Whilst lobby groups often do a wonderful job of pressuring politicians into taking a responsible stance on environmental issues, real and lasting change to the way in which the world is run also comes from the way in which ordinary people live their lives.
At the end of the day, rightly or wrongly, money is probably the biggest factor affecting the way the world’s resources are used. This means that one of the best ways you can bring about change is to be as environmentally conscious as possible as a consumer. Business is, after all, simply a case of supply and demand.
The Environmental Cost of Food
The question of supply and demand is especially relevant to our diets. In order to fulfil our desire for a range of foods from around the globe, some rather illogical trends have emerged in the way food is produced and supplied. In some instances a consumer will find themselves purchasing fruit that has be flown halfway across the world, despite the fact that it is in season and growing locally just a few miles away.
According to research by MIT, the average American has a carbon footprint of almost 20 metric tones of CO2 a year (which, as a side point, is more than double the global per capita average). When you consider Mellon University’s findings that the average US household’s food consumption accounts for 8.1 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, almost half the total figure per person, it becomes obvious that our eating habits are one of the major factors determining our contribution to climate change.
Look Closer to Home
So, what can we do about it? Well one of the best things we can do is to eat local produce whenever possible. The problem comes when you cannot figure out in which country an item has been produced when shopping at your local supermarket and this is a great reason to try and get your food from other, more eco friendly sources.
For instance, at your local farmers’ market you can rest assured that, in all likelihood, none of the goods available have travelled more than 50-80km. Shopping in such a manner is not only good for the world in terms of climate change, but it may have a real impact on the economy in your region as the money you hand over will go to a nearby producer, rather than a company that may not even be based in the country, let alone your little corner of it.
It needn’t cost the Earth
You may be thinking that eating in a more sustainable way will be more expensive, but this isn’t necessarily the case; fruit and vegetables are often cheaper at farmers’ markets than they are in large chain retailers.
Of course, high quality luxury items, such a specialist cheeses will be cheaper at a supermarket, but when it comes to staple foods that you are always going to want, you’ll find supermarkets not only neglect to put such items on offer, they are not even competitively priced.
It is cheaper still to grow your own vegetables rather than to buy imported goods, or even those supplied by farmers in your own country. Just think, for the price of a single carrot, you can buy 400 seeds. Obviously, they won’t all be harvested, but you only need to get a fraction of that number on your table and you’ve saved money and, more importantly, emissions.
Eating a local diet does of course mean that you will have to adapt to only eating some items, particularly fruit and veg, in season. Many will find this to be a great way of adding variety to what you eat throughout the year, but others will find it very hard to avoid imported goods altogether. What’s important is that, when we do buy from overseas, we try and do so responsibly.
The whole reason so much food is imported is because stores can profit from the cheap labor available in foreign countries to get produce for a very low price, and this often leads to an exploitative situation.
For example, some producers of goods like coffee and bananas receive a shockingly small cut of the price we pay for them. But, by insisting on buying Fair Trade goods, you can help ensure that the environmental damage caused by importing products is not motivated simply by a suppliers’ desire to profit from poor working conditions in the 3rd world.
Eating locally is not the complete answer to reducing your impact on the world but it’s a very good start and one that many will find easy to manage in some form or another. If, however, you want more tips on how to live a more sustainable life and leave a working planet behind for your grandchildren then you can follow this author’s blog over at GreenSteve.