We eat every day. And every day, our food choices directly affect our health and the health of the planet. Food is an environmental issue because the ways in which food is grown, processed, transported, consumed and disposed of have significant impact on our environment. For example, think of the impacts of synthetic fertilizers on water and soil. Or the emissions of greenhouse gases involved in transportation. Or the health impacts of pesticide residues on food consumed by children. No wonder the health and sustainability of our food system is so important for personal, family and community wellbeing.
Food for Health and Environment
The average Manitoba meal travels 2,400 kilometres before reaching the dinner plate (based on figures for North America from the World Resources Institute). The ways in which food is produced and distributed have a direct and substantial impact on:
- Climate change
- Air pollution
- Biodiversity and health of ecosystems
- Watersheds and water resources
- Soil erosion
- Forests and rainforests
- Human health – in both production and consumption
- Local economies and local self-sufficiency
- Mental health and community wellbeing
- Indigenous rights
- Habitat preservation
- Animal rights
Food for Thought
“Each food purchase we make is like a vote for the way we want our food to be produced – and for the world in which we want to live.” -Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Simply in Season (2005)
Increasingly, people are looking to make food choices that are consistent with their deeper values. Some ways to do that involve practices such as those in the following list. Related topics include:
- Fair trade/Horizontal trade
- Free-range or free-run poultry
- Locally grown
- Locally sold/traded
- Naturally grown
- Organic (certified and non-certified)
- Raw or unprocessed
- Think about where your food comes from. Do you know where it was grown?
- What’s in your food? What is its nutritional value? How is it contributing to your health and the health of your family?
- What are conditions like for the people growing and processing your food? Are they paid a fair wage? Does the work expose them to harmful substances?
- Is there a risk of loss of habitat or species as a result of the product?
- How much of the cost of the food goes directly to the producer? How much goes elsewhere?
- Were there chemicals used in the production or processing of your food?
- Is the food a genetically modified organism, or does it contain GMO ingredients? Who owns the patents that control your food?
- At what scale was the food produced — on a small farm, on a large commercial farm, through mechanized industrial production? Is the method of production sustainable?
- How was the food processed? What was taken away during processing?
- How did the food get to where it is now? What methods were needed to ensure its freshness? Was it harvested prematurely? Was it refrigerated or kept warm en route? What amounts of energy does this use?
- How do all of these things affect the earth?
- Purchase local and organic items. Encourage your store to carry these products. Ask them to consider the implications of their purchasing choices, too.
- Try eating a meat-free meal once a week to cut down on energy and land consumption from eating higher on the food chain.
- Try to find out as much as you can about where, how and why your food is grown is the way it is. Some of the resources below might be useful.
- Grow your own! Supplement what you buy with food grown in your own back yard.
- Share a meal with a friend – cook together. Sharing the resources and energy for cooking helps to cut down on energy use, and sharing the experience helps to build a strong community. See our Cooking section for more information.
- Find out about a recipe from your cultural background. Ask a friend or family member to join you, and swap stories and recipes together!
The following websites are Manitoba resources for information on food and its environmental connections:
- Food Matters Manitoba
- Organic Food Council of Manitoba
- Small Farms Manitoba
- Harvest Moon Society
- 100-Mile Manitoba
- Winnipeg Vegetarian Association
- Mary Jane’s Cooking School
- Local radio programs on food! Check out CKUW 95.9 FM to hear “Set to Simmer” and “Wooden Spoons,” programs on local perspectives of food, cooking and healthy living.