Environmental impacts of food highlighted in new campaign

May 18, 2023 | Local News

Places to eat in County Durham have signed up to an innovative new scheme which will see carbon ratings included on their menus.

Durham County Council has launched its second Food for the Planet campaign which is aimed at encouraging both eating establishments and their customers to think more about the carbon emissions associated with their meals and snacks.

The council has already received a glowing national endorsement for its new initiative, from The Vegetarian Society. The campaigning charity chose County Durham as the place to launch its annual National Vegetarian Week campaign, which kicked off this week, in appreciation of the local authority’s desire to promote environmentally friendly food choices.

Cllr Mark Wilkes, the council’s Cabinet member for neighbourhood and climate change, said: “We all know that as a society we need to do everything we can to reduce our impact on the environment and that is why in County Durham we have a Climate Emergency Action Plan.

“What is perhaps less well known is that the food we eat accounts for up to 37 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Food for the Planet campaign is all about ensuring restaurants and cafes are aware of how much carbon is emitted as a result of what they serve and encouraging them to consider offering more produce that is both sustainable and local.

“Similarly, this is something we want their customers to be aware of so they can consider the impact of the food they eat, and think about buying local produce and making more low carbon choices.”

The campaign, funded by Sustain, will see specialists from My Emissions, a provider of carbon calculations and labelling for the food sector, going through the menus of eating establishments that sign up.

They will give each item on the menu a rating based on the amount of carbon that is emitted in the process of its journey from production to plate.

Places to eat will then be encouraged to display these ratings on their menus for customers to consider.

The council plans to gather evidence through the campaign to assess how carbon ratings influence consumer choice, which will be shared with other authorities around the country.

Signed up to Food for the Planet are REfUSE Café and Stroodles, both at Chester-le-Street, Durham University’s catered accommodation, Teesdale Cheesemakers, Broomhouse Farm near Sacriston and Bayberry Hollow at Tanfield.

Simon Park, the university’s senior energy and sustainability manager, said: “Food and drink makes up a significant proportion of the university’s carbon footprint, so it’s great to work with the council’s low carbon economy team to carbon rate our menus. This type of nudge campaign fits with the ethos of our Greenspace Movement, which encourages small acts, that together make a big difference.”

The campaign, and National Vegetarian Week, were launched at a special event at the REfUSE cafe.

Attendees, including Young MasterChef finalist and vegan chef Jordan Pomerance, were served up a tasty meal with a difference. For each dish, the carbon emissions were calculated and converted into car miles equivalent. Diners paid £1 per car mile to show them the true cost of the food we eat.

The Vegetarian Society’s chief executive Richard McIlwain, said: “Carbon footprint labelling could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change and this National Vegetarian Week we are calling on government and food manufacturers to act urgently in rolling out clear carbon labelling on food packaging. The fact that Durham is also interested in carbon calculations on menus – for encouraging sustainable behaviour around low carbon food choices – makes it an ideal location to launch the week. Plus, the Refuse Café is a great example of bringing together the concepts of reducing food waste and eating more plant-based foods – both of which are needed to help reduce carbon emissions from our food system.”