FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!
Climate care resource leaflet 2
by Chris Frazer
“Consume less; share better.”[i]
“While the word charity connotes a single act of giving, justice speaks to right living, of
aligning oneself with the world in a way that sustains rather than
exploits the rest of creation.” [ii]
As I began writing this resource leaflet the world population clock had just ticked over 7. 4 billion. By the year 2050 it is predicted the global population will have reached 9. 5 billion. It is envisaged such an increase will place enormous pressure on our present food systems with the increasing likelihood of further negative impact to our endangered natural environment.
In recognition of both ensuring sufficient nutritious food will be available to feed the world’s growing population, alongside the urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions associated with global food production, the subject was among the key issues of concern addressed at the United Nations Conference of Parties in Paris 2015. Identified as requiring global focus and action the final agreement contains the wording;
The Agreement recognises “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the impacts of climate change, and underlines the need to “increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience…in a manner that does not threaten food production.”[iii]
’ This year on Earth Day April 22, world leaders from 175 countries gathered at the United Nations Headquarters for the official signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the ceremony Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called upon all States to quickly sign up to the treaty so it could enter into force as soon as possible. “We are in a race against time,” he emphasised, urging countries to promptly join the Agreement.
“The window for keeping global temperature rise below 2 °C was closing”, he warned. “The era of consumption without consequences was over and intensified efforts were needed to decarbonise economies and support developing countries in making that transition. The poor and vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create,” he stressed.
Whilst the reality of the Secretary General’s comments is alarming, they can be viewed as a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a different narrative of cooperation and sustainability, for as Ban ki moon went on to point out, “Climate action was not a burden. Rather, it could help eradicate poverty, create green jobs, defeat hunger, prevent instability and improve the lives of women and girls and it was essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ”[iv]
|A 1993 Wuppertal Institute transport analysis of strawberry yogurt produced at a factory in southern Germany revealed the high transport intensity of a relatively simple and locally manufactured product. Materials and ingredients for the manufacturing and packaging of strawberry yoghurt were sourced from Germany and other countries, every tonne of yogurt being finally responsible for 600 km of truck movement|
“Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals”[v]
Calculating the cost of Carbon and Calories
It is estimated, on average, food can travel up to 2414.016 kilometres from the place of production to the consumer’s plate. Assuming this distance as a measurement for some food purchases this approximates to putting 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food.
CUESA (Centre for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) echoes a growing body of organisations raising the urgent need for an overall of our present food system calling for a move to supporting more locally grown and produced products. In their article they state,
- Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than sea shipping. But sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster – and more polluting means.
- In order to transport food long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport, or it is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale.[vi]
The issue of food miles and its implications for global trading is highlighted in a New Zealand business and sustainability briefing paper. In the opening comments it observes; “Global trade has resulted in more and more products travelling ever-increasing distances from production to final consumption and disposal. A new debate has emerged around the environmental and social impacts that growing trade and consumption in products and services generates. The debate has been better articulated for food products, due to the wider environmental and social issues associated with food production and trade, and the volume of worldwide freight transport taken up by food.”
The paper goes on to point out that, “There is a significant body of research exploring the links between food production, transport, energy use and emissions. Many studies underline the worldwide trend of increasing volumes of food being transported longer distances, with obvious consequences in increased energy use and emissions (particularly CO2) and higher vulnerability of the food-supply chain. The intrinsic dependence of food production and supply on fossil fuels is highlighted in numerous studies.
There seems to be consensus about the link between distance travelled and the degree of food-processing – the longer the distance, the higher the level of food-processing required – implying that long-distance transport of food is responsible for additional emissions due to increased food-processing and packaging.”[vii]
Whilst there continues to be differing opinions/research regarding the degree of harmful impact, or otherwise, of long distance travel between the global productions of a portion of our menus, the prevailing argument is weighted towards encouraging consumers to eat more in season, choose with care reducing, for example, the amount of meat eaten, purchasing whenever possible locally produced foods. Reverting to such a diet, it is argued, would invariably translate into lesser transport emissions and far less processing of fresh food.
|“Creating a world food system that operates for the well-being of people as well as the planet is a major challenge.”
Global Food Policy Report, the International Food Policy Research Institute, USA 2016
The fairness and fragility of freedom of choice for farmers in our global food chain
Just as with consumers in westernised countries who are encouraged to have a varied nutritious diet for their health and wellbeing, crop diversity in less developed countries forms the foundation of a strong local food system from which farming families can sustain a living off their land.
Yet increasingly over the years such diversity has become ever more fragile as the farmer’s freedom to choose what crops to grow has been eroded as globalisation of our food markets has seen large corporations determining what is, or is not, grown for export. Moreover the pittance paid by the multinational corporations for such crops sees far too many farmers struggling to survive.
Brian Halwell in his book ‘Eat Here’, points out that there is a strong relationship between crop diversity and local self sufficiency especially when the focus is on supplying their local markets rather than global food companies. Furthermore it serves to strengthen and grow local economies and is far less environmentally harmful as food is less processed and travels a shorter distance. [viii]
This is not to advocate for a complete ending of international trade in foodstuffs as globalisation has produced some positive benefits, but rather to promote more sustainability within small communities by encouraging a living local focus, producing a diversity of crops for domestic markets first thus ensuring growers have better autonomy for the goods grown and sold.
Access to basic nutritious food is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where it states,
Article 25 (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Actively addressing the urgent need for fairness and transparency within our food chain is crucial for the wellbeing and survival of all people and our planet and it’s up to governments, organisations alongside civil society to begin to put right the current flaws in our food system.
Living and sharing
The Sacred Story of simplicity and interdependence
Philippians 2:4 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Thomas Carlyle told a story of an Irish tenant farmer who died a hundred years ago and left a widow and three little children. This was before the days of social security. The man who owned the farm needed the house to get another field hand, and so this poor widow was literally turned out into the road with no resource whatsoever for herself and her family. She went to the nearest town and began to go from door to door explaining her plight and offering to do any work to provide for her children. However, person after person turned her away, saying, ‘I have problems of my own. What happens to you is of no concern to me.’
After four days of no food and sleeping out of doors in the park, the youngest child’s body was weakened and she woke up with a burning fever. By noon all three of the children were sick, and before the sun went down this little neglected family was the centre of an epidemic of diphtheria that spread to the whole town. Only at that point did it become clear that this woman’s plight was the concern of the larger community. Their failure to deal with the problem at one point in time meant they had to deal with it later in a worse form.
The late Rev. Martin Luther King once said,
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” [ix]
Yet notions of individualism and taking care of one’s own is deeply ingrained in the psyche of modern day thought, its origins arising from a deeply entrenched Protestant work ethic that extolled the virtue of the ‘self made’ man. So the slogan for the industrious middle-class in England arising from the Industrial revolution was “self-help.” “Heaven helps those who help themselves.” It was a creed which Carlyle went on to call the “gospel of Mammon.” In his book Past and Present (1843) he observed…Our life is not a mutual helpfulness; but rather, cloaked under due laws of war, named “fair competition” and so forth, it is a mutual hostility. We have profoundly forgotten . . . that cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings; . . .[x]
And so in this age of significant disparities we see food riots where shop shelves are brimming with goods, mass starvation in a world that has more than sufficient to feed everyone and environmental degradation on an unprecedented scale.
The rapid growth in consumerism is shrouded in individualism and flourishes through intense clever marketing strategies which can instill a mixture of fear and/or desire; the fear of missing out…hurry for a limited time only! ; To desire through notions of happiness and fulfillment if we purchase certain products. Such fear and desire can influence what we put into our shopping trolleys for supermarkets are designed to attract customers into purchasing certain products by short term promotions, strategic placement of some goods and enticing displays. What is totally absent from any marketing ploy is information on the distance a product has travelled, the processing necessary to ensure goods remain as fresh as possible and more importantly who and what may have been harmed along the journey from farm to fork?
As people who purchase these goods what is our responsibility? Can one person really make a difference? One thing is certain whilst taking into consideration differing budgetary constraints we are, by and large, in charge of what we buy and consume, so yes we can make a real difference.
As a first step in opening up the conversation with parishioners and parishes here are some additional informational sites to read and share with others;
‘Edible Wellington Snapshot’, produced by Wellington City Council http://www.rph.org.nz/content/9ffa9102-26cd-4e8a-9115-bd04f2b6321b.cmr
Restoring New Zealand’s Food System
Is Local Food Better?
Some questions for further consideration/action
- How does your parish collectively share food surplus? g. how many parishioners have fruit trees and surplus garden edibles which are or could be shared within the local community?
- Do you shop locally as much as possible supporting such initiatives as local farmers’ markets?
- How would you feel about buying, as much as possible, only what is in season?
- Do you support by your purchases of overseas food and goods those that are fairly traded?
A few suggestions for starters,
- Think about your church gardens, is there a way your garden can become edible? Imagine growing such basic vegetables as cabbages and lettuce which can then be shared around your local community
- How about setting up a small stall outside your church where people are encouraged to leave fruit and vegetables for anyone to take? Or taking such edibles into communities we know are food insecure and dropping these off at local community centres?
- Lastly, give serious consideration to how we all can shrink our oversized food footprint further by buying only what we actually need rather than what we think we want, buying in season, buying with care and thoughtfulness and above all let’s not carelessly waste any of our precious food supplies!
Loving God of justice, push us into such restless passion for fairness that working towards a more even and sustainable distribution of our global resources is constantly at the forefront of our attention. Amen.
[i] Hervé Kempf
[ii] Rachel Held Evans, ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’
[v] Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk
[viii] Halwell, Brian, ‘Eat here’ Reclaiming global pleasures in a global supermarket, World Watch Institute , Washington 2004
[ix] King, Coretta Scott, ‘The Words of Martin Luther King,’ 1985
[x] Lecture 23 – The Age of Ideologies http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture23a.html