What Is Sustainable Food?

Last month, on Earth Day 2016, I decided to spread the word of sustainability in two big industries Food and Fashion through the blog this year! Of course these are integral parts of Living Sustainable and need lot of awareness. Great thing is, people around the world are picking up interest in sustainability in these two industries and UAE is not lagging.

I will be publishing shortly a separate post on ‘Sustainable Food in UAE’, (I know you have big question mark on your face); I would like to write first about what exactly is sustainable food?

Spoon and Fork are painted with Warali tribal art showing farming activities

Organic Food

When we talk about sustainable food, people often end up summing it up under organic food. So first let’s see what makes food Organic.

To grow Organic food, we need soil, water and seeds which are natural and free from any chemicals or artificial additives or treatments. Basically Non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds, Natural soil,
pure water and of course sunlight! No fertilizers, No pesticides! Where cattle are used for farming activities not machines (to avoid any pollution and dripping). There need to be all sort of organisms presents in the organic farm, which are supposed to occur naturally and part of ecological cycle. That makes the soil, ‘living soil’. Organic farming depends on the interconnected web of soil, which include bacteria, fungi, earthworms and all sort of living organism to supply nutrients to plants.
This makes an ideal Organic Farm which preserve natural resource and biodiversity.

World wide there are different certifications bodies for organic farming and organic food. Not all of those bodies have stringent rules to follow all above requirements. Rather some of the bodies even allow few chemicals. Wee need more homogeneous laws on organic farming world wide.

Another issue is availability of Non-GMO seeds. It is hampered as biotechnology companies like Monsanto modify seeds (add toxic gene) and patient the seeds. They are buying most of seed companies across the globe to create dominance in global seed market. They also own share and bought trademarks of companies who are popular for Non-GMO seeds. The biotechnological companies are altering seeds genetically which can reduce nutrition value and can also linked to disabilities like down’s syndrome. These companies don’t allow farmers to save seeds legally, which burdens farmers financially.

So finding open pollinated, pure natural organic, Non-GMO seeds, is difficult task and only those companies who have Non-GMO seeds are not linked to Monsanto and Seminis in any way can have authentic non-GMO seeds.

World-wide there are ongoing campaigns against Monsanto, GMO seeds. Vandana Shiva from India’s Navdanya is a prominent name in this campaign. There are ongoing campaigns even for having proper Organic labeling in countries like US. This shows how much money making is made on corporate level through out the world under the name of healthy food, which is not natural and can not be healthier.

Defining Sustainable Food 

But only organic food does not make food sustainable. The Production, Process, Distribution, Consumption and Waste disposal all this steps of food system should be sustainable to make Sustainable Food. The social, economic and environmental aspects of every step mentioned above has to be considered to call food ‘sustainable’.

Welfare of farmers, allowing them to save seeds are some of the important actions needed in production of sustainable food. Because of seed monopoly by few biotechnology companies, farmers are going in debt. Governments in developing countries don’t provide insurance for farmers, their water requirements are dependent on monsoon in countries like India, so if their crop is destroyed or if they don’t get enough output these farmers are committing suicides.

Across the globe soil and  fresh water is getting contaminated not only by industrial waste but also the chemicals in pesticides and  fertilizers coming from farms. This makes it even more difficult to grow sustainable food. Using hormones to produce more milk in cows, fishing of unsustainable fish or over fishing, genetically modified chicken for more protein these are other wrong examples of unsustainable food.

The chemical processes done on food to preserve it or to enhance taste is affecting the nutrition values of our food. The increasing energy & water consumption during the food processing increases carbon footprint of the food product, making is unsustainable. Junk food popularity is good example of how we are going further away from sustainable food.

To make Distribution of food sustainable, fair trade and locally grown food are the key answers. Local farmers markets need to grow bigger worldwide.

Sustainable food consumption

While in consumption step, we need to stop consuming all sorts of unsustainable food. Consumer choice affects the most on food production. Stop buying non-organic food (choose organic food after reading all labels), in short stop buying those seedless fruits like grapes, watermelon etc and say no to unusually bigger size fruits and vegetables. Stop buying rare seafood and genetically modified meat. We need to increase the demand of sustainable food! Also our food choices can heavily impact the environment. Animal products like meat and dairy place heavy burden, as raising livestock requires larger amount of feed, water and energy.

Susatinable Food Disposal

Reducing waste of food is one big important step of sustainable food. Half of our Earth’s population is going hungry, so we should not waste food.

On personal level we can follow these steps to reduce food wastage.
1. Stop overbuying of food
2. Cook food according to requirements.
3.  Plan meals before shopping
4. Ask your guests to confirm their attendance before party.
5. Donate food
6. Compost the waste food instead of throwing in garbage

Hotels & restaurants across the world need to tackle the issue of food waste. Offering different portion sizes, payment according to food weight at buffet, promoting take away of left over food these are few things restaurants can develop & follow. These businesses need to track their food waste regularly & update their action plans accordingly, this has to be continuing process. Food donation to charities, NGOs, labors or unprivileged people is picking up in developing countries. Many organizations like Feeding India pick up left over food from many big hotels on every day basis and providing it to unprivileged people on streets. This is a great opportunity to tackle the hunger issue and food wastage at the same time.

Go Local Or Grow Your Own

Regrowing Lettuce at my home from scrap

Best answer to sustainable food is to grow your own food. In your balcony, yard or small garden, use organic and food waste to create compost and use it instead of any fertilizer and make sure to buy non-GMO seeds or saplings. Use natural ways to keep pest away. That way you can have your own freshly picked food from your garden. Gardening is great way to reduce stress in your day to day life. This is best way to teach your kids about how food grows & what is sustainable food, right at your home. You can join local gardening groups and even swap plants, seeds and share knowledge.
The food which you can’t grow by your self, give preference to buy it local.

Coriander from my window garden

Choose wisely and live sustainable!

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This was quite informative!

This was quite informative!

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I am a Sustainability Professional. I have worked on many green building projects in the

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