What Food You Buy Makes a Difference
By Carol Glatz – The food people pick at the supermarket and cook in their kitchens can make a huge difference in helping address the global problems of hunger, obesity and climate change, a number of speakers said at a Vatican conference on sustainable development.
But helping the planet and human health will need more than a change in behaviour, said Vandana Shiva, a quantum physicist and Hindu activist.
“It is about a consciousness shift: How do we live in this world? What is the food we eat? Is my eating helping the bees, butterflies and the farmer? Or is my eating part of the extinction of the bees and the extinction of the farmers?” she said.
The trend in modern industrial agriculture is to get to a point where farming can be done without local, independent farmers, she said.
“If you do farming without farmers, you will have food production without care; it will be toxic food and, even if it is plant-based, toxic food will still make you very ill,” she said.
Ms Shiva, who advocates biodiversity and cultural diversity as part of fighting poverty, hunger and climate change, was one of dozens of speakers invited to the Vatican for a three-day international conference on how religions can contribute to the world reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Even though the problems the UN development goals seek to address are massive and complex, a number of speakers said that an individual’s seemingly small step has a big impact.
The first step, Ms Shiva said, must be with food.
“We can start eating in ways that protect the planet and our health” and not use toxic pesticides, herbicides and other poisons that “contaminate the world”, she said.
Rene Castro Salazar, assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said 16% of all food grown for consumption is left behind in fields and wasted. The old practice of “gleaning,” in which people, particularly the poor or marginalised, were allowed to gather what was left behind from a harvest, has been stopped “because it is not good business”.
Another 16% of the food that makes it to supermarkets or sellers is thrown away or wasted because the products, mostly fruit and vegetables, “are ugly”.
Being able to recover and use perfectly edible food from these two areas in the food production and distribution chain “would be enough to feed all the hungry people in the world”, he said.
Experts know what needs to be done to feed the hungry — an estimated 821 million people, he said, because they have the skills and instruments to do it. But the harder challenge, he said, is what to do to stop the other pandemic — the 1,9 billion people who are overweight or obese.
Ms Shiva said hope comes from understanding science and “understanding that our ancient teachings” already teach all the right and just ways people should be living and treating each other and creation.
That is what Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “was waking us up to, that we are not here to conquer and master. We are part of one human family, on one mother earth,” she said.
“It is greed that has caused a billion people to be hungry” and obesity or overeating, which in turn leads to chronic diseases, Ms Shiva said.—CNS