Temperatures reach new heights every year. Production spirals and consumes more resources than we can replace
These days, it’s hard to feel like the world isn’t ending.
Climate change. Environmental decay. Man-made mass extinctions.
In this time of crisis, people are waking up to smell the coffee – the kind that comes from cheap, exploitative labor and the deforestation of the Rain Forest.
We are running out of time to face the harsh truth – none of this is sustainable!
It is not hard to see why it feels like the world is ending.
But it’s not all gloom and doom!
In urgent times, people always adapt, innovate, and inspire.
Sustainable living has become a hot topic, and it’s more than a trendy lifestyle term or the latest health craze. Sustainable living is how we plan to get out of this mess alive. It’s all about our relationship with the earth and becoming aware of the impact left by our modern lifestyles.
Sustainable food is a retaliation to the food, waste, and environmental crisis that we find ourselves in today.
What is sustainable food?
Sustainable food is about eating healthily, consciously, and with as little impact on the environment as possible.
It is the solution to outdated conventional methods of agriculture, the solution to carbon-heavy food production, and the answer to how to achieve excellent health without an environmental impact.
It means farming in eco-friendly ways and finding solutions to mass-scale food production problems.
Let’s break down some facts and figures that reveal the impact of farming on the environment, and why drastic change is urgently necessary:
⦁ About 12% of the world’s land area is used for agriculture. Land degradation is now a global problem, as more and more land masses are losing productive capacity due to unethical and excessive farming
⦁ Water management is another major challenge. Agriculture accounts for 70% of all water usage globally. This astounding percentage shows us the importance of smart water management.
⦁ Soil health is plundering in parts of the world like Africa where land is being overused and bled of resources. This creates an urgent need for more sustainable farming techniques in agriculture.
⦁ Energy constraints are also weighing down on agriculture. Modern agriculture is an energy-intensive, and growing concern is being placed on agriculture and its use of fossil fuels. With agriculture accounting for at least 13.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, the pressure is growing for brands to find less intensive ways to yield results in farming.
The biggest challenge that sustainable farming has to consider in the face of conventional farming is that change is not cheap or easy.
Farming has developed to prioritize the highest production for the lowest financial cost possible. The good news is, that as consumers, we are the ones that fund everything that farming does. If we don’t support companies that practice unethical means of agriculture, they won’t have the capital to continue in this way anymore.
We have the power to make change happen with our purchasing choices. Sustainability should be at the forefront of our minds when making any purchases, lest we support the further decay of our planet.
Let’s face it – the average consumer is not walking down the shopping aisles thinking about how to make sustainable food choices. We shop based on preference, personal health, and price.
Even those who are more conscious of sustainable food can find sustainable shopping a daunting task. Even the most educated among us can find it difficult to walk down a supermarket aisle and have any real idea about where their products are coming from.
Sustainable food is everywhere these days. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder. Now that society is waking up and started to smell the aforementioned coffee, both consumers and corporations have started looking for better options to make a more sustainable lifestyle feasible.
Sustainable farming can be defined in many different ways, but it has to follow at least a few primary principles to be considered truly sustainable. Sustainable farming should strive to achieve:
- Less water wastage
- Reduced agricultural waste
- No use of harmful chemicals
- Enhanced soil instead of destroyed soil
- Energy efficiency
- Conserving welfare of environments and animals in areas surrounding farming
- Fewer carbon emissions
Overall, the goal of sustainable farming is related to health. This refers to the health of the products, the environments, and ultimately the people affected on all ends of this spectrum. People cannot maintain health while consuming unhealthy products. Similarly, they cannot maintain health while living in toxic environments created by non-sustainable farming.
Quality of food is becoming more important than ever, with numerous studies showing that many unsustainably farmed items have been decreasing in nutritional value due to poor farming methods.
The practice of freezing food to be transported subsequently kills a lot of the food’s nutritious value – but this is the only option for huge corporations that ship food worldwide. This is one of the reasons why it is important to shop locally and seasonally.
Increased use of pesticides in modern farming is another huge problem. People are being exposed to harmful chemicals in their food – not to mention that these chemicals are drastically harming and altering the environments that they are used in.
There are alternatives to these harmful methods and many sustainable-focused farms are now focusing on new ways to create products that are not harmful to the environment and those who consume it. Some methods being undertaken are:
- Urban agriculture
The global population has moved more and more towards city living. Therefore, urban agriculture has become an important topic with a lot of opportunities emerging from it. Urban agriculture can involve small, personal operations, such as a person choosing to have their own herb garden – or, it can involve larger operations such as rooftop gardens, urban greenhouses, and indoor farms.
Some of the indoor farms that are emerging today make use of hydroponic farming techniques. Hydroponics involves growing plants without the use of soil. Plants are grown in and nourished through water-based systems.
- Bio-dynamic farming
Bio-dynamics relies on the philosophy of a farm as a living and breathing organism – meaning that crops, livestock, and all produce can not only exist together but also intertwine to feed and sustain each other. Bio-dynamic farms will often host livestock that can nourish plants grown and vice versa.
Permaculture is agriculture that is designed to exist harmoniously with man-made structures and is inspired by how nature would deliver produce to human beings. The focus is usually on trees, herb gardens, and shrubs that can exist in cities while mimicking the order of a natural ecosystem. Permaculture has become more popular as the shift to sustainability simultaneously happens alongside humanity’s shift towards city living.
Agroforestry is the practice of planting trees that give us crops within existing farms. Trees, as well as bearing fruit and crops, can add to the soil health where crops are already being farmed. They can also serve as protection from harsh weather conditions by creating a shield against everything from heavy rain and storms, to the wind, to excessive sun.
- Natural animal farming
This is the sustainable, ethical alternative to factory farming of meat produce. Farmers work to create an environment where animals can live a natural and healthy life before they are turned into meat products. It is not only a better and more moral option for animals involved, but it is also healthier for people to eat meat that has lived a healthier life.
- Crop rotation
Crop rotation is a technique undertaken by farms that produce different products in accordance with the different seasons. They follow nature’s laws of when each crop should be farmed and take advantage of natural conditions that help different plants thrive, such as sunlight and water. This way of farming uses less external energy because natural energy is optimized. Farms are also more resilient to weather conditions because they are created with said conditions in mind.
- Natural pest management
Insects can be harmful to the farming industry, but pesticides pose a large risk to the health of consumers and the health of the planet. Many sustainable farms have sought out natural alternatives to toxic pesticides.
One technique is to produce more resilient crops. This is achieved by strengthening crops through selective breeding.
Greater diversity of crops and crop rotations have also proven successful in cutting down pest-related problems because these methods of farming discourage the development of certain insects that prey on a certain plant. When there is diversity in agriculture, insects are less likely to evolve and flock to a certain area for a specific crop.
Farms have also reported that releasing pests that are not harmful can help to deter harmful pests. This includes ladybugs, lacewings, and fly parasites. Some also create encouraging environments for predators of pests to thrive, such as bats and birds. This creates an ecosystem that benefits farmers, crops, and nature simultaneously.
Farms are embracing these changes and doing their part to make a difference all over the world. The pressure is on, and food production, in general, is becoming more aware of the unsustainability of conventional agriculture practices.
Sustainable food also means sustainable waste. Food waste and byproducts are a messy issue that results in companies spending time, money and energy on the disposal of food waste – often in unethical ways. As consumers of these companies, we end up paying the price for this. Food waste is a huge topic to tackle when we talk about sustainable food. Any waste that is not reused or recycled becomes an environmental burden and consumes even more energy to dispose of. Water waste is being put under the spotlight as we realize that water is a finite resource and look at how some companies can squander and pollute it. A lot of the farming techniques mentioned above are designed to minimize water wastage and reuse as much water as is possible.
Another goal of sustainable living is to ensure that ethical labor is used globally. We need to move away from the industrial era trend of unethical work practices. Sustainable living has to have an end goal that includes everyone in every corner of the earth – after all, we all share this planet and we will all see the effects of our environmental impact eventually.
Sustainable food production is rapidly evolving every day to step up to the challenge of feeding an ever-growing population demands mass scale solutions. Population growth is a pressing issue of our time. We are set to hit a population of 8 billion by 2030.
An ever-growing human population also consumes an ever-growing amount of food. Researchers have become alarmed at this rise in consumption, with many experts being lead to the (rather obvious) conclusion that this pattern is unsustainable.
The EU Standing Committee on Agriculture Research (SCAR) concluded in a recent report that:
“Many of today’s food production systems compromise the capacity of Earth to produce food in the future. Globally, and in many regions including Europe, food production is exceeding environmental limits or is close to doing so.”
It is becoming more and more evident that sustainable food production will be essential to human survival in the future. There are many obstacles, but the shift is happening, both in farming and in consumer behavior. Consumers have come to realize that we can’t afford to think that our personal actions don’t make a difference. If every person on earth thought that, then we would surely be doomed.
One of the major obstacles sustainable food faces is financing. The unfortunate truth is that sustainable foods can be viewed as even more inaccessible to poor or working-class people. Sustainable food choices can be expensive. For those who are privileged enough to make the choice – sustainable shopping should be seen as a responsibility. The basic laws of supply and demand dictate that sustainable food will become more affordable as more of the population supports sustainable brands and businesses.
Sustainable brands often encounter more difficulties than conventional, industrialized brands. Unfortunately, this often leads to them being more expensive.
Luckily, you don’t have to support any specific brands to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. There are tons of cheap and easy ways to start moving toward sustainable eating.
- Eat locally. It’s a no-brainer that local produce would require less input from the stage it is produced to the stage that it ends up in your fridge. A truck full of food can consume an astounding amount of fossil fuel. Eating locally not only supports your community but takes a lot of stress off of the environment. Transportation of food is an important issue we face when tackling the idea of sustainable food.
- Eat seasonally. In the western world, it can be easy to find off-season produce – but think about the process that farms must undergo to keep off-season fruits and vegetables on the shelves of grocery stores. A lot more resources have to be used to mimic a healthy environment for this kind of produce. Focusing on seasonal produce creates less chance that you are supporting these practices. Eating seasonally also cuts down on food miles, because food is less likely to have traveled far to reach you when the seasons are wrong for it to be growing near you.
- Cut down on meat. You do not have to eliminate meat, but more and more research suggests that meat consumption is a leading factor in deforestation, climate change, and the increase in methane gas. Cutting down on meat is one of the simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint and maintain a more sustainable diet.
Switching to a sustainable lifestyle does not have to be a daunting task. A little bit of education can go a long way. You do not need to completely change your lifestyle – all you need to do is shop with a little bit of environmental consciousness. These issues are not going to go away any time soon. It is up to all of us to make a difference wherever we can.