Is going gluten-free a greener way to go?
According to Coeliac Australia, just 1 in 70 of the country's population suffer from some form of coeliac disease, necessitating the need for them to adopt a gluten-free diet. However, greater numbers of Australians are switching to this eating plan, regardless of their dietary needs, as is apparent due to the growing range of gluten-free products. Aside from the health benefits of lowering your average wheat intake, there are notable environmental and eco-positive impacts that going gluten can bring to our planet.
Firstly, wheat, which is by far the most common way we consume gluten, is a core staple of industrialised farming. This agricultural method is heavily reliant on the use of pesticide, which, when used on a huge commercial scale, can cause harm to more than just pests. When sprayed on crops, pesticides can be blown off-course by prevailing winds, flow into streams and rivers with the aid of rainfall and even seep down through the earth into underground water sources. Not only that, but some pesticides degrade very slowly, remaining in the environment for many years and passing from one organism to another.
Of course, some modern pesticides are not composed of the one-size-fits-all chemicals of the yesteryear. Selective examples will eradicate only their target pests, but more general, non-selective pesticides can harm and kill creatures that are not actually a blight on crops – as well as damaging the eco-system. Not only that, but wheat can also be considered a diet drenched in oil – albeit indirectly. That's because the black stuff is the base component of chemical pesticides.
A study by the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment has calculated the relative eco-impacts of specific loaves of bread. The research took into consideration numerous factors – wheat production and cultivation, packaging, transportation and bread preparation. The study found that a loaf of white, medium-sliced bread in a non-biodegradable plastic bag, toasted or kept in refrigerated storage, leaves a carbon footprint of 1,244 grams of CO2. A wholemeal loaf doesn't fare much better, generating a footprint of 977 grams per CO2 at its lowest, if sold in a paper bag. In conclusion, the research stated that the carbon footprint of any given loaf of bread can be minimised by neither toasting nor refrigerating the loaf – a reduction of 25 per cent.
Use your loaf
So should you cut gluten completely from your diet? Not exactly. With regards to bread, for example, you could try baking your own. Ingredients can be used from suppliers you know and trust, meaning you can use organic, ethically-sourced flour rather than that found on a commercial monocrop. Additionally, you'll end up with a loaf free of the eco-unfriendly plastic and paper packaging of that found in supermarkets. You could even create some delicious sandwiches with your baking skills, taking them to work or perhaps a picnic in a reusable wrap.