Behavior change is incredibly difficult—knowledge that your actions are destructive is often not enough to get you to stop. We know emissions from cars are bad for the environment, but we enjoy the convenience and time-efficiency of driving as opposed to the more environmentally and physically healthy options of walking or biking. Smokers know that their chance of getting cancer is exponentially higher than non-smokers, but they continue smoking anyways (perhaps a more unfair comparison since addictions are driven by brain chemistry). But you get my point, and you probably (hopefully) see how this relates to eating sustainably.
It’s pretty common knowledge that “ big farma” is wrecking havoc on the environment and the quality of our food, yet people continue to buy that mass-produced and inhumanely raised beef and that genetically modified corn. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect either! I buy my fair share of processed foods and non-organic or non-grassfed products, mostly due to budgetary constraints. But one of my intentions I set for 2016 is to make more deliberate lifestyle choices that reduce my impact on the environment. First, I am no longer buying anything from the supermarket that I can get for a reasonable/comparable price at our weekly farmers market (e.g. organic eggs, seasonal produce, cheaper cuts of pastured meat). Second, I am composting! This, combined with my pre-existing recycling habits, has dramatically reduced my waste.
Did you guys see this viral video of the girl who fit two years of trash into a mason jar? That takes some serious dedication, and for most people, achieving that would necessitate a radical lifestyle change. However, there are smaller, easier steps you can take (like I have) to reduce your food related environmental impacts. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming months but for now I wanted to start off with some basic reasons why you need to care about eating sustainably.
For the record, this barely skims the surface but here are a few reasons that we need to be talking about sustainable food production, consumption and disposal.
Because you don’t have a choice.
By 2050 the world population will exceed 9 billion people, which means we will need nearly 70% more food (and FYI we don’t have anywhere near enough arable land left on earth to support that population through conventional agriculture as we know it). This also means that eating sustainably will become a necessity, not a choice.
Because big farma’s practices harm ecosystems, which harms us.
The industrial farm’s practice of monocropping (growing only one type of crop on a large area of land) has negative environmental implications. For instance, monocropping diminishes biodiversity, degrades the soil, and makes plants more susceptible to disease, which leads to heavy pesticide use. When ecosystems stop functioning as they should, they cease to provide ecosystem services—this means we as humans can no longer benefit from them, because the ecosystems can no longer provide clean drinking water, decompose waste, purify the air, sequester carbon, naturally control pests, regulate flooding, etc.
Because agricultural emissions drive climate change.
About 1/3 of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Food miles are not as important as people might think in contributing to emissions, rather it’s the actual production process that is to blame. Either way, the choices you make related to food have HUGE impacts on emissions.
Because family farms and small farming communities are endangered.
Small farms need our support to survive. The growing number of industrial farms causes significant socio-economic harm to local communities and makes it increasingly difficult for family farms to survive; studies have shown that large factory farms hinder economic wellbeing in small towns. Additionally, growth in the agricultural sector can reduce poverty more effectively than growth in other sectors, so that’s another reason to support small-medium scale agriculture.
Because we simply can’t afford to waste any more food.
So now you’re probably thinking, I get it, eating sustainably is important but how exactly do I do that? What does it look like? If that’s you, I’ll be giving you the answer to that in next week’s post “10 Ways to Eat More Sustainably,” so keep your eyes peeled for that! (Or join my mailing list so you never miss a post :))
In the mean time, Diana Rogers from Sustainable Dish covers a lot of the ground at the intersection between sustainability and food, so check out her content!