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23 September 2018

Fighting climate change, one meal at a time

Photo: rawpixel/ Unsplash.

Decimating forest fires, destructive hurricanes and floods, sizzling heat and exhausting droughts are savaging the globe, twisting the destinies of millions of people, erasing things we love.

The climate change narrative is overwhelming, and it is only natural to want to curl into a little ball, shut down and hide from the reality of this crisis. How does one confront this challenge and contribute to solutions? Look no further than your plate!

“The joyfulness of food is a powerful antidote to the drama of climate change,” says Richard McCarthy, Executive Director, Slow Food US at the “Food for Change: Grow a Climate Friendly Future” thematic forum during Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event 2018.

Living through the devastation of hurricane Katrina in 2005, he found that food can bring us both joy and comfort. “Food provides us with identity and means to remember who we are when the going gets tough. Food is a bridge to others, it can unite communities and provide us with a sense that we are not alone,” says McCarthy.

Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/ Flickr.

Photo: Tuan Ang Tran/ Unsplash.

Every bit counts

Agriculture, forestry and other land uses are responsible for 24% of the global emissions, close behind the fossil fuels-based energy sector. Agriculture is also a victim of the changing climate: harvests have already dropped in many vulnerable countries, increasing hunger to levels last seen a decade ago.

We all, meaning 7.7 billion humans, need to eat several times a day – all of this food comes from agriculture, unless, of course, you only get your food from hunting, fishing and foraging. Every food item requires energy, water, soil to produce and to transport – all of which have impact on the environment and, depending on how it is done, a negative or positive effect on climate.

And just like that, through billions of connections from farmers – to suppliers and sellers – to shops and markets – to our shopping bags, the causes and effects of climate change meet on our plates.

That is why it is fair to assume that, on an individual level, food is perhaps where we can make the biggest climate change difference. What is more, climate friendly eating is a tasty, joyful and socially connecting climate action that is good for our health and mind.

Photo: rawpixel /Unsplash.

We all can chip in

As consumers the most straightforward action is to start buying more from local producers. Locally produced food has lower transportation emissions and its consumption directly contributes to local economy.

Buying more food locally also creates demand and generates support for the carbon neutral agricultural methods used by many small-scale producers. On top of this, it is a way to preserve bio- and cultural diversity because many farmers carry their craft and knowledge through generations, making the best from what’s available around them.

“Cooking with locally produced seasonal foods sparked my creativity because I had to come up with tasty dishes from what is available locally around Moscow. My kids got to meet food producers and find out whatever they want to know about their food first-hand,” says Nadezhda Zhdanova, one of the winners of the Eat Local Challenge 2017 – the first phase of the Slow Food’s Menu for Change campaign.

“At first it looks like buying food from farmers is more expensive, but this way of consumption also forced me to better plan for what I am going to buy and cook. I was no longer trapped into impulsive purchasing of snacks and sweets in supermarkets. And, in the end, my family food costs were approximately that same that before I entered the challenge,” says Zhdanova.

Another group who supports local foods are chefs and restaurants. Chefs are realizing they can’t rely on global supply chain as these can be disrupted by climate change at any time. Moreover, working with local farmers, chefs can collect the best produce and get to say what they want to be grown.

“I am convinced chefs have to mingle with producers. Climate change means I have to reinvent myself every day. I have to forget what I learned about food and cooking, and I can’t do it without learning from others,” says Xavier Hamon, Chefs’ Alliance, France.

He continues: “For me, this path has opened limitless freedom and innovation. Favoring diversity of seeds is in our interest because then we get to create rich and unique dishes.” So, next time you are in a restaurant, don’t shy away from ordering local specialties, even though they may have unfamiliar ingredients.

And finally farmers, the people who are on the climate change frontline, have a lot to gain from climate-friendly farming. Planting many different crops and crop varieties is beneficial for the soil and reduces the need to use synthetic fertilizers, significant greenhouse gas emitters, that are necessary in industrial monoculture food production. Growing greater variety also makes farms more resilient and adaptable, so farmers can easier bounce back in case of extreme weather.

Together with a community of farmers Stefano Vegetabile, producer, LaCasaRotta Ecovillage, is working on what he calls a “farming organism” – a replica of a pre-industrial farm. “The part of Italy where I come from specializes on single variety monoculture wine and hazelnuts and over the years we noticed that we have to use more and more fertilizers as well as pesticides. It is not sustainable,” says Vegetabile.

In his new farm Vegetabile is working with nature-based solutions to pests, finding insects, animals and other plants that feed on the parasites: “We have to appreciate that nature doesn’t only work by the principal of survival of the fittest. Symbiosis exists too.”

Photo: Elaine Casap/ Unsplash.

Small but mighty

Vegetabile admits that albites his farm’s success among restaurants and popularity among the younger consumers and people with health issues, reaching middle class consumers has been challenging. But maybe we, as consumers, can take a step forward on our side? Surely, buying food from local farmers is a better alternative than burying your head in the sand to hide from the climate changed reality.

Luckily, eating is a daily action for most of us, so it is a solution within everyone’s reach. Next time you feel hopeless about climate change, cook something using local produce, see the spark and pride in the farmer’s eyes when they get to tell you about their craft, then invite friends or neighbours over to share that delicious meal.

And remember: Small individual actions multiplied by billions of consumers made a huge impact on our climate, and so the same individual actions can (and will) reverse the direction.