy in the middle (catch!) and chasing games. These are all old-school ways of having fun, but they’re great!
Local wildlife centres and nature trails often have events designed to be both educating and fun for children and families. Have a look on advertising boards or check in the local area online. Dedham Vale and Flatford Nature Reserve, for example; which are about a 20 minute drive outside of Ipswich, often have these sorts of activities such as Flatford Nature Day, for children and families.
Make things an On-Going Competition
As a family, you could each make a bird-feeder or hedgehog feeding station using recycled cartons or containers. Hang them up with equal amounts of bird-feed and monitor whose bird feed gets eaten by the birds most! Whoever wins, gets a prize each week or at the end of every month.
Or start a competition while shopping. For example, you could give your children a list each and ask them to go and find everything that’s on them, but see if they can get products that all have the green recycling logo. This will (should) cut your shopping time down, give you some peace and quiet while you shop and keep your children entertained, while they also learn how to look out for foods that are more eco-friendly!
Competitions in the garden also work. Who can grow the biggest cucumber, carrot, green bean or tomato is a quick-fire way to get everyone looking after their plants more carefully to try and win! Once you start seeing the plants and vegetables grow, it’s easier to feel a sense of pride that encourages this care even more. Add fuel to this fire by making it a game.
There’s a fantastic concept known as Choice Architecture. The premise of choice architecture is that, if you create a situation where the result of something benefits everyone involved, it’ll be easier to get said thing done. This can be applied to everything, from small scale situations at home, to larger scale projects in the wider world, with great results.
A small scale example of this might be in the home. Perhaps your family has always had good intentions of recycling but they never quite pan out, or your kids are always too busy running around to even think about separating their rubbish into what’s recyclable and what isn’t. By having two separate bins in the home, and placing the recycling bin next to the normal bin, and even clearly marking the recycling bin, so that it’s in an easy reach as the normal bin and has clear illustrations as to what should go in it, members of your household will be far more inclined to put their rubbish in the right bin, because the layout you’ve chosen makes it easier to do so, and no more difficult than throwing away regular rubbish.
A larger scale example might be if the government subsidised energy saving lightbulbs to be cheaper than regular lightbulbs. People’s choices would inevitably be influenced to use them, as the cheaper prices now offer a benefit to them, as well as to the environment, creating a win win situation where the desired result has been achieved and everyone is happy.
It’s not always affordable and not always necessary, but when and if you can afford it, choosing organic really is one of the best ways to stay environmentally friendly while eating gluten free. Choosing organic foods helps you and your family to avoid pesticide and insecticide residues that are linked to nervous system problems, reproductive disease, and even paediatric cancer in children. Choosing organic can be expensive though, so check out this list of the dirty dozen. These are all the foods that you SHOULD buy organic if possible, as they harbour the most pesticides.
The Green Planet provide a great up-to-date Dirty Dozen List here!
Try Meal Delivery Boxes
Places like Gousto and HelloFresh! offer a convenient and affordable way – and offer gluten free options – to cut down on shopping time and wasted food. It can make evenings more exciting, providing all the ingredients and instructions you need to cook a tasty, nutritious meal together as a couple or a family.
It’s all connected; the tackle of obesity and poverty can’t be fought properly without also addressing the Environmental issues along with it. It’s easy to shrug aside the responsibility and criticism to the big corporations and government policies which allow the negative systems and cycles to continue, and on many levels, having the power and influence that they do, and, frankly, I would argue they aren’t doing enough. But we ALL have a responsibility, to the planet, to others and to ourselves, to take care of our health, their health, the planet’s health, to actively look after ourselves, other people, and this Earth we call home. Gluten free or not, please share this to spread the word on how we can all be a little bit greener in our lives!
Happy World Environment Day everyone! Here’s to both a happy gluten-free and far greener future!
We’d love to hear from you! Have you got any tips for helping the environment? Are you consciously trying to be ‘greener’ in your own life? What’s helped you? What hasn’t? Do you know of any groups or activities around Ipswich where people can get involved in helping our planet?