How Worried Should We Be About Air Pollution In Canterbury?

Today we have our second guest post from Justin Fox, a graduate of the University of Kent, having studied History here from 2012-2015.

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Situated a good ways south of London amidst the ‘Garden of England’, you could be forgiven for assuming that Canterbury and the surrounding parts of Kent are oasis’s of environmental welfare and a triumph of nature. However, as with any urban hub that has increasingly developed and become more and more built up over time, there is a hidden menace which threatens our health and goes against the most central tenants of sustainability.

Whether you’re based up by the University or in the heart of the city, there’s no getting away from the emissions of industry, transport, and those generated just from day to day living. According to Canterbury Council, their current objective in this regard is to keep a lid on the quantity of nitrogen dioxide being produced and specific attention is being paid to the city centre and surrounding primary roads.

 

The ring road around Canterbury city centre

Naturally when compared to the larger and more densely populated cities across the country, Canterbury is hardly going to be the first location that requires urgent aid. Statistics from Air Quality England since the turn of the year place the city within the lowest ‘band’ of pollution and note that the Strategic Objectives for the area are ‘not exceeded’.

However that’s not to say things are totally fine and there’s no reason for Canterbury residents to be concerned about air quality at a local level. Persistent exposure to unclean air can have all kinds of unforeseen consequences as even low levels of pollution can do damage to someone if they feel its impact each and every day.

The prevalence of agricultural farms on such a scale nearby also could be some cause for concern as a factor driving air pollution as animals on farms in particular are known for being a net contributor to methane emissions. Whilst there’s no denying the valuable economic contribution food production has both countywide and nationally, that as with most things comes with an environmental cost.

Indeed there were worries in the Spring of 2016 that air pollutants from farms within Kent were going to combine with those from mainland Europe and create an ‘agricultural smog’. Various officials recommended that those with pre-existing breathing issues should avoid physical activity and seek shelter where possible, and that anyone else displaying symptoms of breathing difficulties should also stop what they are doing and take things easy.

Westgate Gardens

Overall the point is that despite appearances, air pollution is a serious matter even in locales where you might not think it would be a matter of priority. Whilst comparatively benign compared to larger population centres, that’s not to say work isn’t still needed to better air quality in Canterbury. Newly incoming MP Rosie Duffield had covered the matter in the run-up to the election, so hopefully action can soon be taken to set matters aright. For the time being though individual responsibility is still vital to protecting ourselves from the effects of pollution, as complacency cannot be afforded with an issue that impacts on every one of us.

A sustainable food breakdown

Monday saw the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, two weeks of celebrating the Fairtrade movement, raising awareness of what Fairtrade is and what it had achieved, and encouraging people to switch over to Fairtrade where possible.

The University of Kent is a Fairtrade University and has a Fairtrade Steering Group that works to promote Fairtrade to our staff and students, ensuring that we stock an increasing range of Fairtrade products and seeking opportunities to increase our communities knowledge around trade issues.

Fairtrade is one aspect of what I would term sustainable food. Sustainable food, being a grouping of food and drink items that are produced in a way that has a reduced negative impact on our environment and communities. Below I give a breakdown of some of the key areas of that may come under the sustainable food collective; the list is not exhaustive so if you have any others you would like featured here, please let me know! (Header image – Enjoy responsibly by Dan Norris and Ray Shaughnessy)

Fairly traded goods

For more information on fair trade and the difference between fair trade and the Fairtrade Mark please take a look at last week’s blog.

Local Food

There is no official definition for ‘Local Food’ but often we expect local food to be comprised of the following characteristics:

  • Low food miles – the miles the food has traveled from where it was grown/produced to our table
  • Direct sales – the consumer can purchase the food locally often directly from the farmer/producer e.g. through farmers markets
  • Ecological/geographical charateristics – the food has been grown/produced in an area that shares the same ecological/geographical characteristics e.g. same soil type, same flora/fauna diversity etc.

Some people consider the fairtrade movement and the local food movement to be automatically opposed as one requires the shipping of food across the globe whilst the other does not. My personal opinion is that the two can coexist quite happily together. We are not going to be growing locally produced bananas and coffee anytime soon and unless large swathes of the population are prepared to give these items up, why not choose to buy these items through a fair trade cooperative?

The Goods Shed near Canterbury West Station. A great place to buy directly from local producers.

Organic 

The Soil Association … define organic as the following:

“More of the good stuff, less of the bad – Organic means working with nature, not against it. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment – this means more wildlife!”

Anything labelled as organic as a minimum will mean:

  • Fewer pesticides
  • No artificial colours & preservatives
  • The highest standards of animal welfare
  • No routine use of antibiotics
  • GM Free

This is good not only for the environment especially our soil, but also is good for us. In 2015, Government testing found pesticide residues in 43% of British food, and with there being around 320 different pesticides being used it is hard to know exactly what is on and in your food and therefore what is going into your body. The easiest way to eliminate this is buying organic. Find out more about pesticides from the Food Standards Agency.

Seasonality

Seasonality is basically eating food when it is in season. It is as simple as that.

Eating with the seasons often ties in with local food as your local food providers will be changing what fresh produce they sell dependent on the time of year and what they can grow.

Eat The Seasons provides a great breakdown of the benefits of eating with the seasons:

“WHY EAT THE SEASONS?

There are a number of good reasons to eat more local, seasonal food:

  • to reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat
  • to avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way
  • to support the local economy
  • to reconnect with nature’s cycles and the passing of time

but, most importantly, because seasonal food is fresher and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious”

At the time of publishing we are deep into Purple Sprouting Broccoli season so make sure you pick some up and taste the difference!

Higher Welfare

Often higher welfare for farm animals is considered an ethical issue rather than an environmental, however Compassion in World Farming has done a fantastic breakdown of the environmental consequences of factory farming that, wherever you stand on the ethics of meat and dairy production, is a compelling read for those that are concerned for the environment.

Factory farming has been linked to:

Find out more here.

Conscious meat consumption

Leading on from higher welfare is conscious meat consumption. For some this means going vegan or vegetarian, eliminating meat and dairy from their diets to reduce their personal carbon footprints, take away money from the meat and dairy production industry and/or for health reasons. The associated carbon and water footprint of the meat industry has been covered in many articles.

The Guardian – Giving up beef will reduce your carbon footprint more than cars

Foodtank – Meat’s large water footprint

The Daily Mail – Help save the planet – Ditch lamb for rabbit!

For those that do not want to remove all meat and dairy from their diet there is a way to consciously think about the amount and type of meat you eat, and there are many well known campaigns that support this idea. Click the pictures below for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less waste

From growing to transportation, packaging to our plates there are a lot of opportunities to reduce the amount of waste produced in our food system.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall from River Cottage Fame has been highlighting the issue of wasted food recently bringing this huge issue to the forefront, from campaigning supermarkets to stock ‘Ugly Veg‘ to helping people make the most of their left overs.

Eat Ugly by Harriet Stansall

According to Love Food Hate Waste, throwing good food away costs the average person in the UK around £200 a year, which is not great for your wallet. This total is nothing compared to the amount of food thrown away during productions and from the supermarkets. Organisations like FareShare are working hard to address this issue. “Last year [FareShare} redistributed more food than ever before, enough for frontline charities to provide 18.3 million meals for vulnerable people. Yet hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food still gets thrown away, or used to generate energy or animal feed, every year –  enough to provide at least 650 million meals for people in need.”

Traceability

Knowing where your food comes from has become much easier in recent years with fresh produce in particular being labelled with its origin. This allows the consumer to look out for things such as food miles as mentioned earlier. One area where traceability is crucial to a sustainable diet is fish.

The easiest way to ensure the fish you buy is from sustainable fish stocks and can be traced is to look out for the Marine Stewardship Council’s Blue eco label:

 

“The blue MSC label is only applied to sustainable fish and seafood products that can be traced back to MSC certified fisheries. Supply chain businesses must identify and separate MSC certified product in order be certified to our Chain of Custody Standard for traceability. Every business, along every step of the supply chain, is audited by an independent certification body.  The MSC regularly monitors the supply chain and auditors’ application of the Standard to make sure requirements are being followed correctly.

We also conduct a series of monitoring activities to ensure the robustness of the system. One of the ways in which we ensure our traceability system is working is through independent DNA tests. Tests have been carried out on hundreds of random samples from MSC certified products and have shown that mislabelling is extremely rare. In the last 6 years, less than 1% of samples have been found to be incorrectly labelled on average.” Marine Stewardship Council

The Global Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals for a more sustainable world feature sustainable food. These Goals ask us what we can do as individuals, communities and countries to ensure that we meet these goals 2030. For more information on the goals please visit our blog calling you to action!

Sustainable Food is a crucial part of the goals so after this breakdown how sustainable do you think your plate of food is? Can you change the world for the better three times a day?