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Fabiana Tessele



Sustainable Living

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19 Jan 2011

Location: United Arab Emirates


Environmental Awareness is a theme widely discussed nowadays in various levels of society. An important part of day-to-day actions for a better Environment is a proper diet, giving preference for non-processed and locally produced food products. This automatically results in a healthy diet, bringing benefits both to health and environment.

The objective of this proposal is to implement in local Universities the Sustainable Canteen program.

How do our food choices affect global warming? That's what this project set out to explore.
No one likes diets. Diet foods are boring, flavorless, and unsatisfying— words that describe the Sustainable Diet to a tee. It’s a machine-cuisine we are eating today, and it takes 1,900 L of oil per person each year to produce it. Talk about a greasy spoon—we emit similar amounts of carbon dioxide eating as we do by driving. Research shows that our chemical fertilizer and herbicide-based food system contributes close to 20 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions."
So how do food choices affect global warming? What’s on the menu of the Sustainable Diet?
•Mountains of meat, especially beef. It takes more than ten times the fossil fuels to produce a calorie of beef protein than a calorie of grain protein.
•Large amounts of imported food and drink.
•Foods grown with massive amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. We use 22 billion pounds (10 billion kg) of fertilizer just to grow the grain to feed our livestock.
•A large amount of processed, frozen, and prepared foods. Processed food makes up three-quarters of global food sales by price (not by quantity) and typically requires more energy to make than what we get back when we eat it.
•Piles of bottled water. More than half of all UAE residents drink bottled water; about a third of the public consumes it regularly. It takes approximately 17 million barrels of oil just to make the plastic for the 29-plus billion plastic water bottles used each year.
•Gobs of high-fructose corn syrup. In 2000, we ate an average of thirty-one teaspoons of sugar a day, more than 15 percent of their caloric intake. Much of that was in drinks with added high-fructose corn syrup. The average consumed almost 18.8 kg of corn syrup in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
•Sizeable amounts of food waste. Nearly half of all the food harvested goes to waste each year. Our food system generates 3,774 Calories per person every day, but we consume only approximately 2,100 Calories; the rest is wasted by overeating or by just throwing it away.
•Plenty of packaging waste. We throw away 98 percent of plastic bags we use each year, along with the millions of barrels of oil it takes to produce them.

Reports are coming in to Ukmedix that as many as 1 in 7 children below the age of 5 and living in the UAE are serious lacking in nutrients. The information comes from Unicef survey on nutrition levels on the area. What is more surprising is that at the same time the health authorities of the area are also saying that child obesity levels are at an all time high.
Unicef noted that 15% of children below the age of 5 were wasting which means that they are undernourished and dangerously thin and the Unicef regional officer for the UAE said that this did not mean that the children were literally starving but that that they were not eating the correct food and that they just need nutrients. In fact the problem is strange as you have a situation where some of the children are under nourished and also obese at the same time. Another survey undertaken by another health group noted that 17% children from the UAE between the ages of 6 and 16 were obese.
The Unicef survey looked at many different aspects of child health and noted that the UAE has higher than average musoskeletal growth problem with 14% of children being classified as underweight and 17% being classified as stunted meaning that they had a shorter than normal height.
The survey underlined the fact that a boom in economic development and financial growth for all families in a region did not always come with improved health for the people who lived there. Sometimes that opposite could occur with the new found wealth going into junk food and too much of it. The Unicef report shows that more education is needed on the benefits of certain types of food and public information campaigns on obesity and its effects on health.
The health authorities of the UAE are also keen that families take more of an interest what children eat especially if they are suffering from obesity. The UAE say that in response to the Unicef report that they will be undertaking initiatives to help families get healthy and they specifically are focusing on women who are traditionally the ones who feed the children and also who have been seen to be suffering from obesity too in the UAE.
We believe that bringing awareness to university students we can generate a great multiplying effect on UAE families, resulting on a healthier and more environmentally aware generation in the next few years.
So what would a sustainable cuisine look like? In determining the carbon footprint of our meals, we have to consider these questions:
•How far do we travel to buy food and how do we get there?
•How much food are we buying—will we eat it all?
•What kind of food are we buying—is it plant based or animal based?
•Geographically, where is the food coming from?
•Is the food organic?
•How processed is the food?
•What kind of packaging is used for the food?
•Do we buy too many processed foods that need to be frozen or refrigerated?
•How are we disposing of the food and packaging waste?
A sustainable cuisine would reduce your overall carbon footprint by using fewer animal products, fewer processed foods, less bottled water, and less food and packaging waste and using fresher, organic, seasonal, and locally grown whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The benefits of eating this way are nothing new, but now we realize that our planet, as well as our body, is paying the price for an industrialized food system. It is time for a new perspective on a very old problem.
We propose that solutions to global warming may be the best thing that has happened to the culinary world in a long time, and that is what this book is about.
Forget the gloom-and-doom statistics surrounding the fate of the planet; we want to offer inspirational ideas on what people are doing to make it better, how each student can participate, and what they can get out of it by doing so.
When are considering changes in dietary habits, however, we have to remember the age-old saying, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Any food can be “good” or “bad” depending on a variety of different factors. Balance is the key. And though many things do motivate us, our ultimate motivation is pleasure. So have fun with this. Don’t guilt yourself or anyone else out of doing things; instead, inspire them in to new ways of cooking and eating. Most importantly, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” wise words from French philosopher Voltaire.
Cooking and eating are two of our most primal human pleasures. Learning more about where food comes from, valuing a local food system that brings it to us, and improving our cooking skills can bring years of increased motivation, satisfaction, connection, health, and culinary joy.
It just so happens that, along the way, we can also have a significant impact on the health of our planet. And by doing so, our pleasure can become even greater.
Changing alimentary habits is a very challenging task. We recognize this change requires a deep work on sociological levels, and the complete shift may take several months to be fully implemented. We would like to suggest that a group of students from different courses, volunteer for the program, helping on the successful implementation of the activities.
The proposed prograre wes divided in the following activities:
? Diagnosis Phase
During this phase, our nutrition experts will conduct a survey of the current practices and also students diet preferences. The idea is to create a new menu inspired on the tastes of local cusine, bringing healthy and sustainable alternatives to ingredients and preparation methods.
? Awareness Campaign on Sustainable Eating
This can include speeches, cooking workshops, natural & sustainable foods fair, videos, and visits to local farms. This stage is very important to create on students the motivation to participate on the program, and also bring their commitment with our sustainability ideas.
? New Sustainable Canteen Menu
During this stage, pour nutrition experts will develop a new set of menus to be offered on the canteen, all based on the local taste. This menu has an innovation: besides of the nutritional facts, each meal will also be rated for its carbon footprint, based on the example below:

So for the canteen Menu, we can create two indexes, the health index and the sustainability index, aiming to guide the students on their choice, in a simpler manner.
Seeing from the economical view point, it would be interesting to set better prices for the more sustainable foods, by balancing the overall costs – the less sustainable food will “subside” de more sustainable up to a degree.
During the early stages of the program, the volunteer group of students can be trained to guide their colleagues on their meal choice.
? Select and train kitchen Staff
Our nutrition experts will supervise the food preparation and train the canteen staff on sustainable methods. Also, we aim to work close to the local food suppliers, negotiating for better prices on the supply of fresh sustainable food.

? Creation of an Organic Garden on Zayed University

? Create a book on sustainable cooking, with participation of ZU Students

? Extend the program to other Universities and Schools, as well as the community.

? Open cooking workshops, with participation of famous Chefs and the community.

* Fabiana Tessele is specialist on environment and climate change, and participates on worldwide environmental awareness campaigns.
*Marcela Lamadrid, MSc. Holistic Nutrition, is an active team member of the UNICEF “True Fat” campaign developed to tackle childhood obesity in the UAE.


  • This project sounds extremely well-thought out and the condition of charging more for unhealthy/carbon-inefficient foods will be a timely test on a different way of subsidizing foods that is avoided by governments due to pressure from big business. It will be especially interesting to match the tastes of students with locally and ethically sourced produce. When cooked well locally grown foods often taste better.

    Is this a project you will be implementing soon? Where are you based?

    Good luck with everything and keep us updated!

    Written by Alexa Bingham on 02 Feb 2011, at 16:12 Report this comment

  • its a really cool idea!!! we need such projects to save our earth. A little change in lifestyle can really save the earth.
    I m going to follow this in my life!!!

    Written by Rupa Datta on 28 Mar 2011, at 07:39 Report this comment

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