Rationing: the rational choice for our health and the environment

I was excited when I was given the opportunity to participate in the WWII Rationing Challenge.

For me, the challenge is not only a way to experience a diet like that of my grand-parents during the 1940s, it will also test my cooking skills, make me think about what I am eating, and most importantly, reduce my environmental impact.

Like the diet of those living in the 1930s, the current UK diet is full of ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsustainable’ foods. We consume large amounts of animal products, and not enough fruit and vegetables – very few people eat their 5-a-day.

The greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) related to the production of the current UK diet are around 2.8kg of CO2e  per person per day, or just under 20kg per week. Recent studies have modelled what a healthy sustainable diet might look like in the future, and have found that a 90% reduction in GHGE can be achieved by only eating 7 food items. Alternatively, a less extreme diet was modelled which reduced CO2e emissions by 1/3.

Rationing provides us with an effective way to move towards a sustainable and healthy diet that does not require as much dietary change and sacrifice. It only involves reducing 9 foods; mostly animal products and sugars. These are replaced with starchy foods (such as bread, pasta, and rice) and fruit and veg, making it easier to eat the recommended 5-a-day. Choosing cheaper, seasonal options which are associated with low GHGE will help us reduce the environmental impact of our diet further.

Meat consumption is the area where rationing will have the largest impact. Currently, the average Briton consumes about 570g of meat every week, equating to a third of their dietary GHGE. Reducing meat consumption by rationing would decrease this by 2.7kg of CO2e a week, a 14% reduction of total dietary GHGE! The ration of 50g of meat per day also has health benefits, falling under the maximum of 70g a day of red and processed meat consumption recommended to reduce cancer and diabetes risk.

As part of the rationing challenge I am recording my daily food consumption – what meals I ate, and approximate weights – using a free demo version of Intake 24. I hope at the end of the rationing challenge to be able to share the environmental impacts of my actual diet with you. If you are curious the environmental impact of your diet, please feel free to also use Intake 24 to work out an average diet. Alternatively, get in contact with me and I would be happy to calculate the GHGE impact of your diet, and provide tips on how to eat more sustainably.

If you are interested in learning more about the sustainability implications of rationing, this is an interesting post by Mark Roodhouse from the University of York.

Email: C.Reynolds@sheffield.ac.uk Twitter: @sartorialfoodie

Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow (N8 AgriFood project, Theme 3: Improved nutrition and consumer behaviour), Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of Sheffield.