“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Rethinking our eating for a brighter future.

In Europe today, the food sector is a major consumer of energy: the amount of energy necessary to cultivate, process, pack and bring the food to European citizens’ tables accounts for 17 % of the EU’s gross energy consumption in 2013, equivalent to about 26 % of the EU’s final energy consumption in the same year. This article will look at the different actors that are involved in the food industry from consumers, to farmers and of course the EU and how each ought to change in order to move toward a greener future.

Consumers play an important role because everyday decisions about food consumption contribute to the amount of energy required by food by a factor of four. Potential actions consumers can take to reduce their energy “food print” include: reducing meat consumption, buying locally and seasonally, as well as reducing food waste and substituting organic food when possible. The EU food industry is also making important contributions to make their activities more sustainable, through both increased investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements. The food industry’s energy consumption from 2005-13 has declined, both in absolute terms as well as in terms of energy intensity, producing more while using less energy.

European farmers are already leading the way in this transition through efforts to increase the use of renewable energy in agricultural production, for example. Thanks to investments in farm-based renewable technologies like biogas, farmers have the potential to not only become energy self-sufficient, but also to make a major contribution to EU energy production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.Several food processing industries are also exploring the possibility of recovering the energy contained in food residues on site, through biogas production or in dedicated combined heat and power plants. Energy efficiency in food transport is pursued through two possible pathways: improving the energy performance of the transportation systems and decreasing or optimising the amount of transportation itself.

Policy design reflects the complexity of the challenge of matching our food habits with our green goals: in the EU, a large portfolio of policies and political initiatives have already been deployed and other are going to be adopted, resulting in an important combined effect for the overall energy profile of food production. EU policies such as the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive have helped set the stage for a transition to a more sustainable food system.The EU’s Common Agriculture Policy plays an important role in the process, in particular through incentivising investments in more sustainable farming methods, as well as the rural development programme, aiming to “facilitate the supply and use of renewable sources of energy. For the food industry, the future looks bright, if we all come together and do our bit. As Orson Welles said “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Tell us what you think. “Are you ready to review your eating habits in order to complement sustainable energy goals?”