Editors’ Note: This essay is taken from Allison’s internship report on rethinking the food system.
As I sit at the dining-room table with my extended family for a celebratory gathering, I take a moment to observe the scene. What I immediately notice is that we rarely consider the meaning of eating together, and we do not reflect upon the hands that worked to prepare our food or the how far it traveled. I contemplate this, not to fault my family, but understand why we have strayed so far from viewing meals as a meaningful, shared experience.
A fast-paced eating experience is the norm, the capitalistic ways in a highly modernized, westernized society where large corporations degrade our experience with only the profit motive in mind. We’ve lost the sense of eating as a shared collective experience with intrinsic value. This has laid the foundation for our poor relationship with food and has skewed our perception of how food should be consumed. It is essential that we reclaim our food experience in the name of spiritual empowerment, personal wellness, and climate action. Revitalizing a culture where food is sourced locally and organically is goes hand-in-hand with working toward food sovereignty, wellness, and a stable, livable climate.
In simple terms, food sovereignty is people’s right to healthy, ethically-produced, sustainable food and the right to control their own food systems. Eating seasonally and locally is a first step. A local food system that provides all with equal access to fresh, healthy foods is the foundation of food sovereignty.
Working toward food sovereignty is especially important for poor and marginalized groups who lack adequate access to fresh food. Recognizing the interconnectedness of social and ecological systems is an integral part of food sovereignty and helps bridge the gap between demographic groups as it increases local control of natural resources.
In a localized food system, a higher percentage of the cost is retained and spent locally and transportation and distribution costs are greatly reduced.
Throughout the world, people are looking for ways to enhance personal wellness. According to the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, wellness is heavily influenced by the social, economic, cultural and physical environments we inhabit. Access to healthy food and water plays a pivotal role. Here in the Lehigh Valley, organizations such as Kellyn Foundation raise awareness about health and spark greater community participation and excitement around local food.
Studies at Michigan State prove that eating locally-produced food is better for you — once a fruit or vegetable is harvested, the plant begins to break down, losing nutrients, texture, and flavor. Local food has a significantly shorter farm-to-table time span, so the loss is significantly less. Accessibility to fresh — newly harvested — fruits and vegetables can significantly decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer that result from compounds and chemicals found in many processed foods and animal products. Recognizing that food is medicine can help us experience it in a mindful way and feel a greater sense of gratitude for its source.
As I speak about rekindling our relationship with food, I must note that this is not a new or groundbreaking concept; it has been and still remains common practice for the original inhabitants of North America, who recognized that food is essential for our social, mental, spiritual, and physical well-being and is a primary way to pass food-preparation and consumption skills down through generations. This concept is alive and thriving today in Native-run enterprises such as Indigikitchen (Montana) and the Sioux Chef restaurant (Minnesota), that promote appreciation for pre-contact foods and understanding that food is a product of nature that can help strengthen our relationship with Earth. We can learn a lot from Native wisdom and values surrounding food.
Though what and how we eat may seem unrelated to climate change, they are deeply connected. Climate change is unfolding into the greatest humanitarian issue since the dawn of our species, and it is critical to bring food practice back to its natural roots. Localizing how we harvest, transport, and sell food is a key part of climate action, helping preserve farmland and open space and provide a local food supply. According to a study published in Nature, transport of food and ingredients accounts for about one-fifth of carbon emissions in the food sector. Locally-grown food involves far less transportation. If our food isn’t traveling nearly as far to get to our plates, the greenhouse gas emissions that are produced decrease in conjunction with cutting down transport time.
A localized food system is less reliant on the industrialized food system, promotes self sufficiency, and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions. Regenerative organic growing also sequesters carbon dioxide from the air and builds healthy soil.
Some key objectives of Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan include supporting local gardens and urban farms, reducing food waste, and eliminating food insecurity and inequity in food access. We can make major strides toward these goals by supporting local producers.
Food is an experience that affects our emotions and ever-changing circumstances in life, and we turn to food to soothe and comfort us. Food is part of daily routine and celebrations, and holds great cultural value across the globe. Earth provides nutritious food, and it is time to choose the most sustainable and ethical methods of obtaining it.
Learning how vegetables are grown, flour is produced, and livestock is raised helps bridge the gap between farm and table and to understand that eating is meant to be a practice that nourishes and honors the body and Earth. Next time you sit down to enjoy a meal, take a minute to reflect on where it came from, the hands that worked to provide it, and how it impacts the environment and climate.
Allison is a junior at Moravian University, where she is studying Environmental Science and Journalism.
- SLV 2023 Table of Contents
- Voices of the Valley – Alphabetic List of Authors
- Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet
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