A Bite for the Future

Eve McGann explains why there’s more to sustainable eating than one might think

Anyone else find themselves and their lunch a prime target of the seagulls circling the main square this week? I think they can smell the unchecked fearlessness of a fresher who does not know any better but to tote her Boojum burrito around campus uncovered, and who is too distracted by the google maps route on her phone to her lecture to be on alert for attacks from the sky. Using my head as a docking point from which to launch its attack, a seagull snapped up my lunch last month and now I know to just use the Buttery. 

“The gulls are simply adapting in preparation for the inevitable; the day when there will be no fish left in the oceans to hunt for, at all”

After the passing of the necessary recovery period, I can now understand the seagulls’ side of it. We haul their food out of the ocean trawler by trawler to meet the demands of the fish market and as fish populations drop even lower because of this, the gulls are simply adapting in preparation for the inevitable; the day when there will be no fish left in the oceans to hunt for, at all. 

This is not to say that anyone found eating a tuna sandwich should be forced to pass under the Campanile; only that if you think what you eat does not affect the planet, think again. When it comes to climate change, diet and the planet are intrinsically linked. Bear with me through the next part: I promise it’s not as bleak as it seems, I just have to provide some statistics to get the stem students onside.

Globally, the agricultural sector is the second greatest greenhouse gas emitter, (just behind the energy sector) and of this, the meat industry accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, a 2021 study has found

The EPA’s most recent report has found that agriculture is the number one driver of climate change in Ireland, contributing to a whopping 38.4% of GHG emissions in 2022, an increase compared to its 1990 report. In fact, Ireland has ‘the highest agriculture emission contribution towards national total emissions from any of the EU member states,’ so it’s clear that adapting eating habits to lessen such figures is about the most impactful thing one can do to help combat the climate crisis. 

The meat industry drives deforestation, as land is cleared not only for livestock to graze on but to grow crops for animal feed. Livestock, cattle in particular, also produce vast quantities of methane gas in a digestive process known as enteric fermentation (burps is the less scientific term) and methane is more than 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

Clearly growing crops to feed animals, to feed us, is a far less efficient use of the earth’s resources than if this land was just used to grow crops directly for us – 2.5kg of greenhouse gases are emitted to produce 1kg of wheat, meanwhile, a single kilo of beef creates 70kg of emissions and it takes 3.2kg of crops to produce 1kg of chicken meat. Despite this, meat production continues to rise, so much so that the global ratio of chickens to humans is now 3:1. 

The fishing industry is unfortunately no better, as you may have inferred from this article’s totally subtle opening: “The rise of industrial fishing has led to the harvesting of wildlife at rates too high for species to replace themselves. Today, over a third of global stocks are overfished … throwing ecosystems dangerously out of balance.” (National Geographic). 

These issues are only the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg when it comes to industrialised farming, which is why when it comes to helping the planet, veganism is the best diet one can adopt. Wait, don’t go. 

If you’re willing to opt for the plant-based items on the menu, but aren’t sure where to start, there are countless spots around the city offering delicious and affordable plant-based meals that are hearty as well as healthy. Truly gone are the days of celery sticks and carrot soup. Found in George’s Arcade and at a few other locations across Dublin, Umi Falafel is a 100% vegetarian chain that serves a wide array of fresh falafels and sandwiches for under €9. Also in George’s Arcade, Flip Burger is a great place to munch on a vegan burger – the time it takes you to eat it will be just enough to convince you not to get that piercing from the nearby tattoo parlour. 

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want”

The Pepper Pot café in Powerscourt Townhouse centre is great for a sit-down lunch – if you’re going with another person, split a bagel and each get the €3 side soup, you won’t regret it, trust me. Then of course there’s Tang on Dawson street – if you ever needed to justify going there for the inevitable purchase of the post-lecture sweet treat, the quote on their website by Anna Lappe is a great enabler: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” There is also Cornucopia on Wicklow street, which is a bit pricier but has been in the veggie business for almost forty years for a reason. 

Finally, a perhaps less-known spot but a personal favourite, Govinda’s on Middle Abbey street is a vegetarian restaurant serving authentic Indian cuisine and, I swear by this, they have the best lentil soup in the city for just €2.95.

The Merrion Square Lunchtime market is also a great place to eat foods you enjoy in a sustainable way by supporting local businesses. It’s on every Thursday from 11:30am to 2:30pm, with 20 different food trucks for you to choose from. A 10-minute walk from campus, this market in the park is the perfect place to visit if you have an hour in between lectures, especially with warmer weather on the horizon. 

A plant-based diet is not the only way to eat with the environment in mind though. It would be far more impactful for the majority of the population to eat as plant-based as possible but to balance this desire to make a difference with their own food preferences as well, rather than there being a handful of extremely dedicated vegans while the remainder of the crowd are largely indifferent to or unaware of how their food choices impact the planet. Veganism or vegetarianism are not the only diets that can be adopted in order to help the planet. Eco-conscious eating is all about balance and a little something of what I like to call being ‘savvy.’

The TooGoodToGo app is a fantastic way to eat the foods you most enjoy, in the most sustainable and budget-friendly way. Started in Denmark in 2015, the app now has over 500,000 users across Europe and North America, allowing food businesses to sell their surplus food at the end of each day to customers at a reduced price, saving the unsold food from ending up in the landfill. The app notifies you about nearby businesses offering ‘TooGoodToGo bags’ and while the contents of the bag are a surprise, there is always plenty of food inside for the price you pay. You can even pin your favourite places so that you never miss out. This enables people to not only enjoy the foods they love without harming the planet, but also reduces national food waste. 

Finally, I think considering the queues outside Alpro earlier this month, it is important to mention the most sustainable milk to accompany a hot or iced beverage. While all milk alternatives are far better for the planet than dairy given the high levels of methane gas that cows emit, not all are necessarily eco or ethically friendly. Almond, rice and coconut milk all pose problems to the environment, from killing bee populations through pesticide use to the exploitation of workers in poor regions. Hazelnut, soy and oat milk are the environmentally superior options. Hazelnuts are wind rather than bee pollinated. Soy can be sustainable once grown organically, and is the plant milk containing the most protein. Oats are ‘grown in cooler climates such as the northern US and Canada,’ therefore not contributing to the issue of deforestation in developing countries.

So now, with this information under your belt, you can fight the seagulls off your faux-bacon-tofu-bean wrap with a guilt-free conscience. You’re really, in fact, trying to protect them.