This evening I went to a screening of Meathooked and the End of Water by VICE (who do some really brilliant documentaries – please check them out if you don’t already know them!)
The video has one graphic scene that some would find emotionally-charging (ahem, I did. My 4 year old was unphased, though). However, it is not your average stop-eating-meat-because-it-is-cruel-and-evil kind of documentary. Instead, it looks at the features of industrial agriculture and explores the unintended environmental impacts that result.
It especially looks at water and other resources that are needed to mass produce livestock to meet current demands, and talks to farmers and other people who are worried about what is going to happen once they run out of water (which for several people interviewed in the film will be happening quite soon!).
It is just short of half an hour long, and worth watching for anyone who eats food (i.e. pretty much everyone).
I would say ENJOY, but it isn’t really that kind of film. Perhaps more suitable would be WATCH, BE MOVED, then ACT 🙂
Next weekend my colleague and I begin running a Permaculture Design Certificate at our work. Unfamiliar with permaculture? This is a nice little clip where people explain what permaculture is to them.
I think that permaculture means different things to different people, and people choose to apply its principles and processes differently. But essentially, it is a series of 12 principles underpinned by three values – care for the Earth, care for people, and sharing resources fairly – that can be applied to… anything!
The permaculture course we are running at my work will take place over the next year – there are 12 modules (approx. one a month) and for each one I will be writing a summary post about. Details about the modules are here.
In the meantime, some of my favourite permaculture resources are:
Food is incredibly important. We eat food to stay alive. It influences our health. It brings us together as families and communities. It allows us to express ourselves culturally.
It is easy to get quite defensive about food, as it is such an important part of our individual and communal identities. But it is important to realise that our personal food choices have impacts beyond us, and the decisions we make about food affect other people, communities, and the environment.
The purpose of this article is not to make any kinds of judgements or guilt about food choices and habits. Nor is it supposed to offer a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to how to buy more sustainable food, it is just some food for thought (sorry, that pun seemed unavoidable) 🙂
A good place to start is looking at how much food we throw out. On average, a third of food produced is wasted, and this takes place at every stage of the food system:
A third of food grown will not make it to food distributors…
A third of that food will not make it to the market/supermarket…
A third of that food will not be sold…
Of the food that is sold, a third will be discarded, uneaten.
That is a lot of food!
The majority of this food
And this flaw in the system is serious, because in a world where each year we produce enough food to comfortably feed 12 billion people, having 795 million (out of 7.3 billion) people hungry is just not ok.
For households, the website Love Food Hate Waste is a brilliant resource for helping maximise food use and minimising food waste.
But it is possible to reduce the impact of our food by looking at the stage before it arrives in our homes: the purchasing stage.
There are many factors we can consider when we are deciding to purchase food:
Price – by far the easiest, because this is what the most obvious label is!
Advertising and/or brand familiarity
… all of these are factors that will affect us, personally. However, it is possible to also consider factors that go beyond just us…
Packaging (how much is there, and what is it made from?)
Country of origin (how are people growing and processing food treated? Does the making of this food have political or human rights implications?)
Distance traveled (what are the associated transport emissions?)
Method of production (which chemicals and resources were needed to create the food?)
Have producers been adequately compensated for their work? (e.g. is it a Fair Trade product?)
Have any animals used in the product been humanely treated? (e.g. free range)
… the list can go on.
Of course, there are often conflicts when it comes to making more sustainable or more ethical food choices, and it can be helpful to choose to focus on just a few factors… because otherwise it is easy to end up not knowing what to choose:
the Fair Trade coffee wrapped in plastic, or the Nescafe in a glass jar?
the more expensive free range eggs, or the cheaper eggs from caged or barn hens
and so on…
My top 5 considerations for more sustainable and ethical food choices (for reducing harm to the environment, people and other animals) are, in no particular order:
Buying food that is local and seasonal, where possible (this means travel emissions will be lower, as will resource inputs – growing out of climate and out of season means a lot of energy and other resources are required)
Buying food that has been produced with fewer chemical additions, where possible (organic and spray-free production is better for soils and the environment. Similar crops and animals produced with the addition of inorganic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, fungicides and hormones use more resource inputs and result in more negative impacts on ecosystems)
Buying food that is less processed (every stage of processing requires energy, resource and labour inputs, which all have environmental and social impacts. Less processing usually means lower impact)
Buying food that has less/no packaging, where possible (just like the food itself, packaging requires many energy and resource inputs, which all have environmental impacts. Avoiding excessive packaging means fewer resource inputs and fewer impacts. It also reduces waste generation)
Buying food that considers the well-being of those involved (e.g. where human and animal welfare conditions are upheld)
Of course there are always exceptions, loopholes and conflicts to these considerations, but by-and-large following these considerations when possible will lead to more environmentally sustainable and ethical food purchasing decisions 🙂
Other tips and cool resources:
If you can, growing your own food is a great way to source packaging free, organically grown food with zero food miles. Plus there are many health benefits of gardening, including being a source of light exercise, fresh air, and interaction with nature.