world live in large cities and take their food for granted. They buy it from the supermarket, from a restaurant, or from another small store without thinking about the processes necessary to grow it, process it, and to get it to the shop. Many foods are environmentally destructive and cause a great deal of damage during their production process. Unfortunately, these are spread throughout everyday products that everyone buys¹. In order to be a conscious consumer and understand where your food comes from, you need to understand the production pathways. So where does your food really come from?
Fruit and vegetables
Fruits and vegetable are amongst the easiest foods to monitor, as they come in their original form and are regulated by a number of rules and laws. Many fruits and vegetables are grown in the country that they are sold in, but many others are imported under sometimes dubious certifications. Since many plans are seasonal, they must be imported if we want to enjoy them throughout the year – which is exactly what wealthy westerners do want².
Importing fruit and vegetables has a number of downsides, including³:
- Imported produce is more likely to be contaminated with chemicals and other toxic substances. If they are imported from a country with lax agricultural laws, like Mexico or Southeast Asian countries, then your fresh fruit and vegetables can do you more harm than good.
- They are less nutritious. Since they must handle a long transport period, many imported products are picked green and left to ripen off the plant. This leaves them both with less nutrition and with a lower quality.
- Importing produce causes a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Think about it, if you buy local, then there are very few transport costs (in both the environmental and monetary sense of the word). However, imported products must be transported to a port, shipped to the country of origin, and then transported to the supermarket where you buy them. This requires a lot of energy, burns a lot of fossil fuels, and is environmentally harmful.
It is widely known – among the educated scientific community at least – that meat production is an extremely harmful process. This is especially true in poorer countries where agricultural regulations are either non-existent or unenforced. When you eat meat you are contributing to environmental destruction in a number of ways: meat production has a huge carbon cost, it often comes hand in hand with natural habitat loss, and it (indirectly) causes starvation and a lack of nutrition in poor countries⁴.
Just one example of the way in which meat is bad for the environment is beef production in the Amazon. Huge cattle ranches are popping up throughout countries like Brazil and Colombia in places where there used to be nothing but virgin rainforest. Farmers are clean felling huge areas of rainforest to pasture their cattle. This in itself could probably be managed, but as soon as their new farmlands are becoming infertile, farmers are moving on to new areas of rainforest. They clear land for a new ranch, move their cattle in, and the process continues⁵.
Fish and seafood
Seafood is a relatively safe food to eat: as long as it is sourced from a sustainable fishery which is certified by an organization like the marine conservation society. If it is not, then it probably comes from a fishery which is either environmentally harmful or which doesn’t have adequate conservation measures in place. Always look for the seal of certification.
The biggest thing to watch out for when buying seafood from the supermarket is products that are sourced in Asia. Many Asian countries still have unregulated fisheries which are harmful to both the environment and to the surrounding communities. The worst example is in Thailand, where ‘slave’ boats are still common. Poor villagers from the area are enticed onto boats with the promise of an income and a steady job. However, once they are established on the boat, they are held captive and prevented from leaving⁶. This is a huge violation of human rights, and you should not support it through your seafood purchases.
Although there are hundreds more food products we could talk about, the main theme remains the same: imported products or those made from imported products are usually much more harmful to the environment than local products. Eat local and know what you are eating to ensure that you are as environmentally friendly as possible.