Skip to main content

Ethical Consumer Week 2020: The right recipe for a low carbon diet

Anna Clayton speaks to Chris Warburton Brown at the Permaculture Association about his upcoming session at Ethical Consumer Week: The right recipe for a low carbon diet.

Can you tell us a little bit about Permaculture Association Britain and your work with 52 Climate Actions?

The Permaculture Association has been supporting people to embrace ethical living for almost 40 years. Permaculture is an international movement focussed on designing systems capable of addressing the ecological and social crises we are experiencing. Traditionally it has focussed on food producing systems, but in recent years we have also focussed on the broader aspects of climate change. came from our desire to harvest and share the numerous solutions to climate change in the permaculture community. Unusually, it focuses on adapting to climate change and changing our ways of thinking as much as on carbon reduction solutions. It provides 52 answers to the question so many people are asking; 'What can I do about climate change?'.

For Ethical Consumer Week 2020, you’re going to be holding a session exploring ‘the right recipe for a low carbon diet’. Can you talk a bit about why you think this is important?

Food is central to human life. What we choose to eat, and how much, is one of the key ways we impact on the planet and forms a substantial part of our carbon footprint. In a time of climate change the food available to us is changing; yields of some crops are dropping, others are increasing.

And we are all very aware of the personal health impacts of our diets, especially around obesity. These three key issues of carbon footprint, sustainable food production, and personal health lie at the heart of any ethical lifestyle. Only with a major change in diet can we hope to limit climate change and adapt to those changes that are already happening.

What do you see as the role of our diets in building more resilient communities?

In the UK we are already undergoing a food crisis, shown by food banks and soaring obesity. We need to completely rethink our food system towards local growing and local processing. This means much more community production in a way that reconnects food consumers with food producers.

With artisan products we already see this happening, and there are many fantastic examples of an emerging resilient local food economy.
Ultimately it also requires a major government rethink. Only by putting good food at the heart of our national and local economy can we ensure everyone has the money and skills to eat well.

Permaculture Design underpins your work. What is the importance of this when thinking about building community resilience?

When a community creates a climate action plan which deals with a whole range of challenges and actions at the same time, the benefits are greatly magnified. This isn't just about big picture climate change issues such as power generation, food growing, flood protection and water conservation.

It includes things like loneliness, jobs, transport, local shops, physical well-being, the availability of community spaces and land ownership. The design process itself increases neighbourliness, mutual support and community resilience, as does implementing the actions identified.

Does chocolate still have a place in a low carbon diet?

Absolutely! I'm against hair shirt environmentalism, I want the post-carbon world to be fun! We need a more localised, community focussed food system, but many foods can't be grown in the UK.

I've been involved in the fair trade movement since it began in the 1980s, and I still believe passionately we can have tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas that enhance the environment, enhance the livelihoods of the producers, and enhance our day to day lives.

Air-freighted avocados are out of my low carbon shopping basket, but fair trade chocolates are definitely in.

image: ethical consumer week building resilient communities

Ethical Consumer Week 2020

The right recipe for a low carbon diet

Sunday 25th October 12pm - 1pm

Most of us know that reducing the carbon footprint of our diet means eating less meat and processed food, and eating more fruit and veg, locally grown and organic produce. But these simple guidelines hide difficult questions:

  • Should we be vegan, veggie or choosetarian?
  • Do we prioritise fair trade or locally grown?
  • Can we keep our shopping affordable?
  • Is organic really better?
  • Can we still eat chocolate?
  • And above all, can we still love our food without endlessly fretting about it?

This panel will ask what recipe is right for a low carbon diet. Sign up now >


Chris Warburton Brown worked as Research Coordinator of the Permaculture Association Britain (PAB) for eight years. He is currently leading the 52 Climate Actions project, a website that presents simple ways to reduce your impact on the changing climate and the impact the changing climate has on you.

Josie Wexler works at Ethical Consumer. She was the joint author of the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report at the Centre for Alternative Technology, which looked at how fast we could theoretically decarbonise the UK, modelling the energy, transport, land, industry and building sectors.

Steve Charter has worked on numerous innovative and pioneering sustainability projects since 1993, and is part of the Ethical Lifestyle Toolkit and 52 Climate Actions project teams. He has been all or mainly raw since 1994, following a vegan diet for 14 years and a vegetarian diet for more than 30 years.