Food Smart

Greener Economy

Lydia is just a city gal hoping to make the world a greener and fairer place! Her column ‘Greener Economy’ will talk about some of the economic and political solutions that will help create a more equitable society as well as more liveable conditions for current and future generations. Stay tuned!

Only once we were actually at a Korean barbeque restaurant did my friend tell me she didn’t eat red meat. I knew that Millie wasn’t vegetarian, so when I asked the reason, she replied: ‘Because the way they produce meat just isn’t sustainable – all the methane, carbon dioxide, water … It’s never sat right with me.’

She’s right. The way our ever-growing population consumes food isn’t sustainable.

There are two sides to the discussion on sustainable food consumption: overconsumption in developed countries and destructive methods of production.

According to DoSomething’s campaign FoodWise, Australians throw out $8 billion worth of food yearly, which equates to about five average size fridges per household. At the same time, over two million people seek food relief at some point every year in the country, with such demand rising despite overall national economic growth.

Unsustainable production and post-production methods are one of the leading causes of environmental degradation around the world. Pesticides used in agriculture, ineffective irrigation methods and destructive land clearing are only a few of the problems.

For our economy to progress and understand the true cost of food, it is important that we all make some changes to our lifestyles – many of them only small.

Eyes as big as your stomach

The easiest step towards sustainable and economic eating involves being realistic about portion sizes. Making sure to only put on your plate as much as you can realistically eat is crucial.

Approximately 40 per cent of household waste is made up of food remains, and it is estimated that an average family throws away $1,036 worth yearly. An average Canberran spends $91 a year on waste management according to 2010-11 government figures, with organic waste being the second largest generator.

Less is more  

Meat production is one of the driving causes of global warming. A general cut in consumption is necessary for the much-needed shift towards ethical eating – particularly with beef. The Australian beef and cattle industry was worth $17.87 billion last year, with the average person consuming 25.4kg, making Australia the 6th largest consumer and the largest exporter of beef worldwide.

Though a Quarter Pounder may seem appealing post-clubbing, note that it uses enough fossil fuels to drive a small car more than 32 kilometres. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that the meat industry is accountable for 51 per cent or more of global greenhouse gas emissions – much greater than the transportation industry. Further, livestock is accountable for 37 per cent of methane emissions.

Global consumption will increase by a shocking 76 per cent by mid-century at current rates, according to research by Chatham House and Glasgow University, making the UNFCCC’s goal to keep the increase in global temperatures under two degrees Celsius almost unachievable. Even by eating vegetarian three days a week, however, our population would have a much smaller impact on climate change.

Skip the avo toast this winter

Eating seasonally, when a food is at the peak of its supply, helps cut down on food expenses. Put simply, basic economics dictates that the greater supply, the lower the cost. Seasonal foods also cost farmers and distribution companies less to be harvested and preserved, which conveniently translates to lower in-store prices for the public. Furthermore, out-of-season fruits and vegetables are usually drenched in pesticides before being imported from distant countries. According to Deloitte’s findings, more than 68 per cent ($17 billion) of Australia’s crops are produced using agricultural pesticides, while threatening human, animal and the environmental health.

Approximately 200,000 people die yearly from pesticide poisoning, which is also linked to serious illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and birth defects. Some plants and insects develop resistance against pesticides too, eventually requiring larger quantities of more toxic chemicals. The fewer pesticides we use, the less food and environmental contamination there will be.

Buy locally!

Australian farmers only earn 18 cents per dollar spent at large chain supermarkets. If making the extra trip to a farmers market does not appeal, buying foods with an ‘Australian Made’ or ‘Australian Grown’ logo is the next best option. Not only does this help save local jobs and industries, but can save each household more than $10 a week according to a survey conducted by the Daily Telegraph.

Research by the Industry Capability Network showed that every $1 million made from local manufacturing (including produce) generates $985,000 of added value, $95,000 worth of welfare benefits and 10 jobs.

The financial and environmental costs of food miles is also considerable. An average basket containing any of the 29 most common foods will travel over 70,000 kilometres. Eating locally reduces the carbon footprint of your food.

Canberra Farmers Markets, Carriageworks Farmers Market and Capital Region Farmers Market are some of the farmers markets in Canberra. The Food Co-op – located on 3 Kingsley Street near Lena Karmel – carries local, sustainable and affordable products as well.

Ignorance isn’t bliss

There’s a great amount to be learnt regarding ethical food choices. Actively researching and being conscious of the origins of our food should be the norm. Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. and Gene Rosow and Bill Benenson’s Dirt! The Movie are inspiring documentaries that can help with this.

Though I am not in the position to ask people to make drastic changes to their lives, I do ask that they consider making the small few mentioned above. One person can make a difference, especially if it engenders collective action – something we are currently desperately in need of.