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GROW: Small actions that matter

by Oxfam | July 18, 2012

This post was written by Bill Hynd, Outreach Officer at Oxfam Canada 

Your food choices can make a difference

Our food system is broken; nearly one billion go hungry every day. Not because there isn’t enough. But because of the deep injustice in the way the system works. And because too many of the ways we grow today are using up and destroying the natural resources on which we all rely.

Oxfam’s GROW campaign is working to help repair the broken food system.  To do so, we need to involve everyone including all of us who buy and cook food.  Every time we open our fridge and food cupboards, we step into the global food system.  We each play a part through the food we purchase, cook and put on our tables.

As complex as the problem seems individual actions when multiplied by thousands of households the world over can make a significant difference.  Eating less meat, reducing food waste, buying seasonal food, and cooking smarter all help lower greenhouse gas emissions which affects climate change, while buying fair trade products supports small-scale producers.

Here are some simple food actions you might want to consider:

  1. Eat less meat: A packet of 500g of beef takes 6,810 litres of water to produce.  By swapping beef for an alternative, such as beans or lentils we can save nearly 6,000 litres of water in just one four-person meal. That’s the equivalent of seventeen bathtubs filled to the brim.
  2. Save food: Reducing food waste will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Approximately one in six apples ends up in the garbage dump.   It is estimated that these wasted apples are responsible for as many greenhouse gas emissions as burning 10 million barrels of oil.
  3. Cook smarter: If we cooked with covered pans, using as little water as possible and reducing the heat as the water starts to boil we can save energy, water and money while not wasting precious fossil fuels.
  4. Eat seasonal: A lot of energy is wasted in trying to grow food in the wrong place, at the wrong time of year.  Different food grow best in different locations: we can eat local, seasonal foods as well as the more exotic food grown by producers elsewhere in the world. Why not investigate what is in season in your region and what is in season elsewhere in the world?
  5. Buy Fair Trade: If each of us made sure that two of the chocolate bars we purchase each month are certified Fair Trade, we could support the work of over 90,000 small-scale cocoa farms.

An apple, a bar of chocolate, a portion of vegetables, or a family dinner – the choices we make together can help to make the food chain better for people and the planet.  We can save energy and cut greenhouse emissions by eating more of what’s in season and what’s grown near us.  When making our food purchases we need to ask how was this food grown, where was it grown – outdoors during its natural growing season or intensively in a greenhouse? – And how was this food transported?

Today the kitchen, tomorrow the world

The world’s food producers are facing a huge challenge.  Growing populations and increasing economic development will result in an increase of 70% in the global demand for food by 2050.

In many developing countries, small-scale farmers are responsible for the bulk of food production. They struggle with a lack of support and basic infrastructure (access to water, roads, proper storage etc).  Women farmers are particularly disadvantaged yet they play a crucial role in feeding families and communities.  A recent UN report found if women were given the same access to resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by around a quarter, with the potential to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

It is important we all do our part to help fix the global food system.  We can begin with the food choices we make and we can call on governments and business to better support small-scale farmers.

To learn more about how simple actions can make a significant difference, read Oxfam’s new report The Food Transformation: Harnessing Consumer Power to Create a Fair Food Future.

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