Sustainable Diets

ENCOURAGING CONSUMERS to adopt sustainable diets is important for health, environmental and social reasons. But there is difficulty in defining what such a diet is and how to communicate this to the consumer in a way they can engage with says Louise Neville, Sustainability Officer, Quorn.


Consumers will ask why they should make changes, what they should be, how to make them and how to afford them. As an industry, we need to be ready to answer.


Recently we’ve seen consumers become more aware of the unsustainable nature of the current food system and our consumption patterns. This has led to questions on what the alternatives might be and how we might move towards them.


The sustainable diet involves minimising negative effects on health, nutrition, and environmental and societal issues at both macro and micro levels. As a result, it is starting to dawn on us that we face a range of issues including widespread diet-related health problems, clear inequality of food access globally, extensive food wastage and a food chain that is largely ignorant of the footprint it exerts on the environment.


We are also beginning to realise that our food consumption patterns have the potential to contribute more to climate change than activities that may come to mind more readily such as flights or car journeys – showing just how big the issue really is.


Enjoyment of food is the chief driver that will lead consumers to think more carefully about the choices they make. A shift towards sustainable diets will promote dishes that are nutritionally well-rounded as well as satisfying and tasty.


What’s more, with consumers having a closer connection to the food they consume they will want to waste less. They’ll be more aware of where it comes from, when it’s available, how it’s grown and by whom.


Creativity and innovation from food companies with concepts such as leftover menu ideas could also help trigger a culture where waste becomes taboo. However, the extent of food wastage before it reaches the plate must be dealt with further up the supply chain too.


It is vital that a joined-up industry movement pushes this agenda forward and brings together a clear and simple vision of sustainable food choices, moving it beyond just a concept, if it is to become feasible for the majority of consumers in the UK.


Personal and global health tie in together very well, so this could be the starting point for food policy to engage with the consumer. Some organisations – such as the WWF – have already made admirable attempts to help consumers engage with the issues. For example, its Livewell 2020 campaign recognises that what is good for us is, generally, good for the planet – this is a powerful message.


More food businesses and supply chain partners need to take the initiative and evaluate their own impacts. This will help to unveil some of the mystery and complexity behind the overall impact of the food supply chain.


If there is one thing that opinion formers in this area agree on, it’s the significance of the meat industry and its contribution to climate change. However, to encourage a reduction in meat consumption, consumers need to be educated on the options they have and this is where meat-free alternatives have an important role to play.


The origin of Quorn actually lies in an innovation challenge in the 1960s concerning food security in the 1960s in which scientists were asked to find a new food source to counteract a predicted world food and protein shortage if there was a population boom. In this way, the sustainable diet agenda represents a new opportunity for innovative food production techniques to play a vital part in helping consumers enjoy a truly balanced diet.