Last month, we looked at the first One Planet Living principle of living a happy and healthy life, with healthy food choices obviously being an important aspect to health. However, there is more to food that we need to consider than just choosing to eat more fruit and vegetables – we need to understand where our food comes from to be sustainable. This brings us onto the next One Planet Living principle, local and sustainable food.
Choosing local food has been gaining popularity for a while now with farmers markets becoming all the rage. As consumers, we love the idea of knowing where our food comes from whilst engaging with and supporting local businesses. We know that choosing local supports the local economy and uplifts and supports small scale farmers, but are we aware of what buying local does for the environment?
1. Reduces Food Miles
Although it only comprises a relatively small “piece of the pie” so to speak of food’s carbon footprint, there is no doubt that reducing food miles positively impacts the environment. When we buy local food, we are buying food that was produced in our region. On the other hand, when we buy from a supermarket we are buying food that has been trucked in from around the country, as well as imported from countries around the world. By buying local and reducing food mileage, fuel consumption is ultimately reduced and thus carbon footprint associated with long distance transportation.2. Fresher Produce & Less Waste
A shocking third of all edible food in South Africa is wasted each year either rotting or ending up in landfill putting even more pressure on our Municipalities’ rapidly filling landfill sites. The majority of food items that are wasted are fruits and vegetables. By buying local, produce is brought directly from farm to table thus reducing waste, while large retailers have significant food waste due to items spoiling before they are purchased. By buying local, consumers are able to enjoy foods that are fresher and actually tastier than produce bought in supermarkets. This is due to the fact that most local farmers pride themselves on growing organic, hormone and pesticide-free produce. Avoiding the use of pesticides improves air quality and prevents harmful toxins from leaching into soil and potentially groundwater. Not only does this benefit the environment, but our health.3. Protects Local Land
Local food keeps local land in production and local money in the community, often costs less than conventionally produced and highly packaged food and builds community relations. Speaking of packaging, food purchased at farmers markets invariably contains no packaging (there’s no need, as food is transported from farm to table) – another plus for the environment!
That all sounds ideal, but let’s face it, it might not be practical to switch to a diet based entirely on locally produced food. If this isn’t an option for you, take heart in that you can still make a positive impact on the environment by simply substituting red meat with chicken, eggs, or vegetables. The majority of food’s climate impact is due to non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, particularly nitrous oxide and methane emissions (298 times more potent than carbon emissions). Nitrous oxide is found in fertilizers, and methane emissions are the result of digestive processes of cows and sheep – bluntly put, gassy cows and sheep.
A life cycle study of food production in 2008 found that red meat accounts for about 150% of greenhouse gas emissions than chicken or fish. By simply substituting red meat with alternative protein sources just once a week, you can have as much of a positive impact as that of buying local.
Interested in learning more about the realities of our largely unsustainable food production system, and how you can be involved in long-term solutions?
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