Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In the foodiverse it seems as though a new buzz segment is debuted daily: organic, gluten-free, all-natural, whole-grain; but what's in a name? Really? How important is it to label your food product according to the latest trends? And, even more importantly, how important is it to live by the practices those trends support?

The latest craze in food politics and food products is sustainability. Sustainability, by definition, is a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

In a world fraught with depleting resources how can people make responsible food choices? So often food is a personal decision based on personal preferences. Personal tastes, personal health, personal economics and so on. In order to promote sustainability there must be a change in mindset when it comes to food. We, as a population, need to shop, cook and eat responsibly.

Articles abound lately on the scarcity of wildly popular foods, for example: Quinoa farmers in Bolivia are having a difficult time keeping up with the demand and cost inflations their crop has put on their communities. The endangered population of Blue Fin tuna and their inability to reproduce at a rate fast enough to keep up with the sushi market demands. Cod scarcity due to over-fishing in Northeastern waters. Inflated beef prices due to drought. An so on.

But how do we educate people on sustainable eating, shopping and cooking? In a recent article from the Huffington Post, writer Luke Sniewski alluded to the consequences of allowing an uneducated public to create their own definition of sustainability:

There is more to "organic" and "sustainable" than a label. Or at least there should be.  Herein lies the difference between form and substance that separates marketing label from authentic practice. And if we, as consumers who must support real organic and sustainable practices, don't take the personal responsibility for understanding what food sustainability -- and underlying sustainable agriculture from which it is derived -- really mean, then the label of sustainability is at the mercy of the marketing world, driven predominantly by larger profit margins. Then we will bombarded, yet again, with sustainable cupcakes and sustainable meal replacement bars.

There has to be more to sustainable eating than corruptible branding. A movement to educate consumers on the importance of sustainability must take place first. Consumers need to know why they should choose a veggie roll over a spicy tuna roll at their favorite sushi restaurant. Consumers need to know why it's time to give their Quinoa recipes a rest, and seek responsible alternatives.

As Sniewski points out, so many factors contribute to the principles that drive sustainable eating:

Sustainability is rooted in principles rather than simple how-to guides. How diverse is the farming operation? How much does this farm rely on chemical inputs from synthetic fertilizers? Was this livestock treated humanely? How many miles did your meal travel, from farm to plate? Was anyone's labor exploited in the process of making your meal? Who are you eating your meal with? Most important, is that "real" food on your plate or another form of complex processing with a colorful marketing label? All of these factors contribute to the overall concept of sustainability. Finding answers to just a few of them will help consumers understand our food systems better.

Once people are able to understand the consequences of ignoring food sustainability, then and only then, will we be able to replenish our dying resources in a manner that would undoubtedly have a positive affect on the marketplace and our environment.

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