People begin to examine their food choices for many different reasons. Among our concerns are economics, personal health – including food security after recalls for contamination by listeria and e-coli, environmental degradation due to pesticide use or pollution caused by long distance transport, and abuse of farm workers. But eventually, many of us realize that food is power and that our food choices can help change the world – for better or for worse. Hence, the growing organic, locavore, and Fair Trade movements.
But these are not simple problems and the solutions aren’t simple either. For instance, the WorldWatch Institute estimates that in the United States food typically travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to plate, as much as 25 percent farther than in 1980. For some people, this modern long-distance food system offers unparalleled choice. But it often runs roughshod over local cuisines, varieties, and agriculture, while consuming staggering amounts of fuel, generating greenhouse gases, eroding the pleasures of face-to-face interactions around food, and compromising food security. And that sometimes has us trying to choose between imported organic food and food that is locally grown food with the use of pesticides. In fact, in the UK, researchers found local food (grown within a 12-mile/20-km radius) to be more “green” than even organic food.
Then there’s the issue of seafood. It’s a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids, which we are told are very important to the health of our eyes, brain and heart. On the other hand, seafood is often polluted with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins, and fish stocks around the world are being decimated and sometimes fished to extinction. The debate about veganism/vegetarianism versus meat eating has, of course, been going on for many years…but now there’s a sub-debate related to the source of meat, as seen in the recent popularity of grass-fed beef.
Much of our food is imported from countries that don’t have fair labor laws, and where farmers are exploited financially and harmed by farm chemicals that are no longer legal here. Fair Trade certification organizations have attempted to address those issues. In 2008, Fair Trade certified sales amounted to approximately US$4.08 billion, according to the international association of Fair Trade groups. But Fair Trade as a concept has critics on both ends of the political spectrum.
Helping you navigate these sometimes complicated issues has been the purpose of many Natural Life Magazine articles over the past 34 years. You can find some of them listed in our Healthy Living Index and our Organic Gardening Index. And, of course, each issue back to 2003 is available in full online to subscribers to the digital edition of Natural Life.