It seems there’s a Day for everything. World Book Day, International Woman’s Day, Earth Day, Father’s Day, People who like to drink their gin and tonic through a straw Day (ok…so I made that one up, but there should be). June 5th was World Environment Day. I’m not even sure what that means. Our world is our environment, and vice versa. But enough of pedantic semantics. The theme of World Environment Day 2013 was Think.Eat.Save. A simple message, but open to interpretation. The purpose of the Day was to get people to think about their food choices – the foods they eat and the foods they waste. A time to ask ourselves: Where does my food come from? Has it been sustainably produced? Has it been equitably produced? Do my food choices have long term impacts on the environment and on the livelihoods of producers – farmers and farm labourers, and employees in food processing industries. Do my food choices result in unsustainable irrigation practices, in reductions in biodiversity through the transformation of land for monoculture? Do animals live lives of suffering in the production of the meat and diary products that I consume? Does my food travel far?
We need to ask these questions, and many more besides. Most of us have become far too disconnected from the foods that we eat. The sugar snap peas or the gammon joint (to name two things currently residing in Carina’s fridge) that we so carelessly throw into the shopping trolly at the supermarket has a life history and is entangled in complex webs of production, in relationships between farm workers and farm owners, in relationships between humans and farm animals, in the pharmaceutical companies that supply seeds and herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics, in food manufacturers and in supermarket chains. The sugar snap and the gammon are the products of all those complex, and often unequal and unjust, relationships and processes.We also need to think about our positon in the food web. We are not the end product. In the UK, 50% of all food waste comes from homes. That’s 7.2 million tonnes of food wasted by households in the UK each year. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign estimates that the average household throws away £50 worth of food every month. EVERY MONTH. We buy more than we can eat and throw it away when it goes off. And we prepare more than we can eat and throw away the left-overs. Not only is all that waste environmentally detrimental – from the perspectives of both over production and waste disposal – it is detrimental to our bank balances. When we throw food away, we are throwing our hard earned money in the bin.
But the good news is that it’s easy to live by the motto Think.Eat.Save. In an ideal world we would all grow or hunt and fish and gather our food, or produce food co-operatively in our local neighbourhoods. In reality, that’s not going to happen. But there are a few easy things we can all do:
1. Plan meals and write a shopping list. Before you shop, plan your meals and only buy the ingredients you need. Planning massively reduces waste.
2. Buy foods that are locally in season. Our vegetables and fruits come into season at different times of year. Don’t buy rhubarb from Peru in October. Ask yourself ‘Do I really need it, right now?’ Wait until summer to buy locally-grown rhubarb – or apples, strawberries, asparagus, etc. That’s how we did things when I was a kid. Not only did we not suffer because of it, we relished those foods that were only available at certain times of the year. They were all the more special for their short-lived availability.3. Eat less meat. I love meat, but you know what’s great about eating less meat? It tastes even better if you haven’t had any for a few days. Eating less meat is healthier for the planet, healthier for you, and its cheaper. And when you do buy meat, pay a little bit more, for meat that has been ethically and sustainably produced.
Now, I know there are nay-sayers who will say ‘yeah but…’ and come up with a million excuses not to do this. What about all those foods and drinks we love that can’t be produced locally. You expect me to live without coffee, tea, cucumber, chocolate, rice, etc.
No. I don’t. Here’s what I’m saying. Think.Eat.Save. Think about what you eat. Don’t be mindless. Don’t walk up and down the supermarket aisles like a zombie..or a sheep. Stop. Read labels. Think. Make positve choices. Choose your battles against environmental degradation and human injustice. Savour your food. Love your food. The planet will thank you, your bank balance will thank you, and your taste buds will thank you.