Becoming Mindful of How our Food Arrived at Our Table
Sharon Salzberg, a leading expert in mindfulness and lovingkindness meditation, observes that on “physiological and psychological levels, connecting with others improves our health and state of being. We are better able to let go of stress, to feel supported, and to find a sense of wholeness even as we move through our busy lives.”
She offers simple ways to find a sense of connection and community in everyday life, regardless of whether or not one is in a group of people – needed evermore now we think in these stressful times of wave after wave of pandemic lockdowns and social isolation, including for some due to illness and/or quarantine.
We begin this blog post aimed at enhancing our understanding about the potential roles that food – the global food industry through to our personal food habits and choices – may serve in positively impacting climate change, with a mindfulness suggestion from Salzberg that is relevant to the topic:
“Before eating a meal, take a few breaths and reflect on the extended community that was involved in bringing the food to your table. There were the farmers who grew the food and the farm owners who employed those workers. There were the people who transported it and stored it. There were those who sold it to the grocery store. The list goes on.” (Sharon Salzberg. Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. New York: Flatiron Books: 2017. p. 264.)
In two earlier posts, we profiled what we were learning about the food waste and climate change connection (March 2020) – https://bit.ly/3ISyM8c, and, the nature and impact of regenerative agriculture practices in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions (June 2021) – https://bit.ly/344EIfT.
A compelling and motivating take-away from the March 2020 post for us is the impact available to individuals for climate action through our efforts to re-direct food from becoming waste, including by composting to keep it out of landfill as garbage, thus avoiding for harmful methane emissions.
The notion of ‘food capture’ and the inverted triangle of giving priority to re-directing food before it becomes waste, to: a) feeding people, b) feeding animals, c) converting to energy, d) composting, and avoiding e) sending it as garbage to landfill, helped us in our thinking about food and climate change, and how our personal choices and actions might make a difference.
Food Rescue Apps
Recently, we learned from this CP24 article about new innovative efforts at re-directing food to feed more people, using food rescue Apps such as “Too Good To Go,” “Flashfood,” “Feedback,” and “Olio”. According to the article, the Too Good To Go App was founded in Copenhagen in 2016 and has recently come to Toronto, with Eataly and Pusateris among its participating restaurants and grocery stores (https://toogoodtogo.ca/en-ca).
“ ‘Signing up for Too Good To Go was a no-brainer’, said chief operating officer James Canedo.”
“ ‘As chefs, you never want to see food wasted. It’s almost sacred for us,’ he said.”
“ ‘So many people out there don’t have the same privileges, so for food to be wasted, that is something we’re trying to prevent.’ ” (https://bit.ly/3L4B4TO)
Saving food, feeding more people and helping to save the planet – hmmm, some “food for thought” on potential change.
Opportunity to Calculate Environmental Footprint of Food You Eat
This link to BBC’s Foodprint Calculator helps us further our understanding and explorations of the complex topic of the global food production industry. If, as the BBC site claims, the food we eat accounts for up to 30% of our household’s greenhouse gas emissions, depending on where we live and what we eat, then it is something worth investigating and thinking more on, we believe.
“Unravelling how the food you eat affects the environment can be tricky, which is why BBC Future has created a Foodprint Calculator to reveal how different choices change the impact you have.”
“…The entire food system – which includes the production, packaging, transportation and disposal of everything we eat – accounts for 21-37% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, our food could account for almost half of all carbon emissions released by human activity unless more steps are taken to reduce its environmental impact.”
“But one of the problems we face as consumers is knowing which foods have the least or greatest effect on our planet’s health. Unlike nutritional information that appear on the labels of most foods we buy, easy to read information about sustainability is largely absent.”
“This is why BBC Future has worked with Verve Search and researchers at the University of Oxford to produce our Foodprint Calculator. It will allow you to input a selection of staple foods, along with the number of times you consume them in a week up to a maximum of seven, to find out what the environmental impact of your chosen diet might be. Crucially you can also choose a selection of alternative foods to see how changing your diet might alter your carbon emissions.”
The Simple Food that Fights Climate Change
Among the food and life experiences that Catherine is dearly missing during this pandemic are the pleasures of sharing a bowl of steamed mussels or indulging in celebratory splurges of fresh oysters on the half shell, shared in the company of family and friends. She looks forward to when the time will come to reconnect with these simple pleasures and will bring new enthusiasm and verve to her first post-pandemic bivalve slurp after reading this BBC piece on ‘the simple shellfish that fights climate change”!
Who knew that the overlooked bivalve holds the potential to play a starring role in cleaning up our waters and nourishing a billion people, while being carbon negative?!
According to the BBC, “…Bivalves have the remarkable potential to provide people with food that is not only environmentally sustainable but also nutrient dense,” says David Willer, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK.”
“..The animals that are the source of this food require no feeding, need no antibiotics or agrochemicals to farm. And they actively sequester carbon. They can even protect fragile ecosystems by cleaning the water they live in. Welcome to the remarkable and unglamorous world of the bivalve.” (consisting of mussels, clams, oysters and scallops)
“With a higher protein content than many meats and plant crops, and high levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients, like iron, zinc and magnesium, this specific group of shellfish has the potential to ameliorate many global food issues. This is particularly relevant to child malnutrition, as many of these nutrients are especially crucial to growth, and the planet stands to gain from their increased consumption too. Bivalves can be both wild-harvested and actively farmed offshore and in coastal areas, with a fraction of the environmental impact of more traditional animal proteins.”
“We know that meat and fish have a greater environmental impact than plant-based foods,” says Willer. “But the environmental footprint of bivalve aquaculture is even lower than many arable crops in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land and freshwater use.” Given that animal protein production is so often cited as a significant carbon culprit down both to the carbon footprint of feed and fertiliser production, and the methane emissions of the animals themselves, this is forcing a shift in the landscape of environmentally friendly eating decisions.
Of course, as with many (most?) areas of food production, there are complexities in such bivalve acquaculture to be mindful of, including the need to pay attention to potential risks of the nutrient environment the bivalves are grown in. “Because they are filter feeders, whatever is in the water – good or bad – ends up inside them, which is a problem due to the relatively unusual way in which we eat this food.” Still, caveats and all, definitely “food for thought” we find, and possibly “food for a future healthier planet and population”. To learn more – https://bbc.in/34qLXhR
Follow the Food
James Wong reflects on his experiences working on the BBC’s Follow the Food episodes during a pandemic, in this piece titled “The Reasons to be Hopeful – How Food Can Save the Planet” (https://bbc.in/3sd7rHm).
The Follow the Food documentaries “examine where our food comes from and how this might change in the near future with new technologies and innovative ways of farming.”
As he concludes, he went into the series with no preconceptions and left “feeling optimistic that science will find solutions” – a positive note we would like to share and end on, via this last example he presents of innovation in creative problem solving to fight climate change.
Wong offers, “…We think we need to overhaul our diet – but we don’t. We need to think creatively.”
“And what if we could make cows green too? Cow methane is not a problem with the animal, but the microbes in its stomach. You can suppress this microbial activity by adding small quantities of charcoal or seaweed to the cow’s diet – which has no impact at all on our health or the health of the animal.”
“Food” for thought and hope, we find, and offer the ideas and information in this blog post in hopes they may provide a source of optimism for our Readers too.
Perspectives on Change
Closing perspectives on making change, from mindfulness author Sharon Salzberg which give the last thoughts, and connect us back to, our beloved trees.
“I was startled to discover that a single redwood tree, after it falls, contributes to the ecosystem for three hundred to four hundred years, five times longer than it was alive. Its trunk, limbs, and roots become food for other species in the forest. The stump of the fallen tree raises a new seedling above the forest floor to receive sunlight so it can grow. Eventually, the roots of the new tree grow around the stump to reach the ground.”
“Using nature as an example, picture the impact of an activist extending for three or four hundred years after their lifetime. I think of the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on theologian and educator Dr. Howard Thurman, promoting the power of non-violent resistance when he visited him in India. Dr. Thurman served as a spiritual advisor to many towering figures in the U.S. civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a driving inspiration for me and for countless people of this time – and I’m sure into the future.”
“In the meditation tradition, we call this profound connection to those who came before us and helped mold us lineage. A sense of lineage is another way we let go of self-preoccupation and realize we are part of a larger fabric of life. It is a way to find the energy to affect the world while also recognizing we are not in control. This brings us to much greater balance.” (Sharon Salzberg. Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World. New York: Flatiron Books: 2020. p. 215)