Our eating habits have changed our planet and have placed it in peril, and we can help to restore it by transforming our food system. We have to move towards healthy and sustainable food that will benefit both our health and the environment.
Across the world, humans have destroyed virgin forests to make space to grow mono-crops and rear cattle. Our oceans too have been trawled and fished in excess leading to the extinction of many marine species.
Unscientific food production not only has led to the destruction of forests and wildlife but has also driven climate change. By moving away from sustainable food, we have allowed food to contribute around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Moving Towards Sustainable Food
Most restaurants and supermarkets have begun sourcing foods and ingredients that can be termed sustainable food. The move towards sustainable food first started in the last decade of the twentieth century.
Sustainable agricultural practices came to the fore, as it was identified as a cohesive system of food production systems that will both satisfy human needs and also sustain natural resource bases and environmental quality.
People began to realize the need for more efficient utilization of on-farm and depleting natural resources. This process of sustainable food production will improve the value of life on one hand, and also sustain the economic sustainability of agricultural operations.
In simple terms, growing sustainable food is associated with giving back to the soil all that has been taken from it. Sustainable food production is geared towards improving the social, economic, and ecological values of the whole community.
The Role Of Sustainable Agricultural Practices In Food Production
Only sustainable agricultural practices will lead to the production of more sustainable food. This agricultural practice is a system of production that benefits the farmers, the environment, animals, and the human population.
It might seem unbelievable, but farmers can be the frontline warriors for the environment. Over 15% of farmland is devoted to wildlife habitat and conservation. And as society shows more interest in sustainable food, farmers have shown a longstanding binding to the cause.
One way to do so is to give up the use of pesticides. Farmers have realized that proper farming practices without its use increase the fertility and the carbon content of the soil.
Sustainable food and organic methods of farming are inextricably linked. But it is not a mandatory practice under the USDA, as it does not necessitate organic farming methods to include regenerative processes. But most farmers do follow regenerative practices. Certified organic foods follow processes that inculcate sustainable practices in addressing the quality of the soil, weed and pest control, and animal raising among a host of factors.
Read: Regenerative Agriculture: Does It Foretell A Better Way Of Farming?
How Is Sustainable Food Different From Local Food?
While sustainable food does include the practice of growing food as locally as possible, local food does not automatically translate to sustainable food practices.
Even food can be produced locally using industrial methods of farming. So it would be wrong to assume that every product at a farmer’s market is generally regenerative, and it is sustainable food.
But it is also true that the farmers’ market has led to new prospects for growers. Access to indigenous ingredients and produce leads to more sustainable foods and makes producing more economically feasible.
Accessibility Of The Farm-To-Table Movements
While the foremost step towards sustainable food is growing locally, the practice is not possible for all. Eating as locally as possible is the best way to reduce stages of food production. This leads to a reduction in the general environmental footprint. This leads to compromise in various production practices.
Caring for the land plus producing food using minimal resources is not a beneficial goal merely for farmers. Even retailers, producers, and end-users such as restaurants benefit from the process. Sustainable food is not merely the result of practice initiated and restricted to farms. It involved multiple levels of the food chain from the farm to the table.
Contributing To The Propagation Of Sustainable Food Practices
As a consumer, you can support the practice of sustainable food by going organic and local. Buying from farmers who use regenerative practices is a step in the right direction.
Asking precise questions helps. Vendors can be questioned on whether the product has been grown by them. Always go for in-season produce and choose as locally as possible. This cuts down on the emissions generated by long-distance transportation. Such products are naturally not as fresh as the local produce.
Some products might have traveled thousands of miles before ending up on your table. Going for more sustainable food can also help farmers and their families live on the land. A well-managed farm following regenerative practices also helps our ecosystem through conservation of fertile soil, shielding the sources of water, and removing excess atmospheric carbon.
Eating For The Planet
Moving away from a dairy and meat-dominant diet to include more plants will help in reducing our carbon footprint. Dairy and farming animals require a huge amount of space, feed, and water. The livestock industry alone generates close to 15% of all greenhouse gases emitted through human activity.
There has been a huge jump in global meat consumption, with a growth of 500% between 1992 and 2016. We have to rebalance our diets by prioritizing a plant-based diet and limiting our intake of meat.
Reducing the consumption of animal products can significantly impact or reduce the carbon footprint. It is an important factor in producing sustainable food. Meat has a much larger carbon footprint than grain or vegetable for each calorie. This is due to multiple factors such as the emittance of methane and the inefficient conversion of plant to animal energy.
It has also been found that the cattle industry together gives out greenhouse gases equivalent to all vehicles that ply on the planet. And ranching has also been responsible for the destruction of millions of acres of forest land.
But it is practical to go for a balanced diet. Creating a positive impact on the environment doesn’t require that one turn vegan or vegetarian. Even a 40% cutback in the consumption of meat would be enough to reduce emissions from the global food industry, according to the WHO.
Similar studies published in Nature have revealed that sustainable food can be produced and can be kept within the limits necessary by reducing the intake of sugar, dairy, and meat. Sustainable farming practices and the lack of technological modifications can increase by up to 90% the effect of the food system.
At present three-quarters of our food supply is limited to around a dozen plant varieties and 5 species of animals. It is essential to have greater variety in our diets and its lack is harmful to nature and could pose a threat to our food security.
Seafood is the biggest source of natural food, but we have overfished around 34% of most of our fish stock, or have fished it to the maximum limits in 60% of the species. But marine produce can still be a good source of sustainable food if they are responsibly caught. Trying out diverse species, opting for produce from lower in the food chain, and going for low carbon emission produce can help in the production of more sustainable foods.
Cutting Down On Food Wastage
An incredible 30% of the food produced by humans is wasted. This seriously impacts the environment. If we were to consider food waste as a nation, it would be the third-biggest producer of greenhouse gases after China and the US. Simple practices, such as buying not more than is necessary and freezing whenever possible, can help cut down on food wastage.
Read: Food Waste: Factors That Contribute To The Global Loss Of Food Resources
It is important to be conscious about the food you buy. You need to ensure that the food is ultimately not wasted. It leads to sustainable food practices and also saves you money, which adds up to a lot in the long run.
Unsustainable Products such as palm oil are responsible for deforestation on a massive scale. The forests of Borneo have been decimated to make way for palm oil plantations and wildlife like the orangutans are at risk of becoming extinct. It is better to go for RSPO palm oil that promotes sustainable palm oil.
Certain Food Labels That Indicate Sustainable Food
The poultry industry has recently been using ‘free-range’ to indicate chicken is grown in an environment that helps hens to grow in a more natural environment and exhibit their normal behavior.
The raising of free-range hens in enclosures that allow unlimited access to water, food, and the outdoors. This is particularly important during the laying cycle.
To date, there has been not been any certification system that indicates sustainable food. But customers can search for the ‘regenerative’ mark on their products. Products that are certified as fair-trade are also a label that indicates sustainable practices for products such as tea, chocolate, and coffee beans.
With plastic being recognized as the biggest polluter on land and sea, it is important to avoid products that are packed in multiple layers of plastic. Buying local also helps cut down on multiple layers of packaging materials. Take a reusable bag during shopping. Opting for fresh fruits and vegetable also eliminate unnecessary use of plastic.
Some Sustainable Foods That Can Make A Difference
Choosing foods that can be termed both healthy and sustainable becomes confusing. What exactly should we be eating to fight environmental degradation and climate change? Certain products are safely be termed sustainable foods.
The most important part of choosing food is to say as local as possible. We need to cut down on food miles; distances the food has traveled before ending up on your plate. So stick to a diet of products that grow in your country, and better still, your county.
It is advisable to learn the facts behind each food that we consume. It as a consumer you take more interest in what processes were followed in producing your food. This will make producers take more care in following sustainable practices in producing your food.
For instance, livestock reared through the process of regenerative farming has come in for attention from consumers of sustainable food. Regenerative agriculture involved the rearing of livestock in a mixed system of farming. This helps restore the organic matter that is taken away from the soil. And with it, carbon is restored to the earth.
Soil is one of the most valuable forms of carbon sink. But separating livestock and crops has led to farmers depending on artificial fertilizers. This leads to depletion in organic matter plus a reduction in microbial diversity.
Farmers can help compensate for soil carbon loss and balance the emissions from livestock. This will also help in the utilization of grass in countries like the US and UK, which have plenty of it.
Red meat is very nutritious if it is moderately consumed. It also helps in the increase of nutrients in plants. This is the reason that humans have through the ages evolved alongside animals that subsist on grass. Grass has high amounts of nutrients, but humans cannot digest them. So the best way for a sustainable food system would be to consume animals that can digest grass.
Read: Plant-Based Meat: Does The Sustainable Food Industry Have The Staying Power?
Some crops like oats can be grown without the use of artificial chemicals and are friendly to the ecosystem. They are also an efficient ‘break-crop,’ crops that can be sown and harvested between other major harvests. This rotation helps to replenish nutrients in the soil. They can be a good substitute for maize for countries such as the UK, which depends on maize imported from the US.
Countries that export most of their products must change to consume their product. Britain, for instance, exports almost 84% of its fruits. And the stress should be more on seasonality. A healthy mix includes fresh produce, seasonal produce, and those that are preserved through seasons into the next.
It is prudent to opt for a short supply chain. Transportation of fruits and vegetables is highly unsustainable because of the high water content. Community gardens, farmers’ markets should be your first choice. Even if you must visit the supermarket, choose seasonal varieties of fruits and vegetables. This gives space for local varieties of crops.