How does the food on your plate impact sustainability? Well, we can start fixing the food chain one fork at a time.
Everything we eat has an impact on the planet. Do you know that food is the single biggest carbon contributor? Yes, it’s hard to comprehend – how can our daily meals affect the entire planet? Perhaps a simple habitual choice we make 3 times a day… but lurking behind our daily shopping is a complex food system.
Sustainability is about taking what we need now, without jeopardising the potential for people in the future to meet their needs. With food, this includes distance in miles to the way it is farmed, produced, disposed of, and even marketed.
Food and agriculture is at the heart of our civilization – we seem to have forgotten that. We’re now living in a brave new world where fictional farm names like “Ashfield Farm” and “Birchwood Farm” are sold to consumers everyday. Sounds pretty British hey? The meat from these farms are actually from Morocco.
Cows today are wearing GoPros to create live advert footage to connect you to supermarkets’ farm sources. So you can see Moo the cow from your daily train commute and eat your supermarket meat feeling more ‘connected’. Connected to what though?
As food writer and activist Michael Pollan proclaims: “We have a tendency to assume that what we can see is the important thing to look at.”
But let’s not assume what’s sustainable, and let’s take a look at what makes food really sustainable [sorry, but no cows or GoPros have been used in this article].
Less is more
From field to plate, how far does your food come? The total distance of this has become accepted as an indicator of sustainability. The Guardian recently reported that over half of the UK’s food comes from overseas, which is burdening poorer countries with a real, detrimental impact to the environment.
This also stretches our long and complex food chain, reduces our self-reliance and dissociates us with the seasonal rhythm of our farming climate. So yeah, that’s saying goodbye to strawberries in Autumn.
Sustainable farming techniques
What does this mean? It means the use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers and other intensive farming techniques, aka ‘industrialised agriculture’ is damaging our soil, wildlife and climate.
It’s especially noted in meat farming; many pigs raised for meat to be sold in the UK are suffering in factories that harm animals. Eating less meat also reduces your carbon footprint. The livestock sector produces about 15% of global greenhouse gases, that’s equal to all the exhaust emissions of every car, train, ship and aircraft on the planet.
Better prices for farmers
If the supermarket won’t come to the cow, the cow must go to the supermarket! Last summer, dairy farmers up and down the UK were up in arms and staged protests over the price paid for milk by supermarkets (at a loss for our hard-working farmers). They entered stores with cows in tow, emptied the shelves of cartons and then handed them out to the public.
Being driven to produce ‘cheap’ food, farmers can’t make a living anymore. Add to this the loss of skilled people to farm, we are putting the long-term sustainability of UK food production at risk.
Question of the year: wonky veg or perfectly-straight veg? From our farms to supermarkets to dinner tables, 14 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year in Britain. Supermarkets tend to give us the false impression of ‘food abundance’. When you meet the farmer who picks your salad leaves at 5am, you’ll certainly appreciate it more – you don’t bin it as nonchalantly and savour it a lot more.
The bigger picture
Essentially, our food producers shouldn’t be the weakest link in our supply chain – it all starts with them and they are the people who fed us everyday. We all need to support shopping directly from the food producers in our local communities and supporting smaller shops, simplifying the food chain, just like our grandparents and those before us.
Here’s the thing: eating and shopping like we’ve done for centuries is actually more exciting. When you meet the people behind your food, you appreciate it more, it tastes better. Whether it’s a simple friendly chat, gripping about the weather, sharing your favorite recipes, those special products and ingredients, when you meet the person who makes your food you’ll feel more connected to it… and no GoPro can beat that.