You Are What You Eat: Sustainable Eating

Fruits and vegetables come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, much like current day environmentalists and food activists.   When it comes to what we put in our body the choices are practically endless but we can all agree that we want to be eating foods that are good for us and our environment. Current trends in food-getting have developed several sustainable models of agriculture that you may or may not be aware of. I’d like to introduce you to the key ideas of each here in what is my first blog post ever and this site’s first post relating to our food system. In the future you will be able to find other articles relating to our food system, the environment, and sustainability.

Jean-Talon Market in Summer

Jean-Talon Market in Summer. Photo by Nick Robinson,
Jean-Talon Market in Summer. Photo by Nick Robinson,

Fair Trade Food Products: The Fair Trade certification is a economic and social movement that focuses on helping farmers receive a fair wage for their work and products. It is a market-based approach to sustainable food systems as it aids farmers in developing nations move towards economic sustainability. It also allows farmers to become stakeholders in their industries both locally and internationally. Ensuring the continued growth of their industry and biodiversity. Fair Trade certification is found on products imported from developing nations to developed countries.

Organic Produce: Organic food is produced according to standards that assure the food has been produced without the use of most toxic pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. This growing movement is in is contrast to trends that are seeing farmers use more and more pesticides as well as increasing numbers of GMO crop seeds. (Genetically Modified Organisms) Companies such as Monsanto have begun the process of copyrighting genetic variants of seeds creating crops that are resistant to certain pesticides and herbicides as well as they are non-reproducing. The problem is that we don’t know the full effect of these transformations. As well the impact on local farms and traditional methods of farming is grave; particularly in developing nations. These trends signify a destruction of biodiversity as farmers who have cultivated seed varieties for centuries are seeing an end to the viability of their crops. Farmers in developing nations are particularly at risk because they lack the infrastructure and means to compete against large farms that use GMO seeds. More and more farms are shutting down, as it is cheaper to import products then produce them locally. This is forcing thousands of farmers out of work all over the world and leading to escalating scales of poverty.

Organic Meat: The initiative towards organically produced animal products is a means to ensure the meat we are eating is free from excessive hormones and antibiotics. The rise of large scale feed farms and the inhumane practices of said factory farms has led to the degradation of meat products around the world, jeopardizing the safety of the products we eat. Animals in these feedlots are subject to horrible living conditions and subject to diseases produced by such close captivity. That the animal’s diets are drastically changed from traditional grazing practices leads to animals getting sick and being force fed antibiotics to keep them alive long enough for slaughter. Organic meats and animal rearing practices aim to restore traditional methods of animal raising which is both healthier for the animals and the consumers.

Locally Produced Foods: The movement towards buying food locally is seeing rejuvenation as our grocery store shelves are being filled with foreign products. Not very long ago people ate food that was produced in the region they lived in, leading to culturally and geographically based diets. As globalization and free trade have taken hold we have seen a drastic rise in imported products even when the same products are grown in our own backyards and on neighborhood farms. The problem that arises is that the farms that support local agriculture are dwindling as imported products take their place. The reason for this is usually that products can be produced at lower costs elsewhere. This leads to the profits and money that would usually stay in our economy being transferred to other countries.   Economically speaking this is disastrous because it is like we are throwing our money away. Buying locally produced products generates triple the revenue and economic spinoffs. One might argue that buying foreign produced food helps support foreign economies, but this is not the case either. Countries that export much of their production do so solely because they can get a better price for it abroad. What this does is it actually deprives the locals from eating the products they produce themselves. Products end up on our shelves while foreign countries still experience food shortages and impoverishment. The environmental costs associated with transporting food from one part of the world to another are an additional reason to support local agriculture. Pollution costs are not taken into consideration at the cash register but each of us pays with the continued degradation of our environment.

What does all this mean and what can the consumer do? People can make the decision to buy locally. When you go to the grocery store ask where your tomatoes come from and ask yourself how this food was produced. Try shopping at farmers markets (Jean-Talon Market, Atwater Market, Amherst Market) and other alternative food sources (They are actually much more fun!) One doesn’t need to completely change their eating habits to act more sustainable. When at the store try finding products that are either organic, fair trade, or locally produced. The act of conscientious consumption alone will make a drastic difference, your food will taste better, and you’ll feel a sense of connection with your diet.

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