Thursday, April 5, 2012

Climate Matters. E is for Eat

This post if for E in the A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012. Link in the sidebar.

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.

It's possible to imagine that animals are magically slaughtered because meat, which bears no resemblance to a real animal, is neatly packaged in plastic and often impregnated with chemicals to increase shelf life. Sick animals don't make good meat, so animals are fed antibiotics to prevent illness. In Australia this equates to antibiotics being given to healthy animals. As in humans, this can create super bugs, and reduces the impact of antibiotics when animals get sick.

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


Pa Ul said...

lovely post
do check out my D at GAC a-z

Anonymous said...

Just lately I have been more conscious of what I'm eating, where it came from and what the impact on the planet is of producing that food. It really is a lot to absorb.

sue said...

Delores, it is so much to absorb as you say, and when dietary problems need to be considered as well it becomes a real challenge.

Manzanita said...

Sue, I'm so excited to find your comment. I've been looking for you through all those numbers. I should get some string instrument out now and play a sad tune and tell you that I've never been busier in my life.... not even when I was raising 4 kids. But I won't. Ha I must be crazy to even attempt to do this challenge.

I drove over to Helena today and your "eat" post fits in with my life. I'm trying to get a greenhouse started at the ranch. The genetically modified food is scary. My car was filled with seedling, newly-planted tomato plants. I left some at friends and kids houses along the way. Kinda like Johnny Appleseed. :)

My love to you and I better post my "E"....Hope everything is going well in your corner of the world.

sue said...

I know what you mean about trying to find familiar people on the blogroll, it's huge!

Good on you with the tomatoes, I've been trying to grow vegies, but my brown thumb seems to be winning out so far, however I will persevere. As you say GM foods and the companies that promote them are a worry.

I was delighted to see your theme this year. I think it's the way of the future- to reacquaint ourselves with some of the lessons from old sustainable cultures.

Hugs to you and your tomatoes :)


Liza said...

There is an enormous amount to think about here...
Sue, thank you for your blog comment. I am honored more than you can know.


The Writing Goddess said...

I'm on the fence about genetically modified foods. On the one hand, they scare the bejeebers out of me. On the other hand, most of the (real) food we eat is the end result of years of breeding plants for certain characteristics; the corn we eat today is very different from the maize grown a few centuries ago. So, genetically modifying rice or grain to contain more nutrients would seem to be a step in the same direction, if an accelerated one.

It's that part that concerns me, a bit, that we might not able to see something we've inadvertently introduced into a plant until some weird and deadly side effect appears. Thanks for this post; we DO need to think more about what we eat.

Jessica Salyer said...

I started a garden two years ago and grow most of my household veggie for the summer (and some for the winter that I freeze) I love it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. I rent at the moment, so no garden .. but I'll definitely get one in due course.

Buy local, eat local, eat fresh - don't waste electricity cooking, but I do enjoy my food!!

Thankfully we are becoming more aware .. have you seen Manzanita's blog on the Hunza people?

Cheers Hilary

Liz said...

We've eaten organic since 1988, and have not regretted it - apart from the fact that we have no money! Brought up our daughter and son in a green way as far as possible, to respect the planet etc, and now she is working in the sustainable movement, has written a book (age 23) and we are so proud of her! Good luck with your blogging in this matter.

Mine is about endangered animals!

M Pax said...

I'm glad we're all becoming more aware of what's going on. I haven't eaten fast food in about 5 years. I even have my cats eating organic.

sue said...

Liza, yes there is a lot to think about. I'm pleased to have been able to pass on how inspiring you've been.

Writing Goddess, I fully understand and accept the importance of modifying foods to grow in different climates and soils more productively. I'm very uncomfortable with the necessity of grains requiring artificial, toxic pesticides and fertilisers to be able to grow. It's unhealthy for the land, the insects and waterways and is known to have negative side effects.

Jessica, I'm impressed! It's my goal to grow heirloom plants and NOT have them die on me.

Hilary, I heard about a site with information for renters to help them grow a few vegies, using things like vertical planters. There are also workshops for "green renters" that sound interesting.

I'm loving Manzanita's posts again this year. Very interesting. When I was at Uni we used to buy Hunza pie which was tasty and filling. Haven't thought about it for years.

Liz, the downside of organic produce is the cost, but my logis goes: eat a bit less, enjoy a bit more!

I wish you'd left the name of your daughter's book, I'd be interested to know what it is - if you read this please drop back and share the title.

Mary, It seems that everyday people are taking the initiative to eat more carefully. Not everyone by any means, but it is becoming more common.

Liz said...

Hi Sue, yes, we are all very thin! LOL! We are certainly very healthy. Never ill in fact, not even colds, any of us.

Em's book is probably not of interest to anyone who doesn't live in Bristol, Uk. She works for Schumacher, and wrote a history of the sustainability movement in Bristol. It just happened to be where a lot of people of the same mind settled, and out of that came the soil association (encourages and gives the stamp of recognition and checks on organic produce in the UK) Sustrans (cycle pathways), Friends of the Earth had a group here, the second in the UK, oh - too many to mention, so many initiatives. She interviewed 100 people from over 100 groups and collated the way things grew. It's called 'Bristol's Green Roots'. ISBN 978-0-85784-028-8, available from:

sue said...

Thanks Liz, your comment about wellness is something I've heard from others who only eat organic produce. I confess, I'm a bit behind the times and haven't embraced it fully yet.

The sustainability movement seems to be growing in a really healthy way, which I find really encouraging. I recently attended a series of classes here which was interesting and it's encouraged me to plant a few vegies. I'm hoping my killer fingers don't win out!

Thanks for the link, and whilst it's not relevant to me yet, it might be for others who drop by.