Eating for the sake of your body and the planet doesn’t mean giving up on the foods you love. It does mean becoming more actively aware of where your food comes from, how it’s produced and how its production affects the Earth.
Fundamental to greening your diet is eating ‘real’ food. Processed and refined foods are, let’s face it, not good for you. Most of them are produced as part of the push by marketers to ‘make your life easier’ but they’re usually laden with chemicals, additives, pesticides, and barely disguised GM derivatives.
We’re not banging on about anything new, but it really pays to buy vegetables and fruit that are free of any chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Not only are they better for you but producing them puts less CO2 into the atmosphere than conventional food production. If you struggle to find organic, then pester your local supermarket until they do.
For those of you watching your budget, here are the most important foods to eat organic.
Or order an organic box delivery.
Grow your own
We’ve blogged about this here , here and here . The benefits of growing your own are manifold and, fortunately for those of us who have filled their swimming pools in order to grow our own, no longer regarded as ‘subsistence farming’ or ‘weird’! It results in greater biodiversity in your garden, it’s organic, and you’re not clocking up food miles to bring the food to your table.
Top edible gardeners on urban sprout
The Slow Food movement counteracts fast food, fast life, the disappearance of local food and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. Everyone has the right to good, clean and fair food. Slow food is produced in a clean way, doesn’t harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and food producers should get fair wages for their work.
Join the movement
Read more about slow food principles and food sovereignty here
Buy food that pays the producers a fair wage. This is an ethical choice that is very high on the list of eating green. How many of the foods you place on the table have paid a decent wage to the people who produce them?
What’s happening in fair-trade in SA
The distance food travels from ‘plough to plate’, is referred to as food miles. The idea with food miles is to reduce them, and, effectively, reduce CO2 emissions that harm the planet. So buying imported avocados from Spain is effectively ‘costing the earth’ far more than avos produced on a farm near you. But have we oversimplified food miles and overcomplicated ethical shopping?
Miles in the balance: In an attempt to fight the environmental dangers posed by importing Peruvian avocados, Kenyan green beans and New Zealand lamb into the UK, there has been a huge push in the UK to eat local produce and save the planet. We blogged about this here .
And this all sounds absolutely spot on. But this theory has recently come under attack. Locally produced beans that are grown using a lot of fertilisers and tractors are anything but carbon-friendly. By comparison, beans grown in Kenya are produced in a highly environmentally-friendly way (nothing is mechanised), they use low-tech irrigation systems, and they provide employment to many in the developing world. Weigh that up against the air miles used to get them to the supermarket. [guardian] A 2005 Defra report indicated that it can be more energy-efficient to import tomatoes from Spain by lorry than to grow them in a heated greenhouse in the UK. [bbc]
Suddenly buying local over organic every time is a slightly contentious issue! First prize is local and organic. If a farm near you is producing organic lettuce, then that’s got to be healthier for you and the environment! The idea is to buy food, or any goods or service really, grown or raised as close to your home as possible. But it’s clear we’re going to have to become extremely discerning shoppers, and each of us is going to have to learn to weigh up the pros and cons of buying local or buying imported organic because it’s fair-trade, or just because it is a far more ethical growing process that needs our support. It gives new meaning to knowing where our food comes from.
Eat less meat (or none at all)
If you’re thinking about buying an eco-friendly car to save the planet, then this will save you money. You can do more for the planet by going vegan. Research from the University of Chicago shows: the average US diet (about 28% of their diet comes from animal sources) generates 1.5 tonnes more CO2 than a vegan diet with the same number of calories. By comparison, the difference between driving your average US sedan and a hybrid is just over 1 tonne. [new scientist]
The 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. [fao.org]
If you don’t want to go vegan, eating free-range chicken instead of red meat, cutting down on the number of times you eat meat, and selecting less-processed animal products will go a long way to cutting back on the greenhouse load. Cutting down on our meat consumption will benefit the animals, our own health and the environment.
Read: “Meat eaters must be licensed to consume meat” by Glenn Ashton
Thanks to the buying power of caring shoppers, more and more farm animals in SA are being given the opportunity to enjoy life’s basic gifts of sunshine, soil, fresh air and the freedom to exercise their basic behaviour [compassion in world farming SA]
But most farmed animals in SA still remain hidden in factory farms:
- 22 million laying hens in SA remain trapped in a space allowance of less than an A4 sheet of paper – for life, despite the fact that by 2012 battery cages for laying hens will be banned throughout Europe. Only 3% of laying hens are free range in SA
- Woolworths has banned all battery eggs from its stores
- 2.1 million breeding sows remain confined in metal cages for all of their four-odd years of life in SA
- Their piglets, reared in barren sheds on factory farms, become our ham and bacon
- Pick n Pay has launched free range pork in selected stores in Gauteng, soon in the Western Cape
- 10 million broiler chickens are slaughtered for their meat every week in SA. Roughly 1/3rd of these have ammonia burns on their feet after spending their six short weeks living on faeces-saturated litter
- eat free-range chicken
- bull calves are surplus in the dairy industry. They are either killed at birth, dumped at auctions or reared in tiny stalls for veal. We drink their mothers’ milk, they drink milk substitute.
- Woolworths gave a directive to its dairy suppliers that all male calves must be reared humanely until they reach slaughter weight at about 18 months old
- 75% of the world’s fish stocks are being exploited to their limits or are overfished
- get SASSI about your fish and buy sustainable seafood
The SA kind food guide
GM – what to look out for
The politics of genetically modified food aside, South Africans are given no choice when it comes to whether or not we eat GM foods, as there is effectively no labelling in this country. 80% of processed foods, including chips (crisps), bread and chocolate contain maize or soya and could therefore contain genetically modified products.
What to look out for:
- Soy derivatives - as much as 60% of processed foods contain soy in the following forms: hydrolysed vegetable protein, textured vegetable extract, soy protein isolate, soy protein, lecithin emulsifier, tofu, tamari, shoyu, tempeh, soya sauce, soy fibre, soya oil, maltodextrin, soy flour, soya cheese, margarine
- >Vegetable oil may contain oil extracted from GM soy, maize, canola or cotton
- >Maize derivatives – look out for anything with corn/maize starch and syrup; glucose, corn/maize oil, starch, modified starch, thickener, corn/maize flour, fructose
- >Canola - also known as rapeseed, found in canola oil, margarine and butter/oil spreads
- Cotton derivatives - cottonseed oil (especially in fast foods & vegetable oils), cotton linters (in sausage casings), also may be in sanitary products, dressings etc
And more recently, the potato has become a controversy in SA. Read about it here . Sign the petition against the GM potato here.
Further reading: Biowatch SA
Read the label
It’s thus obvious, given the above, that reading just what’s in your food is imperative. So, read the label, Mabel, and stay on top of what they’re putting into your food!