Food sustainability and holiday dishes

Food sustainability and holiday dishes

August 05, 2019

Food sustainability and holiday dishes

Experimenting with new dishes is an important part of the pleasure of travelling and getting to know different cultures. But how sustainable (and healthy) are the typical dishes of the destinations preferred by Italians? The Barilla Foundation has done the math

Some countries are virtuous when it comes to food sustainability and implement policies to avoid food waste or to promote sustainable and smart agriculture. Together with the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Barilla Foundation has drawn up an international ranking that can be consulted through the Food Sustainability Index (FSI). However, countries that place great emphasis on sustainability may have typical dishes that are not as sustainable and vice versa. The Barilla Foundation analysed each dish according to its Carbon Footprint (the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to produce it – expressed in grams) and Water Footprint (water used – expressed in litres), as well as the amount of soil needed to produce it. The more soil it needs, the “heavier” the dish will be for the Planet and for renewable natural resources. A colour was assigned to each recipe analysed (on a colour scale from green, synonymous with sustainability, to red, symbolising a strong impact on Earth’s resources), as well as a position in the Environmental Pyramid, a graphic representation of food classified according to its environmental impact. The lower a dish is positioned, the more sustainable it is. 

Pizza is not the greenest dish 

According to the FSI, for example, Italy has significant room for improvement in terms of sustainability (it is making progress in the fight against waste, but has the potential to improve on various fronts, for example by limiting the over-exploitation of fish resources), and its iconic dish, pizza, also ranks in an intermediate position. 

A classic “margherita”, made with mozzarella and tomato, has a Carbon Footprint of 652, a Water Footprint of 412 and uses 2.46 m2 of soil. This means that pizza is in the medium-lower end of the ranking. From a nutritional point of view, instead, pizza margherita is still considered a complete food, as it contains the three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. To further improve its nutritional profile according to the parameters of the Mediterranean diet, you can opt for those made with type 1 or 2 flours, wholemeal or semi-wholemeal.

Fish and chips? Not bad, but less healthy

In terms of sustainability, pizza outperforms a typical Anglo-Saxon street food product such as fish and chips, which always ranks in the middle, yet from a nutritional point of view it may not be a wise choice. Fried food is fine but only if eaten occasionally, as it contains a significant amount of fats, which are altered when brought to high temperatures as in frying. 

By contrast, France is known for its cuisine based on meat and dairy products, but if you’re looking for something lighter and more summery go for a classic Salade niçoise, made with green beans and peppers, but also tuna and eggs. A 100-gram portion “weighs” just 64 grams of CO2 and ranks in the most sustainable area of the environmental sustainability rating, the one marked by the colour dark green. If, instead, you decide to go for more typical dishes, such as stewed beef or fish with the famous French sauces, you can console yourself considering the general performance of the country, which is among the most virtuous in the Food Sustainability Index ranking, in terms of food production methods and in the fight against waste.

Paella? Better if vegetarian

Anyone who visits Spain must try its most traditional dish, that is, paella. It is a complete dish also from a nutritional point of view, since it contains fish and meat proteins, fibre from vegetables and gluten-free carbohydrates from rice. But what impact does it have on the environment? By analysing the classic Valencian version, we will find that almost 2 m2 of soil and 241 litres of water are needed to produce a 100-gram portion. This is a good performance on the whole: it is a more sustainable dish than the typical dishes of nearby Portugal where cod makes the local cuisine less sustainable. The classic Pasteis de Bachalau (cod croquette) generates 170 grams of CO2 per 100 grams of product, whereas with grilled cod it becomes 250 grams. Both are in the medium-lower end of the ranking.

European coasts can do better

For some years now, two other countries that have become increasingly popular with Italian tourists are Greece and Croatia. Greece is in a medium-low position with the FSI: many indicators are good (for example, less food is wasted compared to the European average), others less (few investments are made in sustainable agriculture projects). A typical Greek dish, moussaka, can be considered sustainable, requiring 241 litres of water per 100 grams and is positioned in the green section of the Environmental Pyramid. 

As for Croatia, it is a different matter: pašticada, one of the most famous dishes from Dalmatia, made from veal, requires 15 m2 of soil and 2,300 litres of water.  This places it in the most negative part of the ranking, marked by the colour red. By contrast, Croatia is a country that is working hard to be more sustainable: there is still much to do in terms of policy responses to the problem of food waste in the chain that goes from the producer to the supermarket, but it can boast a good biodiversity and slightly lower food waste at an individual level (56 kg/year, 65 in Italy). 

The winner? It is made with legumes

While respecting the criteria of the Mediterranean diet, not all dishes from countries bordering the sea have a good ecological footprint.

Those who visit Morocco, for example, can enjoy a good couscous. Typical Moroccan couscous, made with lamb, chickpeas and raisins, is not very light, not even for our planet: 548 litres of water are required for 100 grams, which places it in the orange section of the pyramid. It would be preferable to choose its vegetarian version, thus saving 50 litres of water per portion.

Also in the Mediterranean, falafels – a chickpea dish typical of Israel and of neighbouring Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt and Lebanon – is one of the champions of sustainability and undoubtedly ranks at the top, with its 101 m2 of CO2 per portion and its green colour in the Environmental Pyramid. It is also a good dish if you want to increase your legume intake, since legumes are high in fibre and provide proteins of excellent quality, rich in essential amino acids and easily digestible.

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