Step 1 in moving towards more sustainable lifestyles: Thinking about the food we eat
When we look at our plate we rarely consider where the food that makes our meal comes from. For most of us, we go to the grocery store and buy what we need without thinking too much about how the tomatoes made it onto the shelf or even how the cinnamon got into its package. Even if we are conscientious consumers who try to purchase organic, fair trade and locally-sourced food, we don’t always fully take into account everything that went into producing the food and can still remain disconnected from those who grew the ingredients.
Today at Casa Velha, we participated in an activity that made us on reflect on the food we find on our plates and everything and everyone involved in getting it there. Participants were randomly placed into three different groups and each had to sit at a different table. Each table already had a meal laid out but before participants could eat they had to see what was in the pots and casseroles on the table and present their meal to the rest of the group. As we discovered, one table had hamburgers, potato chips and chocolate, one had rice, beans and bananas and the last had a vegetarian curry, rice, salad and mango. Needless, many wanted to switch tables, but that was no an option!
Then during our meal, we had to analyse various aspects about our food, such as the amount of water required to produce and process the food, the packaging, the cost of labour, the energy used in transportation and refrigeration, the nutritional value and other factors. This created vigorous debates around the various dinner tables, but led to some enlightening conclusions. As we came to see, even if a meal of rice and beans might be viewed as simple and humble, it is an ecologically-sound option if the ingredients come from nearby. And thankfully, can be quite delicious as well! Of course, the downside to this meal, is that the labour of the peasants who grow this type of food is generally undervalued and their wages diminished by unfair trade agreements that undercut the prices they could receive for their produce at the market.
In contrast, the hamburger meal contained a variety of processed ingredients that require substantial packaging, refrigeration, transportation and use of monocultures. In addition, the nutritional value was quite low, given the amount of effort that went into production.
For me, what stood out the most about the exercise was the fact that we did could not choose the meal we wanted to eat, but had to eat what was on the table we were assigned. For me, this represented our global reality where many do not have those food choices, more often than not due to economic policies and international trade agreements that remove participation and decision making at the community level. Even when it comes to processed foods, for many low-income families, these foods are less expensive and more easily accessible than healthier or even locally-produced options.
Our reflection on the foods in front of us fed well into an afternoon panel discussion on the paths towards sustainable living. Alfonso Sendim, an agroecological farmer in Southern Portugal emphasized the need to take part in the responsibility for what we eat. This does not necessarily mean producing our own food, but it does mean going beyond being a mere consumer. Let us get to know the people who produce our food, let us be grateful for the hands that planted the seeds, to savour in each bite the effort that it took for the food to make it there and be loving towards the Earth that provides this food. As we came to realize, our actions regarding food are some of the simplest yet most significant ways we can transform our lives so that we care for the planet and its people and the more we connect to our food and the people who produce, the more profound that transformation will be.
Kelly Di Domenico – original here
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