“The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth.” – Frances Moore Lappé, American researcher and author
Food is related to absolutely everything. We must eat to survive, and an estimated 38% of global land is used for agriculture. In the United States alone, 19.7 million people work in the agriculture and food industry with 2.6 million people working directly on farms, 10.5 million people employed in the food service, eating, and drinking places, 3.3 million people in food/beverage stores, and 3.3 million in other agriculture-related industries. How we produce, transport, use, consume and dispose of food has a staggering impact on people and the planet, both positive and negative.
Do you know where your food comes from? Can you understand the ingredients on food labels? Have you heard of the term organic? Do you know what it means? Who has access to food that is good for bodies and for the environment, and who doesn’t?
Our food choices directly affect our health and communities globally, yet most people don’t know where food actually comes from or at what cost. In much of the world today, it is easy to go to a market and buy what’s available without second thought or order any product online for rapid delivery. The way people relate to food and knowledge they have of its origins have changed drastically in the past century, leaving many to stray from a healthy real food diet.
Food used to be consumed close to where it was grown. With the rise of sophisticated rapid global transportation, preservatives, refrigeration and packaged food, food can now travel great distances with ease, but that requires huge amounts of energy and radically increases carbon footprints. Seasonal eating — the act of eating food when local production is at its peak — has all but disappeared, as consumers demand year-round access to goods from around the globe despite costs, contaminants, emissions or consequences.
Industrial agriculture is a highly concentrated and mechanized process that relies on fertilizers and toxic chemicals, damaging precious resources including soil, water, air and the climate on the whole at an unprecedented scale, as defined by Foodprint. The way we grow and consume food has changed drastically and rapidly, harming the environment by causing loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and water pollution, among other detrimental impacts. The collateral damage of industrial agriculture includes a multitude of public health problems such as antibiotic resistance and exposure to dangerously high levels of toxins at alarming proximity for farm workers, families, and even unborn children.
Sustainable agriculture is a method of farming that puts the environment, local communities, and the future generations that will inhabit the planet at the forefront of everything. One of its pillars is organic food. Certified organic food is grown without chemical additives, pesticides or genetic modification. It also prioritizes cycling of resources and biodiversity conservation. The organic food market has exploded in recent years with many organic options now widely available. By leading through values of always organic, integrity, transparency, and deep roots in sustainability, organic pioneers like Nature’s Path grow food in a way that ensures communities are nourished and life is sustained indefinitely for all. This article speaks to the benefits of consuming organic food, which leads to a healthy lifestyle, as our partner Friends of the Earth explains here.
Different diets and lifestyles are better for the planet than others. For example, eating vegetarian or vegan reduces carbon footprints tremendously by cutting animal product-based food, those with high greenhouse gas emissions. Eating less meat and being more conscious about the quantity of animal products you consume can greatly reduce your footprint. Organic farming practices are far better for the environment than chemical-heavy conventional farming, and organic food is shown to significantly improve people’s health. For example, a study in the journal Environmental Health shows connections between people who eat more organic food and increased fertility, fetal health and reduced inflammation, and lower risk of major illnesses like cancer, heart disease and stroke, due to the benefits of organic farming. Conventional foods, on the other hand, have pesticides, hormone residues, and other contaminants with lasting negative impacts on bodies, soil, and the environment. This research from The Organic Center shows that switching to organic means significantly less exposure to pesticides.
Organic does not only apply to fruits and veggies; a wide array of grain, meat, dairy, snack and other products are also organic. According to the Organic Center, “When you eat meat, choosing organic is especially important, because meat production can have cascading effects on animal welfare, the environment, and human health. There is a long chain of resources that support the animals used for meat production. Choosing organic at the grocery store has an added value when it comes to supporting sustainable production, because you are not only ensuring that the animals are not raised with synthetic chemicals and have the strictest welfare standards, but also that all the food that animals eat comes from organic sources that support soil health and biodiversity.”
All people should have access to fresh organic food. Despite serious efforts to combat food inequality, it is still everpresent worldwide. The negative effects of chemical-laden conventional foods disproportionately affect minority communities, who too often have no choice but to eat cheap, processed food. On top of that, many communities of color and indigenous communities experience food apartheid, where green grocers and access to nutritious food is limited or nonexistent, but fast-food options and vendors like dollar stores abound. Unhealthy diets perpetuate and exacerbate health problems in low-income communities. So what can we do to combat this inequality?
One way our organization, Turning Green, takes a proactive stand for food justice is through our Conscious Kitchen program. Conscious Kitchen is committed to food equity, access and education — serving fresh, local, organic, chef-prepared, scratch-cooked school meals to students since 2013. We created the first organic public school district in the country, beginning with one historically-marginalized school where 95% of students qualify for free-and-reduced school meals. Conscious Kitchen has met rising need across the local West Contra Costa School District during the pandemic by sourcing, packing, and delivering 100% organic food boxes to children and families weekly, the first in the country to do so. By partnering with schools and communities to shift the paradigm around food service, replacing pre-packaged overly processed food with fresh, organic ingredients for real meals, Conscious Kitchen is able to support local organic farmers and benefit health, climate, local economies, and workers. We are proud of how this latest CK/WCCUSD Food Program collaboration addresses compounding current challenges, directly investing over $17 million to distribute over 10.7 million pounds of organic food for 18.7 million meals since November 2020, now working to transition back to school meals to organic.
Guiding terms for Conscious Kitchen are represented by the acronym FLOSN: Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, and Nutritious.
With numbers, frequency, resolve and power, we, the people, are demanding to know what’s actually in food, how it was produced, where it comes from, and who has access to it. Individual buying habits, institutional purchasing, and consumer pressure add up in massive ways. Think about how YOU can vote with your fork every single day!
A FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, nutritious) food diet is often thought to be more expensive and thus out of reach for students and much of the general population, but that is not necessarily the case. For example, buying seasonally, in bulk, and at farmers markets are great ways to protect human and farm worker health, support local economies, mitigate climate impact, reduce ecological footprints, and save money.
Get informed with these resources for ECO-nomical shopping:
- Read about how to buy organic on a budget here or here
- Browse the EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce here
- Check out this article about eating healthy on a budget
- Look at this infographic about the benefits of organic vs. non-organic
Take note of practical ways to incorporate more FLOSN foods into your diet on a budget. As an example, consider the fruits and vegetables you commonly buy. Where do they fall on the EWG guide? How would you decide which to buy organic?
Using these questions as a foundation, make your own list of tips for shopping organic – a simple action plan for students to successfully buy organic.
Even when people do know about the benefits of eating FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, nutritious) food, incorporating them into their diet is not always possible — because of access, distance from farmers markets or organic grocers, price or other barriers. When marginalized communities do not have access to a grocery store or supermarket in their neighborhood, this is called a food desert.
- Write a reflection on what you read and the issues you learned about. What are the obstacles for people trying to achieve a wholesome diet? Do you see evidence of food apartheid and food insecurity in your own local or campus community? Share your thoughts.
- Now choose one of the actions in the articles and get to work! Tell us which one you chose and a comprehensive plan of how you will implement it in your own life. What are some concrete steps you can take to address these issues where you live or go to school?
THINK (PART ONE)
Building on your food knowledge, it’s time to test your culinary skills! Using the FLOSN criteria as a guide, prepare a meal for you and your housemates or family. Our Conscious Kitchen Cookbook has great inspiration!
Choose an entree recipe and use as many FLOSN ingredients as possible, while keeping your meal under $4 per person to create a delicious organic and budget-friendly meal!
- Create a document with a full report on your meal, including where you source ingredients, what percentage is FLOSN, and all you learn throughout the process. Was it easy to stay on budget? What did you learn about FLOSN food costs? How far did you have to travel to purchase this food? Where did it come from?
- Share recipes and meal preparation with photos, as well as how you manage leftovers and waste.
Think about visiting a farmer’s market in your community. Typically toward the end of the market, prices are further discounted. Also imperfect items may be available at a lower cost.
Buy in bulk at the grocery store.
Harvest what you can from a backyard or community garden.
THINK (PART TWO)
A great way to learn about and showcase the healthy attributes of produce is a Conscious Kitchen project we call “Produce Friends.”
Your challenge is to create your own Produce Friend.
- Gather materials. Use scraps from a meal, instead of going to compost. Consider produce that may be beyond its shelf life. Look around your fridge or kitchen, or ask local farmers markets or grocery stores for leftover organic leaves, sprigs, anything that would otherwise be tossed.
- Do your best to find organic and seasonal items.
- Think about what information (facts about health, organic, seasonality, local, etc.) you want to convey and how to best incorporate it to educate viewers?
- Be as creative as possible!
- What is the Definition of Organic Food?
- Apple Peel? Don’t Toss It! 11 Ways to Use Every Part of Your Fruit and Veggies
- America’s growing food inequality problem
- What is a Food Desert? Causes, Statistics, Resources
- A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health?
- Your quick and easy guide to kosher eating
- What is Halal? You should consider eating Hala!
- Understanding Halal: THe Muslim Eating Laws
- Is Keeping Kosher Good For the Environment?
- Vegetarianism Cuts Your Dietary Carbon Footprint A Ridiculous Amount, Study Finds