by Vivian Morellon

My first understanding of food, and its origin, was when I was 6 years old and eating at an Italian restaurant with my family.

I was still young enough that I needed a parent to walk me to the bathroom; on my way there I spotted a small, crowded tank filled with lobsters. They seemed miserable and the image was barbaric to my 6 year old self. Their claws were tied in bright, yellow plastic and they desperately tried to tap through the glass as they climbed on top of each other in search of an alternate escape. To this day, I can’t stand the sight of these tanks – a memory I try to ignore anytime I do eat lobster.

My second encounter with food’s origin happened at ten when I realized meat was a cow: an actual animal I was familiar with and exposed to. So began my journey with omnivorous-related guilt.

My most recent realization about food is still happening. As I grew up, moved away from my parents’, and started cooking for myself I started noticing food in a whole different way – the groceries I was buying and how my health reflected it. Why were frozen burger patties so cheap? Why did a can of green beans last so long in my kitchen and why did it need a label of ingredients? Isn’t it just green beans in there…?

Food. I hadn’t thought about it deeply. What was I eating and how was I buying it?

Simply put, food is nourishment (no duh), substances that contain an array of different vitamins, minerals, fats and carbohydrates that play a vital role in keeping us healthy and alive. But what happens when half our kitchens are filled with cans and packaged goods? Are we getting the same vital nutrients when fruits are found year round (when they shouldn’t) and the frozen salmon in our freezer is just… not quite the right color.

There it was all along – a disconnect between us and our food.

It wasn’t always like this. Meat came from healthy animals that were hunted  – our ancestors ate the meat, wore the flesh, and made tools with the bones. There was no disruption in the ecosystem and we fit perfectly in the food chain. For millions of years, this was the relationship between man and meat.

Then, humans industrialized: built cities, established societal norms (instant gratification anyone?), and increased the human lifespan and population count. This evolution not only removed us from the food chain but reinvented it completely, accommodating it to our whims and placing ourselves at the top.

Food became industrialized and convenience sold better than anything on the shelves.

Most might argue that this re-arrangement is natural… the brightest mammal won.

True, humans adapted and developed to changing environments better than other mammals. We even managed to create language and concepts that unified larger communities, allowing for societies to grow. In retrospect, these societies didn’t always grow sustainably or ethically and now we’re paying the price.

Food and the Environment

The Food Industry is a trillion dollar business – and as a business, profit is considered way before the well-being of the environment, the animals and the consumers. The demand for convenience has fed the industry and resulted in the creation of mono-cropping, induced ripening of products, unethical raising of animals, and the use of toxic chemicals. On top of all this, pollution worsens due to the large distances crops travel across countries. We try banning plastic straws and plastic bags, but shipping food across large distances requires 10 times the plastic wrapping – which is then improperly disposed of.

Environmental destruction can be blamed on many things – tourism, product manufacturing, over-population, mining and the oil industry, improper waste management etc… While we can point fingers at many reasons, industrial agriculture is one of the major contributors in environmental damage. In short, massive single-crop farms and intensive animal husbandry depletes soil and pollutes water sources, herbicides and insecticides harm wildlife and contributes to global warming by emitting 1/5 of human related greenhouse emissions.

Industrialized agriculture is also harmful to the environment because:

  • It takes up extreme space – roughly 30% earth’s surface and mostly in rural areas which possess a threat to local biodiversity.

  • Did I mention pesticides and harmful chemicals?

  • Then we have to consider transportation. Because everything is grown far from the destination these industries SHIP all this food all over. This means packing all the food with plastics (ocean pollutants), consuming more fuel for transportation and creating extra carbon dioxide emissions (goodbye ozone layer).

  • Furthermore, the industrialization of animals is unethical. Once everyone accepts that farm animals are sentient we can collectively agree that the unfair and harmful treatment of these animals is just that: unethical and should be addressed. So opt for the most ethical of options and support companies who set standards to protect the animal’s quality of life.

Food and our Health

Let’s talk about the correlation between food and our health.

When we buy organic, we buy seasonal crops that have not been exposed to chemicals and hormones. When we buy local, we purchase food that didn’t travel long distances, allowing produce to ripen naturally – letting it complete its normal cycle. Studies also show that local and seasonal crops are healthier for us because they are exposed to the same environmental factors we are, therefore carrying the exact nutrients needed to survive them. For example, eating local honey is believed to be a homeopathic cure to pollen-induced allergies! Because the honey is made from local nectar and exposed to the same pollen, it is a good to incorporate it in your diet in order to prevent seasonal allergies!

Local and organic means you get the most nutrients out of food, the nutrients necessary to withstand (and thrive!) each season without any of the synthetic pesticides or hormones. And you really don’t want to be eating those nasty chemicals! In fact, high exposure to pesticides has been linked to ADHD, increased risk of cancers and Parkinson’s disease. By buying organic, not only do you avoid these risks but also get the most out of your food.

So it’s not all lost!

The gap between us and our food can be bridged thanks to the existence of local farming, community gardens, and buying organic. These lifestyle changes are important for two reasons: because it’s better for your health and because it’s one of the most impactful ways to be environmentally conscious.

Buying local also supports your local economy, helps maintain green space in urban areas, and creates community!

Suddenly you know where your food comes from. You find yourself having a direct relationship with the source and find yourself a part of a community, not only with your food providers but also with the people who join you at the same farmers market or community gardens; with the added bonus of sharing the similar values and mindsets.

This sharing of space, control of your own resources and connection to the earth can increase mental and emotional health. For many – this community is found to be grounding. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to connect with like minded humans.

Along with local consumption, we should all strive to buy organic and lower the consumption of animals (sorry meat lovers). By reducing the demand for meat and reducing the miles it has to travel, we might collectively reduce greenhouse emissions, which could alleviate global warming. Shared resources, a cleaner environment and a healthier body – all as a result of connecting back to our food and taking control of how it’s produced.

Interested in more on shared gardens and sustainable food movements? Here’s additional information on local markets and shared gardens.

Incredible Edible – community garden galore!

Urban Farming – find a local garden

Find a Farmers Market

ALternative food transportation as seen in amsterdam

The global slow food movement