Posts Tagged ‘organic’


A few months ago I talked about meat. I decided I’d eat less, better meat. From animals that had led a decent and natural life and that had been farmed in a non-intensive and sustainable way.

I also made the decision that, because of its huge environmental impact, I’d restrict beef, the biggest meaty environmental offender, to a once-a-month treat.

Well, I reckon I’ve just about managed it. But there’s nothing like a bit of red meat every now and again. So I’m also pleased to say that I’ve found an excellent beef-alternative that I’ve started to buy more of.


So, a quick reminder why we should eat less meat, beef in particular.

If you live in the UK and eat meat regularly, the chances are that this makes up at least 10% of your carbon footprint. Once you add in methane (or cow fart), a greenhouse gas 25-times more potent than CO2, farming cattle accounts for nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than transport does.

Meat is really inefficient to produce. You feed the animal a lot more calories than you get out. Beef is the most inefficient by far, needing 10 kilos of feed to produce 1 kilo of beef.

Intensively farmed cows don’t often get the opportunity to eat grass as a cow should and instead are fed maize, corn and other grains. Three quarters of agricultural land in the EU is now used to grow animal feed. And the huge demand for it means that we now import feed from far-flung places such as Brazil where the pressure for land leads to deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon.

OK, so we know all this.

What about the venison?

Well, deer are wild. Even when they’re farmed, they resist domestication. This means they’re always free-range and are not intensively produced.

Although most of the venison you find in Supermarkets will be farmed, a lot of wild venison is also sold in the UK.

In Scotland and the south of England the deer population has been booming over recent years and deer have been becoming a bit of a pest. Because they cause a lot of damage to woodlands and trees, deer are often culled. This meat is usually sold, perhaps at your local butchers. So if you eat wild venison, not only has your meat had as natural a life as it possibly could, but you’re also helping to stop a small bit of deer-related deforestation and making sure that good meat doesn’t go to waste.

Even farmed deer mainly eat grass and not grain. They can be farmed on marginal land like sheep. Land that’s only good for growing grass, such as the Scottish highlands.

Cleverly, deer naturally reduce their appetite in winter, when grass is more scare and go into semi hibernation. Farmed deer are often given hay and reject root vegetables in winter. These can easily be produced locally and makes good use of second-rate veg that us humans might turn our noses up at.

Unlike cows, deer haven’t been selectively bred over centuries and so they don’t suffer from many of the diseases that traditional farm animals do. This means that they don’t need to be given antibiotics, hormones and other drugs that are commonly given to intensively farmed, non-organic cows, which also can end up in your beef.

The most humane way to kill a deer is to shoot it in its natural habitat, which is still legal for game. This means that, unlike a cow, it is spared a distressing final journey to the abattoir (which, unless the cow walks there, also creates carbon emissions). The deer is instantly killed and suffers no distress. Other deer are apparently unconcerned by one of their number suddenly dropping dead as this doesn’t happen in the wild.

And there are some very good health reasons to eat venison.

Venison is very low in fat and cholesterol and is much better for you than beef. It’s often recommended as part of a low-fat diet. It also contains more iron than any other red meat.

It’s cheaper than similar quality cuts of beef. A couple of good steaks will be around £6 and steak patties are only a couple of quid for two.

You can use it to make burgers, sausages, Bolognese, stews, casseroles or simply cook it as a steak. Pretty much anything you do with beef you can do with venison. You may need to add some fatty bacon or pork belly fat to it though as it is so lean.

Half a million years ago, when we were hunters, half our diet was venison (the word venison originally meant meat that was hunted). In medieval times, it was highly regarded meat and poaching venison from the king’s forest could cost you your hand.

Although it is now wildly farmed – there 300 deer parks producing 5 thousand deer every year in the UK – and therefore much wildly available, we still tend to treat it as exotic and something that you might only eat as an occasional indulgence. My mother delights in cooking a venison stew or “Rudolf Casserole” every Christmas Eve and includes a single whole cherry tomato – his nose. We consider it a festive (if slightly disturbing) treat.

But given that it’s better for you, cheaper and less damaging for the planet than similar meat, I think we should eat more. So next time you’re buying some beef for your tea, stop. Try buying venison instead.

Just don’t call it Rudolf.

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We eat nearly three million tonnes of bread every year in the UK. But back in 1961, we ate twice as much.

What happened?

1961 was a bad year for bread. In a place called Chorleywood near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, the Flour Milling and Baking Research Association created a new way of baking.

Real bread should contain just three basic things: flour, water and yeast. Salt is also usually added to bring out the flavour and often some fat is added to stop it going stale too quickly. But that’s pretty much it.

It’s kneaded by hand and needs to be left to ‘prove’ or ferment, ideally more than once, for anything between 20 minutes and two hours. And it takes 40-50 minutes to bake. It’s a time consuming, labour intensive process.

In 1961, researchers in Chorleywood found a way of making bread fast. They found that if you used lower quality flours you could use machines to knead dough. They discovered that adding vegetable fat along with processing aids, oxidising agents, emulsifiers, additives and ‘improvers’ meant that fermentation times could be substantially reduced. And that you could bake at a higher temperature much more quickly.

In this way, they created a way to make a loaf of bread nearly two hours quicker and with much less effort. Result.

It has become know as the Chorleywood Bread Process (or CBP) and is now used to make 98% of the bread we buy in the UK.

So why has this made us fall out of love with the loaf?

The problem with mass-produced industrialised bread is that it is much less tasty, much harder to digest and much less good for you.

How many people do you know now who are gluten intolerant or allergic? Or avoid eating too much bread because it makes them feel bloated or ill? I know quite a lot. A surprising and growing number of them.

This almost certainly because of the way most bread is made now.

Bread that is fermented quickly is much harder to digest. This is because the gluten is much stronger. The varieties of wheat that most suit mechanical mixing also have stronger gluten. Which adds to the problem.

Flour used to make mass-produced bread, is mechanically milled. High-speed milling strips the flour of most of its natural nutrients which means you need to add fats and artificial additives later to compensate. More fat is also added to help the bread hold it’s shape, something that it doesn’t do naturally because of the fast fermentation. Mass produced bread has a much higher fat content than bread really should have.

Then there’s where it’s made.

80% of mass-produced bread is produced in just eleven industrial plant bakeries. Most of the rest is produced in Supermarket bakeries which are in reality just mini versions of these plants.

Because of the highly industrialised process, these plants are very energy inefficient, typically using nearly three times as much power per loaf as a small artisan bakery or home baking. Which from a carbon foot print point of view, isn’t good.

Because there’s only eleven of them, loafs have to be driven all over the country, wracking up food miles. Your mass produced loaf is probably quite well traveled. Bread baked at a local bakers or at home has far fewer food miles than one of the best known brands.

So what bread should you buy?

Well, ideally, you want to buy bread from a local artisan baker who has made it using their hands. Bread made with hands tastes better. The Real Bread Campaign, who are trying to raise awareness of the bread problem, has a real bread finder on their website.

You want bread made with stone ground flour. Stone ground flour is made using the slower, traditional method and means that most of the good stuff remains in it. It’s also likely to be easier to digest. So is spelt flour which was used by the Romans and hasn’t been modified or cross bred since.

Should it be organic? Well this is up for debate.

Only 15,000 hectares of organic wheat is grown in the UK,  only one percent of the wheat we grow. We’re 80% self sufficient in bread wheat but much of the organic wheat we use is imported.

Organic wheat takes only two thirds of energy to grow, mainly because you don’t need to use fertilizers. But it needs three times the land for the same yield.

However, fertilizers and pesticides are not good for bio diversity. The recent crash in the bee population is partly attributed to their use. And without bees many of our fruit and vegetables wouldn’t be pollinated.

Most non organic bread also contains residues of pesticides, not at harmful levels but they’re still probably not too good for you.

So if it’s made of organic wheat grown in the UK then definitely buy it. Help create the demand for it. Otherwise, it’s up to you.

Even better than buying bread, is making it yourself.

You can make a home made organic loaf for less than half the price of a mass produced non-organic loaf. And it’ll taste a hundred times better.

Obviously making it by hand is the best and altogether most satisfying way to do it.

However, using a breadmaker also isn’t bad. Breadmaker machines use more power to mix the dough but are more efficient at baking than a normal oven. And they’re dead easy to use. Most have a timer setting that allows you to chuck the ingredients together before you go to bed and you wake up to the smell of freshly baking bread. I can guarantee there’s no better alarm clock.

I love bread. To my mind there is no nobler food than a really good loaf. I am sad that we have debased one of our oldest, most reliable staples to the point where it’s a pale imitation of what it should be and many of us aren’t eating it anymore because it’s tasteless and almost indigestible.

So then. Make your own bread. Perhaps buy a breadmaker. Or support a proper baker by buying it from a real bakery if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. It might cost a bit more but so it should. And it’ll be worth it.

It’s the best thing since…

Oh, no, it’s much better than that.

A really simple soda bread recipe

This recipe is so easy. It takes less than 10 mins to make and less than 25 mins to bake. It’s also very difficult to get wrong. If I forget to put the bread maker on, I make this.


  • 500kg flour (plain, wholemeal or I particularly like spelt)
  • 4tsp baking powder
  • 2tsp salt
  • 300 ml water/milk/thin yogurt/fruit juice or a combination

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees / gas mark 6. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the liquid and make into a dough.

Briefly knead it in the bowl. Knock it about a bit. Divide the dough into two and shape into a round. Put some fresh flour on your hands and rub over the outside. Put the dough onto a heavy baking sheet and pat into a loaf shape. Cut across the top of the loaf – over half way down and stab all over. Make sure there’s space between the loaves and bake for 20-25 minutes.

The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when you tap the base. Leave to cool on a wire rack but eat it while it’s still warm. With some butter. Yum.

You can also add herbs, olives or a spoonful of black treacle to make a sweeter bread that’s good with Irish Stew. Be creative!

If you want to know more about making bread, I can thoroughly recommend The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.

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coffee beans

So far, I’ve not written about coffee. Coffee is fairly symbolic of ethical consumerism. I suppose it seemed, well, a bit of an obvious place to start. But as a passionate coffee drinker, who consumes at least one, fairly strong cup of black coffee every morning, I realised I didn’t know that much about it. I thought it was about time I looked a little deeper than the Fair Trade label.

So what should I know about my morning cuppa?

Well, those coffee lovers amongst you will be glad to hear that, ecologically speaking at least, drinking coffee is a fairly good thing to do.

Here’s why.

Coffee is an evergreen crop. It will keep giving fruit for as long as fifty years. That means that it doesn’t have to be constantly dug up and replanted like many crops which is bad for the soil. Instead, coffee plants help stablise and build soil and prevent erosion.

Coffee prefers shade, so it can grow in the shade of a larger forest which means that, unlike many forms of agriculture, coffee farmers protect rainforest and don’t clear it. Shady coffee plantations also encourage a large range of biodiversity including birds. Birds love eating bugs and so this removes much of the need to use chemical pesticides. So growing organic coffee is relatively easy.

The majority of the world’s coffee – around 70% – is grown on small farms by independent farmers. Tea, in contrast, tends to be grown in large plantations owned by big multinationals. So by buying coffee you are usually helping to support small independent farmers who are farming in ecologically sound and sustainable ways. If they couldn’t make a living from growing coffee, they might consider farming something much more environmentally damaging or illegal crops like coca or marijuana.

Until the end of the 1980s, the coffee industry was regulated by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO). The ICO was made up of producer and consumer countries and aimed to keep supply matching demand and therefore prices at a realistic level. However, disagreements between the partners and the general trend of trade deregulation led to dismantling this quota system.

Suddenly, there were more and more people growing coffee. Countries such as Vietnam invested heavily in coffee and became a new major supplier.

Many of the new players, in order to compete, began growing “sun coffee” rather than cultivating it in the shade. Growing coffee in direct sunlight means that it produces coffee quicker but the plants only last 10-15 years and generally require more chemical fertilisers and pesticides. It also often means that land is cleared to grow it. Some campaign groups have suggested that this is helping destroy a large number of the world’s natural ecosystems.

The increase in supply wasn’t good for the farmers either. The large amounts of coffee on the market led to coffee prices crashing, hitting rock bottom in 2001. Despite having recovered a little over recent years, the plentiful supply means that the poor old farmers get paid a pittance for their beans.

And to make matters worse, the coffee-buying market is dominated by multinationals who by their very nature, chase bigger profits and make the most of this over supply. The big UK coffee manufactures Nestle, Kraft (Maxwell House and Kenco) and Sara Lee (Douwe Egberts) have all been accused of maintaining the status quo.

And this is, of course, where Fair Trade comes in.

The Fair Trade mark can be applied to products that have been sourced following ethical trading principals. These principals include paying a minimum price.

The mark was originally developed by the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone with the idea to link co-operative stores in London with producers in the developing world and cut out the middle men. The scheme was set up with more in mind than just ensuring a fair price. It was about helping fund community projects.

Since then, companies such as Café Direct have built on this ethos and today, as well as paying their farms a higher price for their goods, the company have also invested £20,000 in project such as tree nurseries, school scholarships and local roads.

In the shops, fair trade coffee only costs fractionally more. But the farmers who grow it can receive up to three times the amount they would from non-Fair Trade coffee. It’s still not much, or perhaps what many would consider ‘fair’, but it’s a lot better than coffee without the mark. Personally, I’d even pay more if I thought it was going to the folk who grew it.

Then there’s the issue of instant coffee. In most of the world, instant coffee only makes up 20% of the coffee drunk. In the UK, 80% of the coffee we drink is instant.

To produce instant coffee, you take a great quality product, that has a long shelf life and put it through a series of energy-intensive industrial processes to make a far inferior product. If you’re making decaf, you’re also chemically removing the only worthwhile ingredient. What are we thinking?

So next time you’re out buying coffee, buy the real thing. Buy Fair Trade. Ideally, buy organic too. It’s quite hard to find coffee that is both, but Percol and Café Direct both do it. They also have the advantage that they relatively small companies and are not owned by multinationals and they invest in coffee growing communities. And if you can, buy shade-grown coffee. Most organic coffee is.

Tomorrow morning, as I’m sipping my coffee, I’m going to take a moment and ponder who might have grown it. I think you should too.

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After my last post about the eco diet I realised I haven’t written about dairy. Butter, cheese and all the other good things that come from milk.

OK, here’s what you need to know about your pint.

Because most of the milk we use comes from cows, many of the environmental issues associated with the production of meat are also true for milk. The animals fart and burp a lot of methane. Which is a greenhouse gas and contribute to our warming climate.

However, if cows are farmed in a low intensive way, they also have some upsides. They produce manure, which is a pretty important fertilizer for organic farming and they also help create good habitats for wildlife such as birds. And unless you’re a vegan, you probably, like me, would find it hard to do without dairy.

The problem is that much of the milk we consume in the UK is intensively produced. And intensive dairy farming is pretty horrible for the poor cows.

Cows naturally live until they’re around 20 years-old. But most intensively reared dairy cows are slaughtered at five because they are so ill and exhausted.

A calf would naturally suckle a few litres a day from its mother. An intensive dairy farm will take around 50. They’re bred to have bigger udders than is natural so most of them have back problems. And in order to make sure they keep giving milk, they’re almost permanently pregnant. Poor old Daisy.

Because they’re so abused and spend their miserable days wedged in a shed with loads of the other unfortunate creatures, they’re given antibiotics and other drugs to keep them going. And this of course ends up in the milk we drink. Yuck.

Then there’s the problem of what to do with all the unwanted calves. And this is the bit that gets animal rights campaigners particularly twitchy.

Calves are generally taken from their mothers within hours of being born, causing them and their mother a fair amount of distress. The girls eventually replace their mothers. The boys are sold for veal or fattened up in intensive farms and eventually become low quality beef.

All pretty horrible.

But, you’ll be please to know, it’s actually pretty easy to avoid bad milk. And therefore also butter, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products.

As with most food, the answer is to buy organic.

Milk that’s certified organic has come from cows that eat better, have superior living conditions and spend a fair amount of time outdoors eating grass. Like you, cows are what they eat. Milk from cows that have eaten grass generally tastes better and is better for you.

Organic certification also means antibiotics are banned and young calves get to stay with their mothers for longer and aren’t weaned off milk for at least three months. So they generally have a decent life and give better quality milk.

And the good thing about organic milk is that there’s loads of it around. In fact we produce so much of it in this country, that it’s often mixed with intensively produced milk, rather than sold as organic milk. Which seems a bit of a waste. And because there’s lots of it, it’s generally not much more expensive than the regular stuff.

If you’re lactose intolerant, you’ll also be glad to hear that goats milk also is generally less intensively produced so is normally all right too.

Then there’s where you buy it.

Believe it or not, the traditional milkman is the most eco-friendly way to get your pint. The dairy is generally nearby, it’s transported in a vehicle powered by electricity and the container it comes in is reused. Good old milky.

If you want to find out if there’s a milk round near you then you can check www.findmeamilkman.net.

If you haven’t got a milkman or it’s not practical then the next best thing is to go for the new bags of milk that are appearing in supermarkets. They use 70% less packaging than the standard bottle, which if you drink a lot of milk will soon add up.

So having discovered how badly the poor old dairy cows are treated and given how wildly available and relatively cheap organic milk is, I’m going to stick to the organic pints of the white stuff from now on. And next time you’re reaching for your usual pint, I think you should give Daisy a thought too. Moo.

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It’s January. Traditionally it’s a time to think about New Year’s resolutions and dieting. So I am. I’m going on a diet. But not a normal diet.

My New Year’s resolution is to employ all of the things I have learnt since I started this blog about eating in good, sustainable and fair way. I’m going on an eco diet.

In a moment I will tell you the principals of this diet.

But first I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to join me in this slimming of carbon pounds and piling on of social-conscience vitamins. If you’re going to do it, leave a comment. And then tell anyone else you think will also do it. Let’s create a weird, online, eco version of Weight Watchers. I’m serious. I’ve even created a Facebook group if you’re that way inclined.

OK, here’s the diet.


  • Eat less of it.
  • Restrict beef to a couple of times a month.
  • Always try and buy organic, free-range rare breeds.
  • Buy British, particularly pork (unless it’s lamb out of season).
  • Go to a proper butcher when possible.

Fish and seafood

  • Buy Marine Steward Council-certified wild fish if possible.
  • Eat more fish that’s on the MSC’s fish to eat list and experiment with unusual varieties.
  • Don’t eat any fish on the MSC’s fish to avoid list.
  • Don’t eat tiger prawns.
  • Eat more mussels, cockles, clams and other sustainably sourced seafood.
  • Eat less farmed salmon and trout and buy organic.
  • Don’t buy small undersized fish.
  • Go to a proper fishmonger when possible.
  • Go fishing.

Fruit and veg

  • Buy organic.
  • Buy local.
  • Buy seasonal.
  • Get a vegetable box delivered (Abel & Cole, Riverford).
  • If it’s not in season or local, treat it as a luxury item.
  • Try and grow some.


  • Buy organic, free-range eggs.
  • Buy British cheeses, organic if possible.
  • Buy organic milk, in a bag to save on packaging.
  • Buy organic butter (don’t buy margarine) and use a butter dish (less packaging).

Pasta, rice and so on

  • Eat less rice (it comes a long way) and buy organic.
  • Experiment with more local grains and pulses.
  • Buy organic dried pasta.
  • Make bread or buy organic.


  • Buy organic, fair-trade chocolate (Divine, Green & Blacks) and don’t buy crap chocolate.
  • Buy organic, fair-trade coffee (Percol, Café Direct) and don’t drink instant.
  • Buy fair-trade tea.
  • Treat goods from far away like luxuries.


  • Drink local beer and cider.
  • Check the label and don’t drink lager brewed in distant countries.
  • Preference European wines – French, Italian, Spanish – and organic or biodynamic.
  • Drink organic fruit juice (and go for apple when they’re in season).
  • Cut out fizzy pop.
  • Don’t buy bottled water.
  • Drink in a pub.

Other principals

  • Cook from scratch (no ready meals).
  • Make use of leftovers and make stock from bones.
  • Always take a bag out shopping and refuse carrier bags.
  • Avoid items with loads of packaging.
  • Shop less in supermarkets and more in proper shops.

There’s more info in previous posts on fish, meat, apples, milk, butter and alcohol.

Now like all good diets, I realise we all may lapse from time to time but that’s fine. We’re only human after all. But I think its good to have something to aim at and some principals to try and stick to.

Now all this might cost a little bit more but I reckon if you’re eating a bit less meat and cutting out some of the expensive crap like ready meals, you can balance it out.

I also think that good food, particularly meat, should be a bit more expensive. If it’s a real bargain, the alarm bells should start ringing about what corners they cut to make it so cheap. And this is something you eat. I’d rather scrimp on something else.

I think that we should all think about our food, where comes from, who farmed it and how, how it got transported to us and how sustainable it is.

If you want to be a bit greener this year, thinking about the food you buy is a really good place to start. We buy loads of it. It’s easy to make significant changes. And when you do, what you eat generally taste a hell of a lot better. And more healthy. And having started to do a lot of this over the last year, it’s making me enjoy food a lot more. And that’s as it should be.

So then. Who’s with me? Who’s going to join me on my diet?

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I’m a carnivore. I like eating meat. Sausages, a well roasted chicken, a nice steak. Yum. But I’m aware that it has its environmental issues and that I should probably eat less. I don’t really want to stop eating meat but I do want to know how to eat it in the most sustainable way.

So, first things first – why is eating meat bad for the environment?

The main reason is that it’s pretty inefficient to produce. In order to make it, you have to feed and water animals and give them room to live. You need to grow around 10 kilos of feed in order to produce a single kilo of beef. Pork is a bit better, only needing around five kilos of feed and poultry needs less than three. Cows are also thirsty buggers and so you also require 100,000 litres of water per kilo of beef. That’s about the same amount a small household gets through in an entire year. Loads.

Animals also belch and fart. Burps and farts are mainly made up of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is far worse than CO2.

It’s thought that once you include the oil used to power farm machinery and produce the fertilisers needed to grow feed, meat production accounts for about 10% of the greenhouse gases contributing to warming our planet. That’s quite a significant chunk.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the world is eating an increasing amount of meat. Global consumption has gone up by a whacking 500% since 1950. The demand for feed for the 1.3 billion cows and 1.8 billion goats and sheep that we now need to meet this growing demand means that in many parts of the world rainforest is being cut down in order to create land to grow it. This also contributes to the problem as there are fewer trees to absorb CO2.

However, it’s not all bad.

Animals also poo. And manure is a brilliant fertiliser. Cow shit is the best natural alternative to nitrogen fertilizer. Without animal poo, organic farming would be very difficult indeed.

Also, if you have female animals producing milk so you can make butter, cheese and other dairy products then you’re going to end up with as many males wandering about doing nothing, so we might as well eat them before they eat too much grain and belch out too much methane. Cattle can also help maintain the habitat for some bird species.

So taking all that onboard, I’m not going to give up my meat habit. I think eating meat is a natural thing for humans to do. However, given its huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, I am going try and cut down on how much I eat. Particularly beef. And I’m going to try and make sure the meat I do buy has been produced in the most environmentally sound way. Inevitably it will be a bit more expensive but if I’m eating less of it, it should even out nicely. And I reckon good meat will taste better.

So what do I need know?


Buy British. Our standards are apparently the highest in the world and it will also have traveled less far, and so will account for far fewer food miles. We also have no shortage of water in this country.

Buy meat grown in “suckler herds”, where the animals can roam around eating grass. Look out for meat labelled free-range and certain slow-growing outdoor breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Highland, Sussex, Welsh Black and other rare breeds. If the animal is eating grass, then that will cut down considerably on its carbon hoof print.

If beef is intensively produced the cow will have spent its life in a crowded shed, with little exercise and chance to graze on grass, requiring specially grown feed. It will also be a much less healthy animal you’re eating. Animals intensively produced are also routinely given drugs – mostly antibiotics – to stimulate growth and prevent disease in overcrowded conditions. This means there may well be unhealthy drug residues in your meat. Some think it is also contributing to the problem of the problem of bugs becoming resistant to antibiotics and may well cause us problems treating diseases in the future.

Buy organic. Meat labelled organic must comply with much stricter animal-welfare standards and it also rules out use of routine antibiotics and including animals and fish in feed – also not a particularly healthy thing to do.

Organic beef is very common and much less expensive than other organic meats.


Again, buy British. Our welfare standards are much higher than in Europe where many pigs are kept in cages they can’t turn around in. On the continent, they also do nasty things like clip the animal’s teeth to stop them biting each other in cramped conditions, something that is illegal in the UK.

Buy free-range or outdoor-reared. Outdoor-reared is much better than outdoor-bred as this means that it was born in free-range conditions but by implication was then raised indoors. Again rare-breeds that are suited to the outdoors are a good sign and will taste better. These include Gloucestershire Old Spot, Tamworth, Large Black Bershire, Saddleback, British Lop, Middle White and Oxford Sandy & Black.

Buy organic. The animal will have had better conditions and a better diet. If you can’t get organic, products marked with the Little Red Tractor or RSPCA Freedom Foods logo offer some basic animal welfare guarantees although not as high as those certified organic.


Buying good lamb is pretty easy as it’s impossible to rear sheep intensively indoors. That’s why it’s generally more expensive. Sheep are also more eco as they make use of agriculturally marginal land and also produce wool and dairy products.

Organic lamb is good as it means that the sheep have been reared naturally and in the most environmentally sound way and fed on organic feed.

Don’t buy British in the winter or early in the year. Because we mainly eat lamb, rather than mutton, it’s seasonal. Lambs are born in the early spring so eating lamb over the winter or early in the year means that it has been born unnaturally.

One solution to this is to buy New Zealand lamb. Because it’s been reared in the southern hemisphere, it’s in season when home grown lamb isn’t. But surely transporting it 12,000 miles can’t be good? Well according to the Kiwi’s on average New Zealand lamb is four times as energy efficient as UK lamb even taking in to account the shipping costs. This because on average the Kiwis use less fertiliser and concentrated feeds. Obviously, it’s not as good as organic British lamb in season but if you’re craving lamb in the winter months, it’s the best option.


Chicken welfare has been talked about a lot recently. Most people are reasonably aware of the cramped conditions that intensively farmed chickens live in. However, from a purely environmental point of view and in terms of C02 emissions, an intensively produced broiler bird has the lowest impact. It lives for a very short amount of time – 51 days – and therefore eats a relative small amount of feed.

Personally though, I’d rather eat a little less chicken and know that it was a healthy animal that had had a decent natural life. And that didn’t suffer from nasty a skin disease because it’s spent its miserable days sitting in its own shit.

Organic birds are the next best option as their feed is organic and will not have used fertilisers, which contribute a large amount to their carbon footprint. They also will have foraged some of their food themselves from living outdoors and so require a little less. Organic certified birds will have at least as good welfare standards as free-range birds and may have lived longer.

Free-range will have a similar life span (56 days) as an intensively produced bird but will have been in the open air for at least half of their life. Traditional free-range birds have smaller flock sizes and are allowed to live for longer (81 days). Obviously the longer they live the less efficient they are to produce as they eat more food. The trade off is a slight improvement in welfare against an increase in C02 emissions. Barn-reared are essentially identical to “standard birds” but with lower stocking densities and a slightly longer life (56 days).

Whichever you go for, buy British. Despite some of the terrible conditions we keep chickens in, they’re actually far better than in many parts of the world. We ship in a lot of chicken from countries such as Thailand and Brazil and as well as contributing a lot of food miles, they are likely to have been produced in very unhealthy conditions.

So there you go. I’m going to try and eat veggie for at least a couple of days a week and restrict beef to a monthly treat. I’m not going to buy lamb in the winter or early spring. I’m also going to try and buy British organic, free-range rare breeds where possible. I’ll know that the animals lived a better life. And hopefully by eating less meat, it won’t cost me much more. And what I do eat will taste better. Sounds like a fair trade. Lovely.

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I like a drink as much as the next man. I am aware though that making, moving and packing alcoholic liquid can’t be terribly good for your carbon footprint.

Alcohol consumption in the UK accounts for at least 1.5% of our greenhouse gas emissions. So for all of us, a significant part of our carbon footprint is caused by having a drink. As a nation we are drinking more these days. Apparently if we reduced the amount we drink to what we did in the 1970s then alcohol would only account for about 0.9% of our total emissions.

However, as a man who enjoys real ale, Guinness, French wine and Scottish whiskey, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that may have been inadvertently blessed with liking the least bad of the boozes on offer. Am I right to be smug?

It turns out that the main types of alcoholic beverages – beer, wine and spirits – broadly speaking, have a similar impact.

Beer tends to generate more at consumption end: how it’s package, stored and served. You also need at least six pints of water to make one pint of beer. And it takes a fair bit of energy to make.

Wine is fairly low on the impact of its production. It does badly on transport though. Unsurprising when you think how far many of the bottles we drink have come. We don’t grow much wine in the UK after all.

Spirits, need even more water than beer to make and even more energy in the making stage too. They generally require less packaging though, and can be made locally so it evens out.

So on the macro scale, what you drink (if you drink) makes little difference. However, it’s the detail that matters.

Here are some of the things that will make the biggest difference.

Buy local (in a pub)

The most eco beer you can buy is a pint of your local brewery’s real ale. Real ale gets you eco-points as it doesn’t require extra chilling and pasturising during its production – both requiring energy. It also doesn’t need to be refrigerated before it’s served. Refrigeration is one of alcohol’s biggest impacts during the consumption stage.

Local beer hasn’t travelled very far and so clocks up relatively few food miles. And if you enjoy it in the surroundings of your local pub, it comes out of a keg and not a bottle or can. Kegs are reused. So very little packaging is involved. All good.

The same goes for local Cider.

Similarly, locally made wine is – ecologically speaking – the best wine you can buy. Obviously we don’t grow much of it in the UK – although we might start to as our climate warms – so if you drink a lot of wine moving to France is a ecologically sound option!

Buy foreign lagers made in the UK

If you really can’t stand good old British beer and want a pint of larger, have a look at the label. Many are brewed in the UK under license. Kronenbourg 1664, Grolsh, Carlsberg Export and Fosters are all brewed here. So they haven’t necessarily come far either. Most beers in the UK have travelled less than 600 miles. Again, drinking it in the pub means that less packaging.

Unfortunately (for me), the country that imports most beer into the UK is Ireland. The majority of this is of course Guinness. Bugger.

And if you do buy Guinness, the regular stuff obviously requires less refrigeration than Guinness Extra Cold.

Buy organic (probably)

As with everything, buying organic is better environmentally (beer and wine). Making things like pesticides is a very energy-intensive process. And the impact they have on soil and biodiversity is not good either. There are lower levels of sulphur involved in organic production, so organic wine and beers are apparently less likely to give you a hangover. Which, unless you like a pounding head, is another good reason to drink organic.

However, there are very few hops and barley grown in the UK so many British organic beers are often made with imported ingredients. A lot of them come from New Zealand, which of course means that they’ve clocked up quite a few miles… One of the few breweries that produces locally grown and brewed organic beer is Suffolk’s St Peters Brewery. It’s pretty good stuff too.

On the other hand, New Zealand organic wines – despite having come a long way – are actually better environmentally than intensively produced French wines. So it doesn’t always follow that booze from the other side of the world has the most environmental impact.

Biodynamic wines take organic one step further. The idea is to treat the whole farm as an ecosystem. It’s apparently catching on as it’s considered to make extremely good wines.

Buy beer in cans not bottles

There’s not a huge amount in it but cans require fractionally less energy to make than bottles. Making aluminium cans from scratch is one of the most energy intensive things you can do. However, we’re pretty good at recycling aluminium cans and turning old cans into new is a relatively efficient process. More efficient than turning recycled glass into new bottles. If we reused bottles, that would be better but we’re not doing that yet.

That said a local beer in a bottle is better than a lager in a can. And if you’re in a pub, go for draft, rather than a bottle. It’ll be cheaper too.

Drink whiskey (not gin or vodka)

Gin, whiskey and vodka make up two-thirds of the spirits we drink in the UK. Grain natural spirit – the basis for gin and vodka – uses two-to-three times as much energy to make as whiskey. A lot of vodka is also imported and has therefore travelled further. Conversely we end up exporting 90% of the Scotch we make.

Non-grain spirits – like rum and brandy – are also generally imported. Brandy is made from wine and so we don’t make it here.

If you buy vodka or gin, have a look at the label to see if it’s made in the UK.

Make your own

Making wine is a very low impact process. And you can make it from practically anything. You can also put it in your own bottles and reuse them. Making your own beer is also good, although economies of scale mean that local ale in a pub is probably better.

Drink less

Sad though it is to say, the best way to reduce the impact of the booze you drink is to drink less of it. Making alcohol is unfortunately a very intensive process. That said, so is making Coca Cola and orange juice so if you drink a similar amount of those instead, it’s probably not much better.

So it appears that I can be thankful that I’m not terribly keen on Vodka. But in future, much as I love it, I might find myself shunning a pint of the black stuff in favour of a pint of real ale from up the road. I may also find myself drinking in a pub more. I’ll drink to that.

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