How big is your foodprint?
And what does that mean in the real world?22nd Nov 2020
Considering all we’ve had to deal with this year, climate change is not top of the agenda for many people. Compared to – for example – COVID-19, and possible unemployment as a result, it’s too remote, too abstract, and too hard to do anything about.
Or is it? Sure, persuading governments to implement legislature or pressuring multinationals to implement sustainability measures is a big call. But you can start with something much closer to home – as close as your dining room table.
What is your foodprint?
Whether we are conscious of it or not, eating is one of the most consistent interactions we have with the environment. As our world begins to feel the harsh effects of climate change, the number of droughts, wildfires and erratic weather patterns increases, challenging southern Africa’s food security. Let’s not forget that Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. There’s been a heightened awareness of the importance of the food we consume, and how we consume it. So it’s worth considering how we can integrate small changes in our consumption patterns that can bring us closer to having a less harmful ecological and social food footprint (or foodprint).
How dependent is planet health on our food systems?
The WWF has identified food production and consumption as one of the strongest drivers of our planet’s declining health. But their studies also show that we can implement solutions today that can change the course of deterioration, restoring our natural systems and improving the health of our people.
WWF food scientist, Brent Loken, says: ‘Our food systems have caused 70% of biodiversity loss on land, and 50% in water; they’re responsible for around 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions; and they’ve caused 80% of global deforestation. Our dietary choices aren’t just damaging the planet, they are also damaging our own health.’
It’s clear that our food production system is a strong driver of climate change – but it’s also sadly apparent that it is failing us. The UN estimates that the number of undernourished people in the world is around 690 million. Global hunger is increasing, despite the efforts of many global and local organisations. A key reason for this is the impact of the environment on food production, as extreme weather events, unpredictable weather patterns and increased spread of pests and diseases cause disruptions in agriculture. Another reason is high levels of import and export of food products. This makes food prices and availability susceptible to global market shocks and factors far beyond the control of local suppliers. It also increases the price of certain products, depending on their availability in a specific country. It’s a system of distribution that is fundamentally unsustainable. At a global level, we have to find new ways to approach food production and consumption.
One of the barriers facing us in implementing this change is the enormity of the problem. When confronted with a mammoth task, it’s easy for individuals and policymakers alike to experience a ‘freeze’ leading to a failure to take action. So how do we combat this tendency to freeze?
A planet-based diet
The WWF proposes adopting a ‘planet-based’ diet. The wording is helpful because it cuts through the assumption that a plant-based diet is essential to changing the course of our food system’s impact on the environment. Eating vegan or even vegetarian is obviously a fast track to reducing your impact, but the push to eat in this way can simply cause meat lovers to ‘freeze’. The more moderate planet-based diet is helpful because it recognises that the ideal diet will look different in different places and for different people. It encourages us to eat foods that are planet-friendly, exercising moderation and returning to traditional dietary patterns where necessary and/or possible.
Adopting certain principles around food production and consumption can also be useful for individuals, as we practise unlearning habits that are benefiting neither our planet nor our bodies.
One truly unsettling statistic is that we do, in fact, produce enough food to feed the world’s population. Environmental factors, storage issues, crop failures and problems in supply chains are examples of food loss that prevent produce from reaching consumers. There’s a lot that can be done to resolve that at the producer level, especially using the principles of biomimicry, which is briefly discussed below.
One of the best practices you can implement into your daily life is eating locally and seasonally. Food can be shipped around the world with relative ease, and the result is that we can easily feel that we can have any food at any time. But consider the amount of fossil fuel that goes into food transport and the environmental impact that we are having by, for example, choosing to eat avocados in summer or grapes in winter. Eating locally is better for the planet and easier on supply chains. If we want to eat locally, we have to learn to eat seasonally, and to store our food. This is not some long-lost skill of our ancestors. It’s something our grandparents knew very well how to do. Pickling. Preserving. Dehydrating. Freezing. Sharing.
A culture of consumption
At the one end of the spectrum, we have undernourished societies in developing countries. At the other end, we have increasingly affluent societies who demand more processed foods, more red meat and more refined sugars and oils in their food. This type of eating has a higher environmental impact, and is also detrimental to our bodies. A tiny solution to such a large-scale problem is to think more carefully about the culture we create around food. How do we consume our food? Do we rely on ‘food-on-the-run’ with long lists of ingredients and heavy packaging? Do we give ourselves space to enjoy our food, preferably with friends or family, even in our busy lives? Do we eat to nourish and enjoy or simply to sustain? These questions might seem superficial, but the truth is that food culture and both human and environmental health are intimately connected.
Biomimicry and food systems
Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and emulating nature’s genius. The practices of regenerative farming, which include permaculture, look to emulate the principles of highly productive natural systems. So regenerative agriculture fits into its surrounding ecology, as well as supporting it.
The direction that much of commercial farming has taken is life-destroying rather than sustaining. It has created a separation between us and the food we eat. But that is changing – albeit slowly. Some companies involved in industrial food production are making use of biomimicry to reduce food wastage. Sustainable agriculture, which focuses on producing food now and also for future generations, works towards creating a balance between the food we need to consume and the environment we need to protect.
Using regenerative models of farming and principles of permaculture, it’s also possible to produce food with very little space, taking local and seasonal consumption to its logical conclusion and growing your own food.
Rewild Africa exists to identify and shine a light on solutions for a wilder world. Working with businesses, innovators and changemakers who value people, wildlife and our planet, we can collectively regenerate, restore and transform the world we live in. Our aim is to create a positive, large-scale impact through film, education and experiences.