Food can represent many things other than simply being a substance to keep us alive. It can be an expression of love, tantalising the senses and bring a sense of wellbeing and belonging. Food can excite the tastebuds, be used to feed emptiness, pacify anger, soften hurts or ease the pain of grief.
Eating can be a supremely enjoyable experience, but is too often rushed, gulped or slurped with little focus or pleasure. Many children have no idea where food comes from, they have no idea how milk could come from a cow or that the meat they eat was once a living animal. Few of us have any idea where our wastes go, whether they are our human waste or what is discarded into a rubbish bin. That creates a massive disconnect from nature, and encourages us to live in a self centred fantasy land where our convenience is often gained at the expense of others.
Many Westerners consume convenience foods of dubious quality and nutritional value - food waste goes to landfill where it releases carbon-dioxide, further contributing to the greenhouse gas emisions in our atmosphere.
Beef and dairy cattle and other ruminants are heavy contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s estimated that it takes more of everything - water, food, fertiliser and fossil fuels to raise the same quantity of beef as wheat. Meat is a dense protein which is easy to over-consume, in contrast, eggs, grains and pulses are an excellent source of protein, and use land and water more efficiently.
Agriculture is understood to be responsible for about 14% of the world’s greenhouse gasses in the form of methane. Cows are ruminants, meaning that they have 4 stomachs to digest their food rather than in their intestines like we do. When a cow chews its cud, it's basically re-chewing its regurgitated food. The stomachs are filled with bacteria to help break the food down the process produces the gas methane which then needs to be expelled. Cows fart and burp methane which is a very potent greenhouse gas, which contributes significantly to climate change.
Given the current difficulty of feeding the world’s population, as well as issues of water scarcity, the depletion of fossil fuels and the increasing stress on farmlands, it’s likely that abundant cheap food will be less available in the future. Our increasingly unpredictable climate is producing greater extremes in weather including storms, floods and heat which will further stress the remaining arable lands.
In some countries vast tracts of land are planted with mono-crops which are turned into biofuels instead of being used for food. In other parts of the world, forests are felled to grow corn and grain for sale to feed chickens, pigs and cattle instead of the local populations.
Fish populations are increasingly stressed due to overfishing and environmentally-destructive fishing methods. This also impacts on the ability of future generations to have reliable, safe seafoods.
The world's food systems need to be sustainable and equitable for all, not skewed unfairly and unethically towards greedy over consumption. How we eat, how often, and what kind of food is not a choice for much of the world’s population.
Last year I wrote about Ethical behaviour for E in my theme of workplace bullying. Here.