Oxford: Sustainable Food City?

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Oxford’s food system releases twice as much CO2 equivalent as all of Oxford’s cars.

On Monday 2nd December, Cultivate and Low Carbon Oxford will be hosting the first meeting of what will hopefully become a new sustainable food network for Oxford. The network will bring together business big and small, local government, community organisations, health professionals, academics and other stakeholders to work together towards a fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system in and around Oxford. The initiative will be part of a UK-wide network of Sustainable Food Cities led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain, and supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

The FoodPrinting Oxford report published earlier this year and commissioned by Low Carbon Oxford and Oxford City Council sets out why action is needed. Food production is responsible, directly or indirectly, for 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions, is the single biggest threat to biodiversity and is responsible for considerable local environmental degradation. In our own city, feeding a population of 150,000 requires 53,000 hectares of agricultural land, equivalent to a circular area extending 13km outwards from the centre of the city. Oxford’s food system results in the equivalent of 380,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year – twice the annual emissions from all of Oxford’s cars.

The FoodPrinting report takes a Life Cycle Analysis approach to working out where in the journey from field to fork (or maybe field to landfill…) the biggest greenhouse gas emissions occur, and where we can best make interventions. Concurring with other recent food systems research, the report concludes that the single most important step we can take towards cutting our food-related emissions is to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy. This is closely followed by cutting food waste and reducing excessive packaging. Sourcing our food locally can help with these and other carbon-cutting objectives, including transportation emissions, but it is only part of the answer.

In order to make the emissions reductions we need across the food system, we need a joined-up strategy taking in every step in the chain from farmer to consumer. This is where an Oxford sustainable food network comes in, bringing together diverse groups who can work together to play a key role in achieving specific sustainable food objectives. The good news is that Oxford is already probably 1-2% better in food-related greenhouse gas emissions than the national average, a combination of dietary factors and better than average food waste management. But much more needs to be done to cut our food system emissions by the 30-40% target of the FoodPrinting report’s alternative scenario. There is already a huge amount going on in Oxford, including local government waste initiatives, brilliant community and farmers’ markets, sustainable restaurants and local food production, and an Oxford Sustainable Food Network will aim to bring these and more together to identify strategic actions and new collaborations for the next steps.


Further reading:

> Oxford: Sustainable Food City
> FoodPrinting Oxford Report
> The bottom line on food and climate change
> UK Sustainable Food Cities Network