As I write this post, the global coronavirus case count is 3,635,483 with 251,577 recorded deaths and steadily climbing. The total number of cases just in NY and NJ, where I live, has crossed 500,000. Things are starting to look grim in India, too, after some initial optimism that heat might slow down the spread of the virus. An internal US government report published today projects that by June, 200,000 new cases will be added every day with an estimated daily 3000 deaths, just in the US. There is no telling how long this will continue, but when the mayhem has died down, we will need to permanently change a few habits to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
I have been thinking and writing about sustainable cooking and ethical food blogging for some time, but food ethics has never seemed more relevant and urgent. This pandemic has forced even the biggest skeptics of global warming to rethink how they cook and eat. And there has never been a better time to have more direct, involved, private, and public conversations about how to buy, cook and consume food.
What does this pandemic have to do with global warming? And how is it related to food?
Over the last few decades, a growing body of scientific research has suggested that deforestation, by triggering a complex series of events, can create the conditions for a variety of deadly pathogens, like Nipah and Lassa viruses, that can spread through the population (“Deforestation and vector-borne Disease: Forest Conversion Favors Important Mosquito Vectors of Human Pathogens”). Commercial agriculture and cattle ranching are two of the biggest drivers of deforestation. And the principal driver of vector-borne diseases (such as the virus Sars-Cov-2) is industrial animal farming. When food industries encroach on wild habitats, it can create opportunities for pathogens to jump to livestock and humans. Industrial agriculture also breeds its own diseases, like swine flu and avian flu, in abominable factory farm conditions, which contributes to antibiotic resistance and climate change, both of which aggravate the problem.
There is no doubt that meat-eating plays a huge role in hastening climate change and endangering public health. Therefore, individually, we must significantly reduce eating animal products, and collectively, we must transform the global food supply system and work toward ending animal agriculture and help reforestation.
This is neither impossible nor difficult. Our eating habits have changed significantly over the last decade. Increasingly, our food choices are influenced by what we see on Instagram, Facebook, international cooking channels, and food blogs. Scientists have, however, repeatedly warned that human diets and environmental sustainability are inexplicably linked, and, therefore, it is imperative that our food choices are determined by biological, psychological, cultural, and nutritional needs of societies and each country’s circumstances rather than social media trends. So, all we need to do is just go back to the ways we were eating twenty or even ten years ago. That is, we need to return to the cultural and indigenous methods of cooking. To do that, we must make four major changes in how we shop, cook, and eat.
Eat locally sourced food
We have seen how the closure of borders can interrupt global supply chains. This should encourage us to eat locally sourced food, support community-based agriculture, and return to organic and sustainable ways we ate not so long ago. This means less dairy, less animal protein, and more vegetables and grains native to our respective regions. This means ditching exotic foods like the avocado toasts if you live in India or other places that avocadoes are not native to. This means choosing oat milk or coconut milk over almond milk or dairy. Basically making little changes and increasing the intake of an array of native species of crops that are more resistant to drought, flooding, or other extreme conditions can have the greatest impact on climate change. Used more widely in farming, these crops could help build the resilience of farms now facing a changing, more extreme climate, and maintain biodiversity.
Eat organic whenever possible
The jury is still out on whether or not organic farming is better than conventional farming in terms of their nutritional values. There’s enough research to suggest that the trace amount of pesticides found on agricultural products is not injurious to humans. However, the environmental impact of organic farming alone should convince everyone to buy locally grown organic food.
Organic foods grow on biologically diverse soil with no herbicide, pesticide, or other harmful chemicals that can reach into the soil and destroy the microbes and fungi that are so important. Grazing based and forage-based dairy, and no use of GMO, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics are good for both humans and the environment. Furthermore, organic farms help build a diverse ecosystem where the farms are holistic. And most importantly, both in terms of pay equity and fair treatment, organic farming is a social justice issue, because it prioritizes the health and safety of workers in the fields.
Practice canning and pickling
Remember those days when our pantries were stuffed with mason jars full of pickled vegetables, jams, and sauces? Those age-old food traditions were designed precisely for times like this when going out to source food is dangerous and the food supply is disrupted. I have yet to meet a person of my generation who has ever canned or pickled, and perhaps it’s time to change that.
Reduce food waste
To ensure food security and to keep food availability stable, we must stop hoarding. We must stock up on foods that have a long shelf life. We must learn to utilize every little scrap of the food we have. And the most important step to ensure food security is planning the week ahead. Before we go grocery shopping, we must plan what we want to make for the week, ensuring we have all the necessary ingredients and making a proper list of the things we will need. It is crucial that we not buy things not included on the list.
Here are some zero waste food blogs that you should read.