14 March 2022

We’ve become more and more accustomed to taking food for granted – we spend less on feeding ourselves as a proportion of our income than at any time in human history. On average, we spend between 5% and 10% of what we earn on food. A century ago, the typical family would spend over half of their income on food. Waste wasn’t an issue when food was such a precious commodity, when so many hours of labour had to be traded for it. We have become wasteful – and complacent.

BPCC’s green blog:

COP26 – after the party, the fallout
Car fleets, driving to work and ESG
Communicating the Green Imperative within your firm
How green is your office?
The Green Canteen
Remake, remodel – remanufacture?
Nudging the consumer towards a greener way of life
The Green Transformation and business – top-down or bottom-up?

But our easy-come-easy-go approach to food may soon change. We may see our food-spend doubling as a proportion of our income – at the same time as interest rates and mortgages repayments suddenly jump in response of rising inflation. Several factors combine, but the key one is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce well over 110 million tonnes of wheat a year, around a quarter of global production. With sanctions hitting Russia and the extreme difficulties facing Ukrainian farmers, their land invaded, it is clear that wheat prices are likely to soar.

Ukraine is not only a massive wheat producer. It is also the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil, and a global top-ten producer of corn, nuts and honey.

The war has knock-on effects for Polish agriculture, where the biggest single user of natural gas is Grupa Azoty, Poland’s largest chemicals conglomerate, for use in making nitrogen fertiliser. Most of that gas comes from Russia. Grupa Azoty is one of Europe’s largest producers of fertilisers, responsible for over three-quarters of Poland’s fertiliser production. Without access to Russian gas, there will be shortages which will knock on into crop yields.

Food prices will also go up because of the rising price of fuel. Farmers ploughing their land need diesel, as do delivery drivers getting food to the shops. The food supply-chain from field to fork is dependent on fossil fuels.

What can we do?

We can help with the fuel situation by reducing demand – to echo the British WW2 slogan – “Is your journey really necessary?” If you can, use public transport, walk or cycle, or car-share. Driving yourself in a large SUV a few miles each way to the office is bad for the environment and bad for the economy; you are using fuel that is better used for the production and distribution of food, the demand you are creating at the pumps has an effect on supply. Leave that fuel for the farmer.

Our food waste also needs to be tackled, in particular the waste we generate at home. Buying too much, cooking too much, then throwing away the surplus – at no time is this good behaviour, but now it’s particularly egregious.

It is likely that the situation in Ukraine will get much worse before it gets better. We need to change the way we behave – it is clear that’s what is good for the environment is a shared benefit.

The Green Blog by Michael Dembinski

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment