The Environmental Cost of the Instagram-Friendly Foods We’re Eating

Instagram Avocado

There’s no denying that these days there is a particular ideal that we strive for. Or feel we ought to strive for. It’s the kind of lifestyle that all the healthy lifestyle ‘become a green goddess’ sites are flogging. All the top Instagrammers are snapping it. All the popular Youtubers are promoting it. It’s the chia-seed-sprinkling, smoothie-bowl-consuming, yoga-doing, quinoa-basking lifestyle. Haven’t you heard of it?

What ever happened to eating local? That one fell by the wayside some time ago, I guess. It’s not trendy enough to consume different variations of root vegetables in the UK in winter time. God forbid we shine the spotlight on bread and potatoes to get us through the coldest months! No, let’s focus on imported goods that really aren’t that fresh or tasty by the time they get to us. At least in comparison to their foreign brothers and sisters. Eat a Mexican avocado and you won’t even be able to look at the ones in Sainsbury’s next time you’re in there.

So I’m totally going to put it out there: I AM GUILTY! I am a maple-syrup-drizzling, almond-milk-drinking, tofu-wolfing, guacamolivore through and through. I love food and am forever experimenting with new recipes, preferably void of animal-derived ingredients.

However, the gut instinct tells me that it really is best to eat local. Because local is fresh. Fresh is highest in nutrients. Nutrients = body love. So I’ve compiled some research on some of my fashionable, imported staples to look at the environmental footprint that I am contributing to.

  1. QUINOA: a grain generally eaten like rice. It’s gluten-free and easy to digest, plus packed with loads of essential vitamins and minerals. Is it any wonder that this crop with the frequently-butchered name is so popular amongst the healthy-eaters across the globe? But let’s talk about origin. Quinoa has been a staple of the Andes since way back when. Bolivians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians happily chowed down on quinoa without qualm until it rose in popularity around the world. Now, this cash crop is causing devestating effects. The demand for quinoa increases and farmers are selling more and more of what’s being grown. The local stash is dwindling because of it. And because it’s a source of income, farmers sell their quinoa for export and are eating nutrient-poor staples like rice and pasta instead, thus depleting their health. And for locals wanting to eat it, sadly now because prices have increased so much, many can’t afford it.
  2. AVOCADOS: those sensitive green souls. Yes they infuriate us, doing the dance to perfectly ripe so quickly that many of us miss it, but get a good one and you almost feel as though you can die happy right then and there. Rich in many vitamins and healthy fats, they are delicious on their own or used in many recipes as a dairy substitute due to their exquisite creaminess. But the problem is that demand is sky-high, with so many of us wanting them several times a week as part of our normal diet. And this is bad news for the Mexican landscape. Because farming avocados is so profitable, many farmers are ignoring the law and destroying mature pine forest to make way for more avocados. And there’s also the issue of pestiside use and water consumption, specifically 272 litres per handful of mature avocados produced. For drought-ridden California, it means growth isn’t such a smart choice.
  3. ALMOND MILK: an excellent dairy substitute for your morning cereal. I adore almond milk. I think out of all the dairy alternatives, almond is my favourite. But much like the aforementioned water-guzzling avocados, most of our almonds come from California and they too drink up all the water you can throw at them; 5 litres per almond to be exact. Not only that, but California’s almond bloom – which occurs every February – relies on 85% of US honeybee hives to pollinate them. It’s the largest managed pollination event anywhere in the world. Pretty mind-boggling! But there are many concerns with bee health declining due to pesticide use and time on the road being ferried to California from across the country.

The environmental cost of transporting foods around the world is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. And a diet consisting of imported foods uses roughly four times the energy compared to a local diet. But trying to grow tropical foods in the far north and south or vice versa isn’t the answer either. The change in climate and biodiversity from where the foods are naturally grown means intensive temperature, pesticide and fertiliser use is required. That ultimately outweighs the costs of shipping them in.

And if you want to look at another aspect of what is considered inefficient energy distribution of food, this study from Cornell published 20 years ago found that the grain currently used to feed US livestock could instead be used to feel 800 million people. To put that into perspective, the current US population is just over 300 million.

So what’s the answer? Let’s be honest; we can’t really revert to living on an entirely local diet because we’ve developed a palate satiated only by the colourful variety of produce we’ve come to know and love. The variety is healthier and more exciting, after all. It would simply cause uproar if we had our exotic foods taken away. But rather than reversing things – which human nature rarely has a tendency to do – what about progression? What about renewable energy, intelligent farming and zero-carbon transport? What about taking new approaches to the old-school way we’re doing things? Or, if you want to go local, I bow down to you.

 

2 Comments

  1. 20th March 2017 / 9:36 am

    Hi Kat! I totally agree with you that sometimes people tend to follow a food fashion which is not local or sustainable but it is healthy… and tasty and exciting because it’s new 🙂 The thing is that we might find balance in everything: I mean, there might not be avocados or almonds in the UK but there are in other european countries like Spain, Italy or Greece so, why buying stuff from the other side of the Ocean? (I mean, it’s not the consumers fault, it’s the supply chain…). And I guess oats are a local product in the UK and oat milk is as tasty and healthy as almond milk 😀

    • sphynxkennedy
      20th March 2017 / 7:23 pm

      Food fashion – that’s exactly what it is, well said! And you’re right; the problem lies entirely in the supply chain. There is the perfect climate in the Mediterranean to grow these items, yet we ship from halfway across the world. Balance and keeping as local as possible is definitely the best move. Love a bit of oat milk too :D!

Leave a Reply