What do you think about when you are perusing the isles of the supermarket deciding what you’re going to eat today? Do you do the thinking or does your stomach do most of the thinking? Do you think about what is healthy for you or what you desire at that point in time? Both perhaps? Do you think about the impact your ingredients have on the planet, its inhabitants or fellow human beings? If so, does that make a difference to what you buy or is price and convenience more influential?
In my opinion ignorance is not bliss when it comes to food choices. Ignorance can be detrimental to the lives of others and disastrous for the planet. Even if only for our own continued survival as a species, I believe we have a moral duty to know and take into account how our food gets to our plate and the impact it has on the environment. In a world interlinked as never before, I have learnt (and am still learning) that your food choices aren’t all about you (or me) and in fact many other people are affected by what we eat…that global issues of food and water shortages, deforestation, global warming and the likes, should take precedence over your desire to follow today’s most trendy diet or to satisfy you craving for a Big Mac, coke and fries.
For the past few years, I’ve been actively seeking the truth about our food. Of course, I don’t know all the facts, however from the research and evidence I have collected over the years, I now feel compelled to share the matters that have the biggest influence over what I choose to eat.
As recently as 1930, in our parents' or grandparents' youth, world population was some two billion compared with the seven billion living on the planet now. The mid-range global projection is that the planet's population will increase from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Broader estimates range from eight to 11 billion, depending on how effectively and quickly reproductive and development programmes are implemented in developing areas of the world to address the key drivers of population growth. Every 60 minutes, there are 8,000 more people that require food yet the world has a finite amount of natural resources from which we can draw on.
Urban areas are set to double by 2050. Governments around the world know this and rather than try to reduce their consumption of foods that have a high environmental impact, they have been buying up millions of acres (more than 495 million acres of land in the last decade to be precise) in developing countries for which to intensively farm when the going gets tough. These deals are often shrouded in secrecy.
Termed "land grabbing", rich countries target poor countries, desperate for capital in a recession, for rock bottom prices. . For instance Sweden has purchased 350,00 acres in Mozambique, Australia has purchased 880,000 acres in Indonesia, Italy has purchase 4.9 million acres in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia has purchase 675,000 acres in the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates has purchase 4.2 million acres in Sudan. Even China, which has plenty of land but is now getting short of water has begun to explore land deals in south-east Asia. Of course, these are just tiny fractions of what has been purchased worldwide. These massive land purchases will push small farmers aside and limit the amount of land available for families who rely heavily on growing their own food. It will also mean people in poorer countries will be producing grains for livestock belonging to richer countries, while they themselves may still be struggling to feed their families. This is a complex issue, but it is highly debatable as to whether “gains” will trickle down for farmers of poorer countries who are supplying food for countries such as the US.
The US food production system uses about 50% of the total US land area. While 56 million acres of U.S. land are producing hay for livestock, only 4 million acres are producing vegetables for human consumption. More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals, and according to scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals. Here in New Zealand, we have just 3% of our natural habitat left. Once a giant forest it has now been transformed into innumerable farms. In just 8 years after refrigeration was introduces, 63% of our Kahikatea forests we felled to make way for the dairy indusrty.
So what does this matter to you when you’re choosing what you might eat tonight? For me, it makes me look at the amount of land required to produce my food. Short of stabilizing population (which will take another half century), only one major option remains: to cut back sharply on meat consumption and reliance on lifestock farming.
This is reason enough for me to eliminate meat and dairy products from my diet entirely.