How to be food sustainable in a world of extreme agriculture.
To kick off our ‘Sustainability Series’ we are going to be talking to you today about food.
We live in a world that revolves around food. From farming to supermarkets to restaurants, the human race is food focused. Not only has food become an everyday essential, it’s now an event, a way to pass the time, but at what cost? It may surprise you to hear that a large proportion of the new generation believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, and that chickens come from the shelves in the supermarket. Do we know how things grow anymore? That carrots aren’t all one shape and that they come from the ground with soil all over them and long green leaves?
This may seem obvious to some people, but to others it is not. We have lost our connection to the food we are eating; where it comes from, how it is grown, where it goes, and its impact on the environment.
Did you know that approximately 7 billion trees are cut down each year? More often than not, these trees are cut down to make room for livestock (usually cattle) or food to feed those livestock. It’s true! Here’s another fact for you: 70% of the world’s soy is fed directly to livestock! Read that again. Only 6% of all soy grown globally goes towards products for human consumption.
Food sustainability is something that I have become so much more conscious of over the past couple of years. From making changes to a plant based diet, trying my hand at zero-waste recipes, and buying only organic and local fresh produce, I have learnt the importance of what I’m buying, where it comes from, and where it goes.
Today, we are going to be talking about some simple steps that you can take TODAY to help you become more food sustainable. Firstly, though, what is food sustainability? Well, it’s not just about food, to be honest. It’s a combination of how the food is produced, how its distributed, how its packaged, and how its consumed.
Some of the main questions to ask yourself are:
- Where does my food come from?
- How is my food grown?
- Where does my food go?
- How does the food I buy impact the environment?
We’re going to be providing you with some solutions to these questions today, helping you to understand the importance of food sustainability, and making that transition to more sustainable buying habits. Let’s start with supporting our local farmers.
In today’s world, almost all of us do our shopping at the supermarkets. But did you know that most fruits and veggies at these stores have been picked before they’re ripe and transported from half way across the world? Even if what your buying has been grown in the country you live in, how can you be sure it hasn’t been grown out of season?
Buying from your local farm shops, farmer’s markets, and pick-your-owns is the best and easiest way to buy locally grown produce. Buying from local farmers means that the produce you are buying will have only travelled a short distance, if at all. Food transportation is one of the largest contributors to emissions that lead to global warming. Getting your food from local farms reduces these emissions, because the food hasn’t had to travel as far to get to you. Locally grown produce doesn’t need to be shipped long distances or kept cold for extended periods of time (both of these processes are huge contributors to global emissions). Buying locally grown produce isn’t just better for the environment either, but also for your local economy. Not only are you doing good for the planet, but you’re also supporting your local farmers too.
Buying locally is something that I admit I only started doing earlier last year. For years, I had been going to the supermarket and getting all of my fruits and veggies from superstores, knowing only which country my food was coming from (and sometimes not even that)! But last year, I made a change. In a neighbouring village to me, there’s a small farm shop which sells locally grown and organic fruits, vegetables, flour, eggs, and honey. I go there once a week now to get everything I may need – I do have to go to the supermarket for the rest, but I’m doing my best with what’s available. Everything on the shelves in this farm shop is local, organic, plastic-free, and in season!
How great is that?!
One thing I haven’t yet mentioned here is meat and dairy products. Most local farm shops and markets will also sell local milk, dairy products, and meat. However, there are some questions you should be asking before you buy! What have these animals been fed? Is it organic? How have these animals been raised? It’s equally important to know how sustainably these animals have been raised as well as how local they are. For example, when I buy eggs, I make sure they are not only locally sourced, but also corn-fed and free-range. Sustainably raised, happy hens are just as important and the local-ness of the eggs.
Now of course, if you don’t have access to any local farm shops or it’s not within your budget, then it is possible to buy fruits and vegetables that have at least been grown in the same country you live in. Here, we reach a dilemma, however, and that my friends is packaging. It’s not common that you find loose produce at the supermarkets in the first place, but it’s even less common that unpackaged goods will be labelled with its country of origin.
Buying local in the supermarkets is hard, because even if something has been grown in the same country you live in, you can’t guarantee how sustainably it has been grown (and it’s almost impossible to find out too). For example, tomatoes grown in the UK in February have probably been grown in a heated greenhouse, which is just as bad for the environment as tomatoes that have been imported from another country. The thing is that we just don’t know! That’s a big problem and really signifies to me the importance of our next topic. Buying local is really important, but so is buying what’s in season.
In today’s society, seasonal eating is practically unheard of. We have access to whatever produce we want, all year round, not really thinking about where it comes from, and the impact it has on the environment. Eating seasonally means taking as much from the current season as possible and consuming what’s on offer at that time of year.
Seasonal eating is about buying and consuming fresh produce that is currently growing. Everything has its own season, and each month has its own fruits. Seasonal produce is local produce (most of the time), and that means that what you’re eating hasn’t been shipped a long distance (like we discussed above). To put it simply, buying seasonal food reduces your carbon footprint, as you’re buying from and supporting a more sustainable food economy.
Strawberries are not meant for December, and pumpkins are not harvested in the spring. Noticing when certain foods are in season really makes each time of the year more exciting, as it makes times when certain produce are in season a lot more special. It is good to wait. By making the switch to seasonal eating, no longer are you buying what’s out of season, but rather making the most of these fruits and vegetables when they are growing naturally and preserving them to enjoy later.
This simple change has made a huge difference to how I shop and how I eat.
Produce available out of season has either been transported from another country, grown in a heated greenhouse, or artificially ripened. As we discussed above, food transportation is one of the leading contributors to global warming, as it releases an insane amount of harmful gases into the atmosphere. By only eating what’s in season, you’re eating what’s been grown locally, reducing the amount of emissions released in food transportation, and reducing your carbon footprint.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that greenhouse gases have been given their name for a reason. They come from greenhouses. Heated commercial greenhouses are used to grow fruits and vegetables out of season, so that they are available to us all year round. This sounds like a good thing at first glance, but the amount of carbon dioxide released (as well as other harmful gases) from these processes is staggering. Not only that, but we must also take into consideration the fuels used to power these heated greenhouses (all of which will release carbon dioxide either through generation or when they burn).
As well as eating seasonally, it’s equally important that what you’re eating has been grown organically, and not for the reasons you think!
Organic is better for the planet. It’s as simple as that.
Intensive, inorganic agricultural methods make use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. These products are not only harmful to the foods that we are eating, but also to the soil and the insects that cause and help our food to grow. Did you know that these pesticides can get into your water? If you don’t wash your inorganic food before eating it, you’re consuming these synthetic fertilisers and pesticides as well. Not only that, but these harmful products also decrease the general biodiversity of the soil they’re used on. Soil is a non-renewable resource. Organic farming practices enhance the life of the soil, its natural fertility, and its water quality.
Not only do these pesticides affect the soil, but they also harm the bees and insects that pollinate the crops, decreasing crop production and overall health as well as the already declining bee and insect population. Without these creatures, we will have no food, no plants, and no air to breathe. Food security, sustainable farming, biodiversity, and environmental protection are all essential in helping these species to thrive.
On top of all of that, the production and manufacture of these fertilisers and pesticides release a lot of harmful emissions, proving to be major contributors to air pollution. The large scale process of creating these products involves a series of chemical reactions. As each of these reactions occur, toxic emissions, gases, and solid waste, are produced. Improper storage of these pesticides lead to even more emissions, contributing even more to air pollution and global warming.
Organic farming methods don’t use manufactured chemical fertilisers or pesticides. By buying only organic produce, you’re helping the soil to stay healthy and nutrient rich, you’re helping bees and insects to thrive and continue to pollinate our food, and you’re reducing the number of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Buying organic is a great way of lowering the risk of environmental pollution.
As well as buying organic, buying local, and eating seasonally, we need to make sure that we are making the most of our food. One of the major contributors to landfill and therefore greenhouse gas emissions is… food waste.
Reducing your food waste.
Wasting food is hurting the environment. Your food waste goes to landfill, producing huge amounts of harmful gases such as methane, and releasing it into the atmosphere. Rotting food releases even more harmful gases. As well as this, food production uses a whole load of water. Did you know that 70% of all water used worldwide is used for farming and agriculture?
So what can we do to reduce our food waste?
An obvious way to reduce your food waste is to only buy what you need! If you’re not in the habit of doing so already, write yourself a shopping list before doing your weekly grocery shop. Check your fridge and your cupboards before going out to the shop to check what you already have. Even better, write yourself a dinner menu for the week! Not only does this save you time and energy by pre-deciding what you’re having for dinner each night, it also reduces the chance that you’ll forget something or buy too much of a product.
Okay, something to ask yourself now: how full is your freezer? One thing that you can do to reduce your food waste is to make optimal use of your freezer. It’s as simple as that. Most food can be frozen, and freezing your food helps it to last longer. And before you ask, no, freezing does not reduce the amount of nutrients in your food. In fact, frozen food tends to actually have been picked at full ripeness, meaning there are probably more nutrients in it that what’s on the fresh produce shelves (#justsaying).
As well as all of this, find recipes that use food scraps (yes, they exist). You can eat more of your produce than you think. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with trying to make the absolute most of everything that I buy, and this goes down to food scraps. I’ve stopped peeling my carrots and potatoes (just give them a good scrub), and even use my broccoli and cauliflower stalks to make pesto! I got a lot of my inspiration from zero-waste food chef Max La Manna. He has a lot of really inventive and delicious zero-waste vegan recipes:
And lastly, COMPOST! Approximately half of the food waste that ends up in landfill can actually be composted. You can do your bit to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill by composting your food scraps (and if you don’t have a compost bin or a garden, give your scraps to someone who does – they will thank you for the extra natural fertiliser). Composting saves you money, resources, improves your garden soil, and reduces your impact on the environment. Reducing the amount of food waste that gets sent to landfill even a little bit will help to reduce the amount of emissions. This leads me on quite nicely to our next topic.
Growing your own food.
Now, of course this option won’t be available to everyone, but if you do have a garden, why not make the most of it? Whether you have your own garden, an allotment plot, or a good windowsill, learning to grow your own food is a valuable skill to have. Growing your own food is the best way to ensure that your fruits and vegetables are local (you can’t get more local than your garden), organic, and in season. As well as all of this, growing your own food also saves you money, you get a much wider variety of crops, you can control exactly what you’re growing, and it’s better for the environment.
Let’s recap the benefits of growing your own food:
- It’s as local as you can get, so emissions from transportation are practically zero (unless your seeds have been imported)
- It’s organic (if you choose not to use synthetic fertilisers and pesticides)
- It’s in season and you know exactly how your food has been grown
- It can save you so much money off of your grocery bill (the price of seeds is worth it)
- You can grow all kinds of quirky varieties of each crop
- You can grow anything you want (according to your climate, of course)
- Overall, it’s a whole lot better for the environment
I am insanely lucky to have a garden, and although we don’t grow all of our own food, we do grow a lot of it. Honestly, there’s no better way to reconnect with the Earth and with nature than getting outside, getting a little dirty, and growing something. All of our seeds arrived earlier today, and we’ve been doing so much prep-work in the garden lately to get ready for spring. I’ve currently got some garlic’s sleeping in their vegetable bed, and some cauliflower babies on the windowsill in the kitchen, ready for planting out in a month or so.
You don’t have to be an experienced gardener to grow your own food either. If you’re interested in starting a garden of your own, why not start by growing some herbs on the windowsill? Growing something like microgreens is also really simple and provides you with quick and delicious greens. If you don’t have a garden of your own, but know that one of your friends does, why not ask if you can help? This is something that I’m eager to start doing with my friends, because it builds that sense of community and we get to spend time together growing our own food and cooking it (once regulation allows of course). And now we move onto our last point, probably the most influential one.
Switching to a plant based diet.
As you may know, the production of meat and animal products has a huge impact on the planet, from the crops and water needed to raise the animals, to the transport and packaging processes involved in getting your food from the farm to your dinner plate. Animal agriculture places a heavy burden on the environment.
The world NEEDS to go plant based. A lot of people are going vegan nowadays, and whilst this is great to see and a NECESSARY change, it can still be overwhelming for a lot of people. That’s okay. You don’t need to go vegan overnight; in fact, I advise against it (from a health point of view). As we’ve already discussed, so many of the world’s resources go towards agriculture and livestock. Going vegan, or changing to a plant based diet, has so many benefits on the environment, and I’m here to talk to you about a few of them.
Firstly, adopting a vegan diet is the most efficient way of saving water. This is simply because plants need way less water than animals to grow. As stated above, agriculture makes up for 70% of the worlds water consumption, with the meat and dairy industry being the main consumers. Going vegan can save up to 200,000 gallons of water a year (that’s almost 1 million litres of water)!
Another environmental benefit to going vegan is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock alone contributes to over 14% of global emissions – add in the fact that these animal products are then transported across the world and you’ve got nearly 40% of global greenhouse emissions. To put it simply, extreme agriculture and farming of livestock is the main contributor to global warming and climate change.
If you’re still not convinced that you should be decreasing your consumption of animal products, then try thinking about this: The Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. If you scale that down to 46 years, the human race has been here for 4 hours and our industrial revolution began 1 minute ago. In that time, we have destroyed more than 50% of the world’s forests. The leading cause of deforestation? Livestock.
“As the global demands for meat rise, so does the number of cattle needed to produce beef. Those animals require space and nourishment, so millions of acres of untouched land are cleared every year to make room for crops and grazing pastures. But [IN ADDITION TO THIS] forests are cleared to produce feed for other animals, too, like pigs and chickens. Animals always require more calories to raise than calories they produce for humans to eat. Therefore, animal agriculture is always more destructive than agriculture producing plant-based food directly for humans.”
I recommend reading the rest of this article for more information ^^^
And that’s a wrap.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to learn more about food sustainability and how you can become more food sustainable. I hope that this article was useful for you and provided you with valuable information to consider.
Before we end, let’s remind ourselves of those questions we asked at the beginning:
- Where does my food come from?
- How is my food grown?
- Where does my food go?
- How does the food I buy impact the environment?
I hope that you take these questions into account when you’re next doing your food shop. Before then, research whether there are any local farm shops nearby, write that dinner menu and shopping list, and consider what plant based recipes you could make instead this week.
Thank you for joining us on our first Sustainability Series article, and we look forward to seeing you again next week, with our next one! If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, leave a like and a comment and we’ll be sure to get back to you soon. To keep up with us here at rhythm & green, give us a follow on Instagram @amongsttheflour to see what we’ve been up to lately and for the very latest of our content.
Until next time,