How do our personal food choices and the food system (locally and globally) impact personal, public and planetary health?
Food systems affect the global climate when greenhouse gases are emitted by growing and transporting food, by wasting food, by depleting the soil and through deforestation.
But with regeneration in mind, food systems can contribute to the well-being of individuals, communities, farmers, workers, and the land on which food is grown. Here are resources related to some of those factors:
Reduce wastage of food
Reducing food waste avoids deforestation to clear land for farming, conserves our precious resources, and could help feed more people in the world. Here are some findings of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization 2012 report:
- About 1/3 of the food produced every year – enough to feed 3 billion people – gets wasted in our current food system.
- If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, just behind the U.S. and China.
- If food waste winds up in landfills, it decomposes and emits methane, a more lethal greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Food waste can be composted to create a rich fertilizer.
- In addition, the resources – water, land, energy, labor, and capital – used to grow the food, are themselves wasted, and produce roughly 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Turn inedible food into soil amendments through composting. Read or listen to Julia Simon’s “How to Compost at home” from NPR’s Life Kit.
Develop a local food system
Plans are afoot to establish a Western MA Food System raising 30% of food regeneratively by 2030. Read the ambitious outline.
Learn from indigenous foodways
- Follow the work of the Nolumbeka Project to propogate gardens based on traditional crops and cultivation methods, currently practiced in the Heritage Three Sisters Circle Garden in Northfield.
- Read Braiding Sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2020 and earlier editions available from CWMARS libraries) or Leah Penniman’s sidebars about African traditions in Farming While Black.
- Watch Gather (2020) “Gather is an intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.”
- See what Survival International says in “Why the New Deal for Nature is a disaster for people and planet,” an analysis of how industrial agriculture decimates subsistence living for traditional communities.
Unpack the racism in the food system
- Check out the Food First series “Dismantling Racism in the food system” with the article Food—Systems—Racism: From Mistreatment to Transformation By Eric Holt-Giménez and Breeze Harpe (2016)
- Support reparations of land and resources for Black-Indigenous Farmers through the work of Soul Fire Farm, the Northeast Farmers of Color Network and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. See the project map.
Support access to nutrient dense food
- Dan Kittredge is doing important work on soil and human health through Bionutrient Food Association (BFA).
The website explains the paradigm shift of its focus on the nutrient value of food. Dan Kittredge and his team have created a tool to detect nutrient density . Their project: “The dominant incentive in farming currently is yield. Farmers are paid based on the number of bushels and pounds produced, and so treat their soil accordingly. Doing what is necessary to harvest a crop even if it is in many cases destructive to the soil. We have gotten to a place where the soils on many farms simply will not produce under conventional fertility programs, and it seems our populace is also in a similar position. So worn out and tired that degenerative disease and underlying health issues are extraordinarily prevalent.”
- View the video on the Real Food Campaign, sister project of Dan Kittredge’s BFA
- Organic Consumers Association (OCA) “educates and advocates on behalf of organic consumers, engages consumers in marketplace pressure campaigns, and works to advance sound food and farming policy through grassroots lobbying.” Issues include: food safety, pesticide use, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children’s health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, & environmental sustainability.
- The Good Food Purchasing Program transforms the way public institutions purchase food by creating a transparent and equitable food system designed to do for the food system what LEED certification did for energy efficiency in buildings. The Program provides a metric based, flexible framework that encourages large institutions to direct their buying power toward five core values: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare and nutrition. The Good Food Purchasing Program is the first procurement model to support these food system values in equal measure.
- The Sustainable Food Trust amplifies and connects organizations involved in this work. Read their suggestions about eating sustainably and follow their podcasts on how to transition towards food and farming systems, capable of nourishing both people and the planet.
- Land to Market is a project of Savory Global: A community working to advance Holistic Management. It’s Ecological Outcome Verification is a standard scientists and researchers around the world developed. It is an empirical and scalable soil and landscape assessment methodology used to track outcomes in soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem function.
Sacred Cow (2020) “The case for better meat.”
Eat Sustainable Diets
- Suggestions from “Sustainable Diets: What You Need to Know in 12 Charts,” a set of infographics about American diets : by Janet Ranganathan and Richard Waite – April 20, 2016 from Insights the blog of the World Resources Institute
- The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber. The book’s premise is to use all the outputs of the farm, not just those preferred in traditional, or even farm-to-table, cuisine. Read the 2014 interview in the Atlantic that goes into the thinking behind the book, “How John Muir Is Revolutionizing the Farm-to-Table Food Movement.” “’When we try to pick out anything by itself,’ [Muir] wrote, ‘we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.’”
Food can be grown degeneratively (losing soil carbon, causing soil erosion, reducing biodiversity, and polluting groundwater), sustainably (holding soil organic matters stable in the soil and not contributing to biodiversity loss or watershed pollution) or regeneratively (sequestering soil carbon in the form of soil organic matter, enhancing water storing and cleaning capacity, and enhancing biodiversity). The difference between degenerative and regenerative farming is how well the farmers care for the complexity of the living things in the soil—the fungi, the bacteria, the insects and other life forms.
Support farming that works with nature
- Innovative farmer Ernst Gotsch in Brazil developed a philosophy and practice called Syntropic agriculture. Syntropic agriculture translates natural processes into farming interventions, putting regeneration behind a system that is independent of inputs and irrigation.The resulting ecosystem services form soil, regulate microclimates and promote water cycles. View the 2-minute introduction video or the 15-minute ‘Life in Syntropy’ on their website or on youtube
Know the farmer
- Farm and food locator from CISA–Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture
“…it is not what you eat or where it was grown, it is how it was grown.” Caro Roszell, NOFA/Mass Education Director, “The Real Climate Change Mitigating Diet.” NOFA/Mass Newsletter Feb. 2020
“The most powerful aspect of the local food movement is not that it cuts down on food miles (which the Our World in Data article correctly points out is not as significant as the GHG emissions of production practices), but the fact that when food is local, you almost always have the ability to find out more about how that food was produced. Some farms are open to visitors and many have public trails and roads along their fields where you can get some fresh air and also get to know the farm’s practices season-by-season. CSA farms are often especially welcoming to customer interest in practices, due to their deeper commitment to a direct customer relationship with the farm. But even with non-CSA farms it is usually possible for you to talk to the farmer or the crew and explore their commitment to soil stewardship.”
- Local Harvest’s locator lists stores, farmer’s markets, and CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) sites
“While we argue over who has the more sustainable diet, agriculture continues to turn fertile earth to desert.” Source: Rick Perillo, “Why The Fight Over The Most Sustainable Diet Is Missing The Point” Kiss the Ground.
“Gabe Brown began farming in North Dakota almost 30 years ago. His land, having been conventionally farmed, was low in fertility, had poor water retention and native grasslands were in poor health. He implemented no-till farming, holistic grazing, and other regenerative practices. Now, his soil organic matter has increased from 2% to 8%, the soil infiltration rate has increased 16 times, and his corn yield is 20% higher than the county average.
“Farms can create wildlife habitats and restore water cycles. Nutrient dense food can pull carbon out of the air and sequester it in the earth. Our money can support farmers who are treated fairly and work to build healthy soil. And yes, it can be done while feeding the world. But first, we need to change the discussion.”
Fantastic Fungi : how mushrooms can heal, shift consciousness & save the planet (2019) based on the Paul Stamets book.