Low-carbon lifestyle: sustainable eating edition

By Madeline Gray 

Recently, I moved out and have been trying to navigate the journey of sustainable eating through a realistic and cost-effective perspective. I’ve been attempting to understand how we can incorporate environmentally-friendly habits into our food choices and everyday living. 

Why? Food production accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up half of the earth’s habitable surface. To limit climate and global warming, we will have to revisit our diets.   

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in a bid to live a low-carbon life on a flat-friendly budget.

Learn what your low-carbon options are


I often reach for the items I am familiar with, hesitant to stray away from my usual lunchtime menu. However, there may be an alternative option that releases less carbon during production, which is made more ethically and is better for you and the planet. 

Here is a guide to carbon emissions per food item to help you make low-carbon swaps from The Mouthful. Generally, the highest emitters are red meat and dairy so steering clear of those as much as possible is a good place to start.

Secondly, buying locally and in season is an easy win. Imported foods come with a raft of additional transport emissions compared to foods grown up the road. Growing watermelons out of season also means using a lot more energy in a glasshouse than if we only grow them in summer. 

The simplest way to avoid these extra emissions is to buy food naturally produced in your climate and local. Plus, it can be rewarding to eat with the seasons. Here’s a guide to eating seasonally in New Zealand to help with your meal prep.

By no means am I suggesting that you throw away what you already have or source a completely new pantry; I am just inviting you to consider possible other options. Maybe substitute just one item you have and see how easy it is. Slow and subtle changes will always make a great impact in the long run.

Reduce food waste


Throwing out unused or spoiled food accounts for 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere every year. Buying more food than we need also signals to farmers that they should produce more, skewing supply chains and increasing carbon emissions.

It never feels good scraping scraps into the rubbish bin, so how do we waste less and ensure our waste (both food and other) is used productively?

The easiest way is to create a meal plan for the week. Know what you are using in what meals so it doesn’t sit in the cupboard and spoil. 

The art of correct bins and composting


When we need to throw things out, we need to perfect the art of using the correct bins. 

Oddly enough, only having one bin seems to be awfully common. This is especially concerning as New Zealand is one of the largest garbage-producing countries in the world (per capita). How is it that we seem to have terrible waste habits when we live in such a beautiful country?

This is why it is so important to use multiple bins in the proper way. This means separating your recycling and, if possible, having a compost bin (If you are unable to have a compost bin, check out the Community Composting initiative or the Compost Collective). Educate yourself on what goes into these different bins and how you can minimise waste to landfills through bins.

It should also be mentioned that instead of binning things right away, see if you can somehow reuse them!! For example, using cans for containers for growing herbs or jars for gifts. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it.

Sustainable agriculture: your very own herb garden


This is personally my favourite notion. A herb garden is not only sustainable and low carbon but is a great reason to enjoy the outdoors, creating a perfectly calming environment. 

This also means that you always have fresh herbs on your doorstep and, over time, this will be cost-efficient. Overall, herb gardens will make dishes tastier, fresher and further sustainable. 

Top tip: plant herbs in containers or jars that you are wanting to repurpose; this lowers waste in a helpful cyclical way!!

More on meat consumption (and lowering it when you can!!)


I am currently on my own personal journey with reducing my meat consumption, so I’m going to give it a little more space in this post in case anyone finds it helpful. 

Growing up in a household that consumes a lot of meat, or being an individual who may need to eat meat for health reasons, it can be difficult to lower how much meat you ingest. 

The transition can be challenging and finding recipes can seem overwhelming, but it is crucial that we try, with meat and dairy accounting for around 14.5% of all global emissions.

Meatless Mondays resonated with me as an achievable place to start. The idea is to have a meal every so often that uses alternative ingredients that provide protein instead of meat. 

I was curious about where I could find easy, accessible recipes and have complied a list for all of you out here:

  • Vegan Eats; Run by Erica, Vegan eats is an Instagram account based in Aotearoa that shares the best vegan food around the country. Who knows, maybe the cafe near you has some hidden options you were unaware of. 

  • Fit Green Mind; Maya is a popular Youtube and Instagram content creator who shares her vegan recipes. She is not only a genuine person to watch, but her recipes are easy to follow and incorporate ingredients that are accessible to many. 

  • Food Scrapz; Food Scrapz is an idea that was set up by a group of Auckland University of Technology students for the purpose of sharing easy, accessible and quick recipes. The recipes are innovative and provide variety in everyday dishes. 

I hope you find them useful.

Take time


Finally, I leave you with the reminder to breathe, to remember that positive change takes time and that is perfectly okay. Sustainable living is not a race but rather a personal journey of what works best for each individual. 


Written for Co-Benefits by Madeline Gray

Kia Ora, I’m Maddie, a second-year university student with an interest in all things sustainability but most of all love looking at ways that we can educate people on climate issues.


Photo by Markus Spiske via Upsplash

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