What’s Eating the Planet?
-Updated Sept 2018-
Our Diet’s Impact on Climate Change
As you are no doubt aware, the planet is warming. The earth’s climate is changing at an increasingly rapid rate, and those privileged enough to be educated to that fact are wondering what to do about it. What’s perhaps less commonly known however is the impact that industrial agriculture has on carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, and the consumption of both water and energy.
Indeed, some reports indicate that agriculture currently represents 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being a direct contributor to deforestation, and major source for the extensive array of chemicals that are now permeating our soil and water.
Not only are these chemicals responsible for the killing of bees and other wildlife, but they are also becoming embedded in our food and water sources. As a result, these chemicals end up in our bodies (including our children’s tinier bodies), and are directly linked to an increase in birth defects, cancer rates, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and the list goes on. So what are we supposed to do about it?
Eat Your Vegetables
No, we need not all starve ourselves or become vegan (although eating less meat will certainly help cut carbon emissions). There are less drastic changes we can make that will already helps reduce our environmental burden. For instance, buying (or growing) organic is already a step in the right direction. Contrary to common misconception, chemically enhanced industrial agriculture is not the solution to the planet’s food needs.
The planet can support us all through sustainable organic farming. To be sure, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and the countless other chemicals in use through conventional agriculture do produce greater yields in the short term. However, this surplus is temporary and comes at considerable cost to human, animal, and environmental health (See The Stuff of Life).
Organic Farming for the Win!
Over time (and here the data is just beginning to emerge as a consequence of it taking so long to compare), the constant need to re-inject nutrients into the soil for conventional farming implies that crops would not keep up without human intervention. In the long run, organic farming does outproduce conventional farming.
I had the good fortune to learn in detail some of the organic farming practices during my very own farming experience in Japan. The more you dig into the topic, the clearer it becomes that organic farming is the better option!
Despite this, conventional farming at an industrial scale is still a dominant force in the world today, and has the potential to wreak even more damage that what it is effecting today. For instance, attempting to exert so much control over our produce (at a genetic level) has also severely limited biodiversity.
Having such narrowly engineered produce therefore makes us susceptible to significant and devastating risks should anything afflict these mono-cultured (click to learn more about Problems with Monoculture), multi-cloned (literally the same plant is replicated, as with potatoes, corn, bananas, etc.) crops.
Aware of the Danger
The return to permaculture is one means of averting disaster. Permaculture is the practice of using different complimentary species as they exist in the natural world, (check out permaculturenews.org to learn more). Choosing to eat organic is another way to help the planet. Eating organic supports the real food movement as you support the farmers who are supporting the soil, and helping divert some of the chemicals that have impregnated our food and water.
The Brighter Path
By opting for organics you’ll also be contributing to your own health (click here for more on this). Although some of the chemicals used in conventional farming are more immediately impacting than others (see Monsanto Guilty of Chemical Poisoning in France), it might take years before we truly understand the consequences of what’s been entering our diet.
In the meantime, this doesn’t mean we should run out and buy the first organic label we see (as your grandparents might have said, appearances can be disbelieving). Rather, we should simply know what it is that we’re eating.
The More You Know
The first step is therefore being better informed. This includes reading the ingredient labels and looking up what we’re unfamiliar with. A clearer understanding of what we’re putting into our bodies, and into the environment, is the basis for a healthy and sustainable food culture. Developing this habit will in turn contribute to our own healthy, long-term survival!
To recap, selecting organic food and getting better informed of ingredients is the way to go. Such practices will help to reduce our environmental burden and potentially improve human health. Now that I’ve piqued your interest about sustainable eating practices, perhaps you’re wondering if there are any other tips?
It’s a Beautiful day in the Neighborhood
Buying local is a wonderful way for you to get in touch with your food! Moreover, if you’re especially excited about what you eat, a way to take it up a notch is grow your own. While we might not all have the luxury of garden space, even large cities now offer community gardens or other urban alternatives (See Don’t Stop Think About Tomorrow).
Growing even a little of your own food items is a great way to connect process. For instance, fresh herbs on your balcony or window sill can help enhance your meals and add to the appreciation of those eating.
Otherwise, simply buying from a local producer is already a substantial way diminishing your impact and potentially improving your health. When you purchase from a local supplier, you are cutting down on transportation and thus significantly reducing your carbon footprint. In addition, you are support the local economy (bonus), and in my personal experience, I have found that having your food travel less actually tastes better!
Having said that, I do acknowledge that we might not be able to find everything we need locally. There are certain ingredients that we might prefer from specific regions (for example Indian pepper or Spanish Saffron, etc.), but for our everyday nutritional needs, beginning in your hood is a great way to satisfy your appetite and learn more about the regional and seasonal specialties of your home environment.
For those of you living urban environments, there are options for you as well. Not only at your local farmer’s market, but there is also an increasing trend towards developing urban agriculture and rooftop farming.
Having now covered some of the benefits of eating local, and organic, this is normally the point in the discussion where the issue of cost comes up. Is it more expensive to go green?
The True Cost of Our Eating Habits
Admittedly yes, there is a price differential. At least in the short term. Until the market adequately responds to the growing need for local organics, you will likely have to pay a premium for it. At the same time however, it is vitally important to attempt to understand the true cost of conventional farming.
There is a hidden price tucked away in those lower cost products that are imported from industrial farms where labor workers may be getting paid pitiful wages and tons of chemicals our being introduced into the soil, air, and water. Ultimately the equation needs to balance itself out, and those lower prices now are merely differing the true cost into our bodies, the planet, and our future.