Jamie Long // Columnist
Where was that apple grown? What species did the harvesting of that quinoa impact? What human rights violations were impeded in the growth of that avocado? What is Azodicarbonamide? These are all valid and pressing, but sometimes difficult questions for consumers to answer. With the desire for convenience food skyrocketing, and globalized food-trends increasing, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the food you eat comes from, let alone how it was produced. When most of us haven’t had to think about the geographical origin of our meals, it proves difficult for consumers to actually conceptualize the efforts (and controversies) that exist along the supply-chain of each ingredient.
Before I go on, I want to be very clear that this article is not meant to make anyone feel bad about consuming the food that they do. The intent of this article is to raise awareness regarding where the food that we consume comes from and the impact that it makes. This way, we can all begin to work collectively towards having healthier and more sustainable roles in the ecosystems that we all exist in. Besides, we need food to survive —how could I rightfully shame anyone who simply doesn’t know the importance of monitoring where their food comes from?
Aside from the consumption of meat and dairy (which is an entirely separate and controversial subject), the purchase and consumption of fresh, packaged or processed fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds typically require little-to-no thought concerning food origin in the Western world. Speaking for most of us who were raised in a society of thoughtless over-consumption (think Christmas dinner), the majority of Canadians have the privilege of almost always having our favourite foods available for purchase at any given time of the year in local grocery stores or restaurants. Want strawberries in December? No problem. Bananas year-round? Not an issue! Coconut milk, dates, cashews and even guava fruit? As long as you have the money, it’s all yours! We haven’t had to care in the past, so why should we start caring now?
The benefits of understanding the production processes of our foods are endless. Speaking directly to my fellow members of Gen Y, as well as to the generation to follow, it is us who are left with the earth in our hands. We are the ones who are soon to be the household decision-makers (give-or-take 10 years), and the choice is ours regarding how and where we want to spend our money. In understanding where our food comes from, what was used to grow it, and who was involved in the process, we are not only able to acknowledge the human health impacts of the food we consume, but the environmental, economic, and human rights impacts of the food we purchase. Beyond the ecological impact of food production, present-day globalization has made food from across the earth available at our utmost convenience in the Western world, leading to huge environmental and health impacts from transportation, packaging and preservation. Understandably, you may be thinking at this point ‘how can I possibly keep track of where everything I consume comes from?’ Well, this becomes much easier the more you choose to purchase locally and adapt your food consumption behaviours around these choices.
Because our culture has been built around everyday convenience, this shift may seem difficult to fathom at first, but if you’re anything like me, you might believe that the power of the people is strong. By starting small, we present ourselves with great opportunities to transition into this shift, even if just in our own households. Start by making a mental note of what is available in your area, and making decisions based on that. For us on the West Coast of British Columbia, we are privileged to have the Fraser and Okanagan Valleys so close by providing us with beautiful, nutritious, and sometimes even organic (yay for the preservation of bio-diversity!) fruits and vegetables every year. Once you’ve surveyed what can be purchased in your area, perhaps consider home-based preservation methods to keep your locally-purchased food safe and consumable throughout the year (such as the ones our ancestors used for centuries).
If you choose to consume dairy and meat, avoid heavy Costco runs to ‘save you money’ as your parents might have done, and instead consider purchasing from a local farm or butcher. For those items that you simply can’t see yourself going without that are not available in your local geographical area, attempt to consume mindfully. For all food items, attempt to waste as little as possible, and for what can’t be consumed, compost! Overall, as much as it may seem like the small steps we take on an individual level only minimally contributes to the global impact that humans have on global food systems, the more we come together as conscious consumers, the smaller the footprint we leave in the ecosystems we are involved in becomes, the healthier we are, and the healthier the local economy is. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy trips to the farmers market and time spent eating delicious home-preserved, package-free food throughout the winter season? Haven’t tried it? I highly recommend!