By Ariana Mullins
What if every time you made a food purchase you could make a difference in our country and in our world? Every dollar you spend at a farmer’s market is one less dollar supporting the industrialized food system, and that dollar is a vote. Each time you spend on sustainable food, you vote for it, and help it grow. Likewise, every dollar spent on industrialized foods also encourages its production. You don't have to wait for an election to make your voice heard-- you make an important statement every time you buy food.
9 Ways You Can Vote for a More Sustainable Food System, Stronger Communities, a Better Economy, and a Healthier Planet
1. Choose Real Food--opt out of the synthetic compounds, fillers, food coloring, preservatives and other junk that is pumped into our food supply. Go for actual ingredients-- whole fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs, and proteins. This is a vote against chemicals and junk in our food, and in favor of returning to a traditional food supply. This also helps drastically reduce the amount of packaging that goes into our food system.
Check it out: Here's a great article about Emory University switching to a sustainable food system for their students. If an institution like that can do it, then so can we!
2. Eat the Food You Buy-- up to half of the food raised in America somehow ends up going into landfills. This of course is bad for our environment, bad for personal finance, and frankly pretty embarrassing, considering the hunger problems in the world today. Eat your food. Eat leftovers. Compost your food scraps. Don't over-buy. It makes a difference!
Check it out: Stop the Hunger-- a statistics page that will give you pause, and the UK project Love Food Hate Waste has some great ideas for cutting down on this kind of waste.
3. Pay Attention to Your Proteins-- The livestock industry is credited with nearly 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions— that's more than the entire transportation sector! Choosing organic, sustainably produced meat from small-scale family farms can greatly help reduce your meat-related emissions impact. Grass-fed beef is actually good for the environment, helping replace precious topsoil. Humanely raised, pastured meats are good for your health, as well-- it's worth the switch.
Check it out: How Grass-fed Beef is Good for the Environment!
4. Buy Local-- Support your local food economy by visiting your locally stocked supermarkets, checking out your nearest farmers market, or even becoming a member of a farm through CSA (community-supported agriculture.) Supporting our nearby networks of small-scale farmers ensures their futures and ours, maintaining climate-friendly food options to choose from!
Check it out: Find out what's in season in the Pacific Northwest right now, and Seasonal Cornucopia is a great tool for finding out what's growing wherever you are.
5. Choose Organic-- Organic farms are not only good for our health and for local wildlife, but they’re also good for global climate. By building and enhancing healthy soil, these farms emit about half as much carbon dioxide as the industrial ones. Organic farms also use much less fossil fuel energy than their conventional counterparts-- frequently one-third less the amount! Organic farms also provide an effective carbon sink, storing carbon from the atmosphere. If we converted just 10,000 medium-sized farms to organic, we could reduce emissions in a way equal to taking one million cars off the road. Whenever possible, opt to support the environmentally-friendly operations of organic farms-- without our support, they cannot continue earth-friendly operations.
Check it out: Here's a guide to The 9 Most Important Foods to Buy Organic.
6. Cook! One of the major reasons why food is becoming increasingly a product of factories and freezer-sections is that people are not cooking their own food like they used to. Fortunately, cooking today is easier than it's ever been, with plenty of cooking shows, great cookbooks, kitchen appliances and great blogs dedicated to making cooking easier. Unlike some of the other prescriptions for a healthier planet, choosing a pro-environment diet can be fun, interesting, and delicious. If you don't know how to cook, learning to do so will be incredibly empowering, and will also save you money while improving your health.
Check it out: Nourished Kitchen and The Healthy Home Economist both offer tons of recipes and even instructional videos on cooking delicious, nourishing and budget-friendly recipes for yourself and your families.
7. Grow Something-- The ultimate earth-friendly method of food production is growing your own, and the next-best thing is small-scale farms. Unfortunately, after more than 50 years of government subsidies that encouraged industrial-scale farms, thousands of small-scale farms folded. Fortunately, new farmers are answering the call, and giving it their best shot again. But you don't have to be a farmer to grow your own food-- you don't even need a lot of land. Even a window ledge provides enough room and sunshine to grow some herbs, and planting a little plot in raised beds offers both food and a wonderful stress reliever, not to mention the satisfaction of producing your own food.
Check it out: Here's an inspiring story about a city in Brazil that eradicated hunger through community efforts. And for a fun take on sustainability, join the community at guerrillagardening.org.
8. Get Involved at a Local Farm-- Whether you are joining a CSA and therefore supporting their concept and future in financial ways, or you are simply visiting a farm and learning about how they work, getting involved in a local farm is a great way to support sustainable food-raising practices. As a culture, we have become far removed from the process of food production, and it's great to see what goes into growing the items we eat. Choosing to buy from local farms, whether on site or through a CSA is a wonderful way to "vote" for sustainable food, and it will enrich your life!
Check it out: LocalHarvest.org is a great website that helps you connect with local farmers in your area! You can also support other business who value the planet and sustainable practices, by finding sustainable food wherever you go, using the Eat Well Guide.
9. Say No to GMOs-- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are currently one of the greatest threats to our health and environment. According to the Non-GMO Project, "over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs:’ which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture, and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment these novel organisms cannot be recalled."
In addition to the terrible toll GMOs are taking on the environment, they are also bad for our health. Most developed nations consider GMOs unsafe, and in nearly 50 countries around the world (including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union) there are serious restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. However, in the U.S., the government has approved GMOs. These approvals are based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and who will benefit from selling them. Many Americans are realizing that this is not a good deal for them, and are choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment. We should all demand clean, safe food.
Check it out: Here is a great presentation on the issue, called Patriotism on a Plate
Another great place to learn more about GMOs, including ways to avoid them, is to check out The Non-GMO Project.
What we eat at each meal really matters, and every time we choose sustainable food, we vote for a better, cleaner way of producing our food. To learn even more about our food production system and the issues facing us today, you can watch any of the food-related documentaries below: