We in the West and in developed countries are just too lucky (for now): we can go to the grocery store whenever we want or “need” an ingredient. We can buy almost anything throughout the entire year, even stuff that would never grow in our climates…stores are always full and food is reasonably cheap. We think we are lucky because we have many “choices” and “variety” but that is not the case…
When I came to Canada in 2004, one of the big surprises for me was entering a supermarket in Oakville, Ontario: I couldn’t believe my eyes with the amount, variety and apparent freshness of all the fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and all kind of “edible” products: all looked clean and ready, always full, almost perfect and the same size and colours (i.e. all tomatoes were the same, all lettuces, even bananas!)
With time and after the first shock, I learned that that was just an illusion: sure, I was coming from Venezuela, a country that with the years have become used to food scarcity and empty supermarket shelves, rationing and making without. But the amount of “choices” I was seeing here in Canada not only represented a big joke to all those (the majority) in the developing world who were starving or malnourished, but most of these “choices” were damaging entire ecosystems and creating a huge health problem among the population of “developed” countries.
First, the production of food is unsustainable: in most cases, food is grown as a mono-crop. Mono-crops require an ongoing input of fertilizers, pesticides and even herbicides as they deplete the soil of its usual nutrients and create a heaven for pests and “weeds” due to lack of biodiversity and rotation. Mono-crops also use more irrigation and need big areas so forests and rich ecosystems are destroyed in order to grow cash crops. Most mono crops are also GMO because that allows the producers to monopolize certain seeds and have control over who grows them and even who eats and what.
Second, crops need to be transported. Because we live in a “global” market economy, we are told that is “normal” to eat bananas in North America or find “fresh” tomatoes or strawberries in the middle of the winter: for this to happen, these crops need to be “preserved” in boxes so they keep “fresh” in long trips around the world. This uses gas and other materials (for this “preservation) and fuels for the transportation, polluting the world even more…
Third, we have been convinced that tomatoes, apples and bananas all look the same: we are told that a different shape, size or colour may be a sign that the food is “bad”. This makes supermarkets to be ridiculously picky about what they accept from farmers and what they keep: this situation creates a huge and outrageously dishonest food waste as farmers are “forced” to let some crops rot or throw them away and so supermarkets each time a crop or any product looks “not perfect”
Beyond all the above, most food available t us has been transformed so drastically that is barely “food” anymore: ingredients have been manipulated to make all flavours more or less the same, and out of “safety” we are consuming stuff that looks and tastes less and less like real food: we are so disconnected from real food that barely recognize it anymore when we see or taste it!
Lastly but not because of that less important, food is finite: no matter what we do, we can’t continue growing more and more food forever: soil and water (the main ingredient of any food) are more and more scarce and/or polluted, however population continues to grow and those who become “wealthy” want more food, more meat, more “choices”…on the other hand, millions are either starving or malnourished and unable to access any food at all…this, no matter how you see it, is just unsustainable, unfair and plain wrong.
What you can do:
- Take some time to research and learn where the food you consume comes from, who grew or manufactured it and where, how long it took to come to your town, what is made of…
- Analyze the food you eat during an entire week, including what you eat outside your home: from bread and cereal to coffee, tea and wine, trace where, who, when and how they were made and of what
- Start growing some of the food you consume. Even growing herbs is a good start
- Learn about the food around you, the free food we humans and many wild species have always had around: many of what we now call “weeds” and try to eradicate are actually food: from plantain to dandelion, from different types of wild berries to wild apples, even the leaves of many shrubs and trees are either edible or have medicinal use. Take the time to learn and observe one specie at a time, there are many books and even workshops t help you start
- Learn how to preserve food: canning, freezing and dehydrating are all expensive and somewhat unsustainable methods because all use specialized equipment (i.e. boiling canner, pressure canner, freezer, dehydrator, special jars) and energy, but they may be a good start and are better than throwing away the harvest or excess of food; better ways are pickling and fermenting, solar dehydrating, curing and the use of root cellars. All these methods allow you to buy in bulk local and seasonal food and preserve it through the year, avoiding transportation and artificial preservatives. If well utilized, this also saves you money and creates a buffer of food for rainy days in your household or community
- Reduce the amount of food you eat and try eating healthier by eating more raw and “real” food
- Support local farmers through CSAs and farmers markets
- Consider joining or even better, starting a community garden
- Share food with family, friends and neighbours
- Try different foods from different cultures and open your taste to different options
- Plan a fasting period once a year and at least one day a month: take lots of liquids such as fruit and vegetable juices and water (not coffee or tea)
- Share your own ideas of how to build more food resilience in our households and communities while avoiding food waste and increasing biodiversity in our soils and watersheds