“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
As I ate my breakfast this morning I wondered where my apple, cereal and milk came from. I had no idea. Did the milk come from the farm down the road? Did the wheat originate in Ireland? Was the apple from this planet? These are the sorts of questions that have been in my head since I heard of food miles and the damage it does to our planet. Before college it was a matter of eating without thinking. When college began a little shopping and cooking were required so this involved a little more planning and thought! But now there are many more complex questions that I would like answered.
“Food miles is a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food, including the impact on global warming.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_miles (5-3-11).
“An increase in food miles also increases the ecological footprint of the product, as it is necessary to transport it greater distances before being consumed, which produces more greenhouse emissions.” http://www.ecoaction.com.au/category.php?id=80 (5-3-11).
In week 1 we learned that the population is to hit 7 billion this year which made me realize what an impact this was going to have not only on climate change but also on food, food production, food producers and the land where all this food will be produced not to mention the miles this food will travel to get to the consumer. The steady rise in global population over the last few decades is accelerating more than ever now, meaning more and more food is needed to keep people alive.” According to Bread for the World, a nonprofit organization focused on ending hunger worldwide, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger each day. One child dies every five seconds because of hunger”. http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2091266#ixzz1FlkHSFlQ (5-3-11).
I wonder how many more are going to die from hunger when the population hits 7billion? It is not us in the First world who are suffering but those in the Third world. It is the poor who suffer most when the price of food increases, as it will, with increases in the price of oil as it runs out and population increases. More people looking for a share of less and more expensive food. More areas of the world where food production is almost impossible and people fight hunger to survive.
“The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years.” http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=33268 (5-3-11)
The more I think about food the more I feel put out by it. It may sound contradictory but food is killing people, food production is killing our land and our planet. I wonder though is it food that is damaging all these things or is it us, the people in the first world, who are the problem? We are creating the problems of climate change, energy consumption and lots of other things all of which are connected to our action and inaction.
The variety of food that is available to us here in Ireland, for example, is crazy. We have come to enjoy Chinese, Asian, Indian and all sorts of other foods from all over the globe. It seems to me that the more the Celtic tiger roared the hungrier we, as a nation, became and the more likely we were to be eating food that had travelled half way round the world to get to our plates. Twenty years ago would it be common for people to have a Chinese every Friday night? … I believe not. As we had more money we were able to afford food that had travelled from further away. This had its benefits for the Irish economy as Irish producers were able to supply large quanties of meat, cheese, milk and the likes. But did our importing of bananas from Brazil or carrots from Israel help the Brazilians, the Israelites or the planet? …I believe not! “Assuming your food has come from the capital (of Brazil), BrasÃƒÂ¬lia travelling to the capital (of Ireland) Dublin, it has travelled approximately 5376 miles (8650km) as the crow flies. This is equivalent to an Aeroplane journey that would create approximately 1935 kgCO2 or 528 kg Carbon.” http://www.organiclinker.com/food-miles.cfm (5-3-11). This is one hell of a lot of damage for some bananas and bananas are not the only food we import. It is hard to believe but we are importing lots of food that could easily be grown in Ireland, things like carrots, cabbage and apples. When transportation, processing and packaging is added to the food system equation, the fossil fuel and energy costs of our current food system puts huge stress on the environment and this for food we could be producing locally and which would assist us in becoming more sustainable. This brings my mind back to the plots in Cloughjordan and the community commitment to growing and producing their own food.
The idea of stopping the movement of food from one country to another would seem like the solution but an impossible one as far as I can see. If this happened it would cause many problems even possibly war. One of the main problems is that food trade is an integral part of world trade, if this practice ceased it would destroy many economies that rely on the production of food for export. Of course many countries also rely on the import of food to feed its citizens. In Ireland we export tons of beef; if this were to stop it would have a terrible effect on our economy and on the families connected with this industry. This would then greatly reduce our GNP figures as our exports would fall. We are trying to fight our way out of an economic crisis, and not trying to go deeper into one.
There are no simple answers to all or any of my questions. But it seems that no one answer is the right one. We each have choices to make on a daily basis which can help. Each one of us needs to think more about our food; think when we go shopping for food about where it originated and look out for locally produced food. This will help to sustain the local economy and also reduce food miles. Think, buy and consume food that is produced locally when possible and after that source food that has travelled the least miles, as we must accept that some food travel will always be necessary- back to the bananas!
“There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/opinion/06mcwilliams.html (5-3-11)
We must become more aware- more aware of our needs rather than our wants- for water, consumer goods, holidays, food. We must also become more aware of the ripples sent out by our actions- climate change, peak oil, global warming and hunger.