It’s an interesting anecdotal survey to ask people how their week has been.
Most people reply, “Busy!”
In a time where busyness is standard and life has a need for speed, fewer and fewer people are learning to cook and garden. At the same time, dining is trending more and more as the crux of entertainment, and ready-made meals are becoming the norm.
But how we perceive our food is at the heart of real sustainability and our stewardship of the environment.
Let’s take a quick snapshot of how our personal relationship to food is indirectly affects some important issues of our day. Then we’ll take a step back to see how we can reverse that cycle by making simple choices in our own lives.
Know the story of Hansel and Gretel? I thought I did until a teacher reminded me that Hansel and Gretel were sent away from home, because there wasn’t enough food to feed them anymore. Food shortages in history used to be more common for a number of reasons. One reason was the lack of nutrients (specifically nitrogen) in the soil. With the various scientific inventions including using natural gas to pull nitrogen fertilizers out of the air (known as the Haber Process), more food was produced. And population grew. (And so did pollution; the Haber Process is notoriously good at producing greenhouse gases.)
Plants need nutrients. And artificial nitrogen fertilizers allow for more food production in the world. But scientists are also noticing that these fertilizers deplete the soil of one of its natural nutrients, carbon, and–at some point–depletion is called desertification.
Convenience foods often replace raw ingredients. Whole Foods prepared foods are trending more than whole foods prepared at home. Not only is it much more expensive to eat prepared foods, these foods from outside of home are not as healthy. So why not skip the dieting and just eat at home? People in the U.S. complain there just isn’t enough time for cooking. But, like Michael Pollan says, somehow we’ve found time to be online an average of two hours outside of work, and the day is still fixed at twenty-four hours. What we do in our free time shows what we value.
In many ways, food is at the heart of global trade. This is because–like many things–food is connected to a myriad of other issues. For instance, take coffee. The U.S. has a high demand for coffee, so many farms around the world have converted their lands to grow only cash crops, like coffee. If too many farms convert to growing coffee, competition and trade prices drop, often resulting in farmers not earning a decent wage. While this example is simplified in contrast to reality, it drives home an important point: Choices in food affect a lot of people that live around the world.
How We Perceive Our Food Matters
And you’ve probably caught the interplay. Cash crops grown repeatedly in a country without crop rotation will bankrupt the soil. That bankrupted soil calls for more nitrogen fertilizer, which is often too expensive for farmers in these regions. Meanwhile, that food–shipped halfway around the world–doesn’t have the same nutrients as our own home-grown produce. And, for the most part in the U.S., food waste hovers at a 40% throw-away away rate. It’s a pretty crazy cycle.
So how do we change it?
Our small choices matter in light of real sustainability. We can make a difference by simply…
Growing what we can in our gardens to supplement our cooking.
Valuing simplicity in our food.
Realizing how much time and work goes into food.
Being thankful for what is abundantly in season and growing nearby.
Here at Common Ground Garden, where we practice growing and eating in a deeply sustainable way, we are always joking about how students will eat just about anything in the Garden. (Even overgrown, tough fava beans.) What motivates them to eat what they’d otherwise shun? It’s the hard work they put into growing these fruit and vegetables. We, as humans, value the things we work on.
Let’s value our food.
If you find our mission and values compelling, consider giving to our Seed Fund, which helps the Common Ground Garden continue to grow!