25 Feb Save the planet and yourself with every bite
By Anna Shevel
As consumers, we have the opportunity to save our own lives and to conserve our planet from our forks. Our food choices have the greatest potential impact out of any daily action that we can take. By just making food choices empowered with knowledge, we can invest in local economies, support women entrepreneurs, impact local weather patterns and “plant the rain”, defend the rights of animals, reduce deforestation, achieve optimum health, and help to reverse climate change.
Every purchase we make is, in a sense, a vote with our wallets. By selecting our food purchases we either energise big industry with the only winners being shareholders looking for short term profits, or we can energise a new food system that benefits local communities, pays fair wages, encourages biodiverse ecosystems, and produces non-toxic food.
Farming is a risky business for many reasons. On average, farmers get 8 – 12% of the retail price for their produce. Produce needs to be transported and processed and packaged and refrigerated and marketed. All along this journey margins are added, but usually the farmer generates the lowest profit of all the players even though they take the most risk. Their risks include drought, pests, poor seed, theft, ruined produce, and unpredictable consumer trends of fad foods.
If you choose food grown by small scale emerging township folk who practice natural and regenerative farming, either by getting your box scheme delivered, or finding locally grown produce at your local health stores, you would be shortening the supply chain and all the processes that eat into the farmer profit, reducing the travel miles and eliminating the use of chemicals, paying fairer prices to the farmers and their families who can then spend more in our economy, and you would be consuming a healthier product for your long term wellbeing.
Ron Finely, the famous Gangsta Gardener of downtown L.A. says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money” and he is definitely correct; when you grow your own food you gain some independence and sovereignty over your health and finances. You also help prepare for the future case scenarios of the risky matrix of population growth, climate change, and diminishing natural resources. So there is great merit to growing one’s own food.
However, in South Africa, a country economically strangled and disparate, one of the most patriotic actions we can take to rebuild our country’s economy is to invest in grassroots entrepreneurs, neighbourhood famers and makers, mom ‘n pop shops, and community businesses that are accountable to their customers. These small businesses rely on good reputations and relationships so they take pride in how they do things and care about their customers. They do not have shareholders squeezing them for dividends and they do not have marketing budgets to fool their consumers.
By investing in them, we choose a better product, we put money in their pockets, which can then be spent further in their communities (rather than going to shareholders, or a multinational corporate), and we put food on their tables for their families. By investing in them, we build our economy, invest in our health, and a cleaner environment.
One of the greatest challenges consumers have is knowing where to find healthy, non-toxic food. We are a time-scarce, convenience-driven society and making good choices can be very challenging if we don’t know what is available. It is also a mine-field trying to understand labeling and ingredients when industry uses purposefully confusing terminology.
An urgent reinvention of our food system is required for South Africa to have a hopeful future. To accelerate the shift away from monopolized industrial agriculture and commercial food, The Good Food Network is a geo-locatable online platform that helps consumers and foodbiz find and buy local, organic, fair and non-toxic food that is nearest to them. Included on the platform are over 450 farms, restaurants, health stores, grocers, nurseries, waste collectors, consultants, NGOs, sector bodies, and training courses discoverable all over South Africa.
The Good Food Network is committed to educating consumers about the food system and the choices they have, as well as connecting smallholder farms and homeindustries with hospitality and retail clients to reach a broader market.
Agricultural activities have shaped the natural world more than any other human activity, so if we change these activities to work in harmony with nature again, we can reclaim our health and reshape our world with every bite. Bon appetit!
Anna Shevel is a social-entrepreneur and the founder of The Good Food Network, South Africa’s most comprehensive online resource for finding, buying, and understanding organic, local, ethical and non-toxic food.