Food-waste tips are all very well, but to save your planet be sure to vote

This year half the world goes to the polls with the risk of a swing to the right and away from environmental issues

A recent episode of Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell’s podcast Rest is Politics described a talk with 1,500 secondary school pupils who were asked about environment and climate. Only one-quarter of the students identified this as their number-one concern, with more focusing on inequality and the cost of living – traditionally the preserve of older voters – as the main issue. I was listening as I travelled back from Barcelona, having visited an organisation called Espigoladors (“the gleaners”). The practice of following the harvest to gather up what’s left is called “gleaning”. In three hours, 15 volunteers picked 650kg of broad beans in a field just outside the city. All this nutritious produce had been left behind either because there was no market for it, or it was too costly to harvest relative to the price that could be obtained.

Over a beer that evening, I shared memories of my brother-in-law’s crushed broad beans on toast with mint, lemon, a hint of garlic and lashings of olive oil. We also shared insights and discussed challenges – on funding, on impact, on poverty. The unemployment rate in Spain is 13 per cent, down from 25 per cent in 2013, but Catalonia’s largest food bank, Fundació Banc dels Aliments de Barcelona, like similar community organisations in Ireland, is seeing more and more working families who need food support because of rising costs.

We talked about individual behavioural change to protect the environment. How can we use gleaning, cooking with surplus and food sharing, not only to avoid food waste but to change the system and influence the public? “If one more person asks me for food waste tips!” one volunteer, Raquel, tsk-tsked. The popularity of tips is understandable. People want to act on climate change by doing something tangible (in this case by reducing food waste) and manageable. These bite-sized hacks, regularly featuring herby ice cubes and blueberry smoothies, tick the box. Individuals want to share their ideas too, because it is empowering and develops connections based on shared values. Yet, like every frittata recipe ever written, it begins to feel overdone.

When your councillors and TDs come knocking, drill a hole in their ears about delays to renewable energy projects. Raise your worries about our food system

But I do have one novel food-waste hack. Use your vote.

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This year half the world will go to the polls. The European Council on Foreign Relations predicts, in respect of the European Parliament elections, that we will see, “a significant shift to the right in many countries in the June vote, with populist radical right parties gaining votes and seats across the EU, and centre-left and green parties losing votes and seats.”

This is a significant risk to climate action. Just last week, some of the European Council of Environment ministers put the kibosh on the Nature Restoration Law (NRL), saying they would rather deal with it after the June elections. A critical piece of legislation for biodiversity, and therefore our food systems and climate change mitigation, that sought to implement mandatory land restoration targets on member states, was scuppered at the final hurdle.

In January, Friends of the Earth commissioned an Ireland Thinks survey which found that almost two in three people (63per cent) are more worried about the impacts of climate change than they were two years ago, and almost one in two people (46 per cent) think the Government “is not doing enough, fast enough, to cut Ireland’s pollution”.

These concerns are not translating into the urgent mandate for climate action that regular (or non-green) politicians require – especially because, as Stewart and Campbell found in the classroom, when it comes to voting, the majority of the electorate will be focused on issues that appear more immediately urgent, like housing and health.

Just last week, some of the European Council of Environment ministers put the Kibosh on the Nature Restoration Law, saying they would rather deal with it after the June elections

Looking at my nephews and nieces who would like to be out in the world, sharing a pad or house hunting, but who are still living at home; looking at the waiting lists for everything from MRIs to scoliosis surgery, that’s understandable. These issues are critically important. Yet if we don’t have a liveable planet then none of them matter.

So when councillors and TDs come knocking, drill a hole in their ears about delays to renewable energy projects. Raise your worries about our food system. Tell them that, even though it will be difficult in the short run, you’ve got their backs when it comes to faster, fairer climate action. If you want to equip yourself for debate on the doorstep, sign up to Stop Climate Chaos.

As Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said, furious at the Nature Restoration Law rain check, “now is not the time to hit the pause button”.

My second food-waste tip? Use your freezer.

Angela Ruttledge is head of public engagement at Food Cloud

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