Here is your weekly newsletter. We hope you enjoy!
This week we present the third in a 3 part series on human food.
Thank you so much,
Sidra and David
Part 3: Is your Food Eco-Friendly?
When we buy food, we want healthy and genuine ingredients. We want our food to be healthy and produced respecting all the rules of hygiene and safety. Of course, we want it to be grown or bred in pollution-free land.
They are more than natural desires, but are we sure that our behavior is consistent? How much the food we buy contributes to pollution? Think of plastic and paper packaging. Think of the distance between your home and the place where the food is produced. How much pollution do we provide?
In recent years it is increasingly important to take care of the environment in which we live, let us try to be precise. Because often the will to consume healthy food comes up against a considerable environmental impact.
Let’s talk about food packaging. True, there is waste recycling, and we should all do recycling. But it must be considered that recycling waste requires lots of electricity and lots of water. Also, some waste still produces emissions that are harmful to the environment when they are processed.
When we buy fish, we worry about the microplastics that may be in his stomach, so we should worry about packaging when we buy food.
Packaging is great. It allows you to keep the food fresh, keep it vacuum-packed and make it reach us healthy and genuine. But there are methods to minimize the use of plastic packaging.
• Buy large quantities or family packs. If you buy packets of biscuits from two kilos instead of 300 grams, you save on packaging. If I purchase 2-liter fruit juices instead of 200 ml brick, you save on packaging. Consequently, single portions should always be avoided.
• Buy fruit and vegetables in bulk. When you go to the supermarket, there are different banks of fruit and vegetables. One is loose, and you have to put it in the balance and weight, the other is a refrigerated counter with the veggies already weighed in plastic trays. You do not need trays; weighing vegetables takes a few seconds, and if you buy them in bulk, it costs less. Furthermore, you can choose your apples one by one, and you are not forced to take all those of the package; therefore, you also gain in quality.
• Buy fresh meat and fish. It is not always possible, but if you have fishmonger and butcher available, you should only buy what you need and cook it fresh, with the use of smaller packages and plastics.
• Reuse the containers as much as possible and avoid disposable products. Of course, we cannot eliminate all the packages in one go, and somehow we will have to transport the food. But a lot can be done if we reuse resources as much as possible. In 2021 Europe will ban disposable plastic glasses and plates. According to a study, over 80% of marine litter is plastic, and the products covered by the directive account for 70% of all marine litter. Also, in the United States, there are new measures, and this year San Francisco airport banned plastic bottles in exchange for water dispensers. We then return to the use of the water bottle when going around.
But be careful also with paper. It is biodegradable, but according to the UK Environment Agency, the most significant environmental impact of a product is due to the exploitation of the resources used for its production. In the case of paper, these are trees that are felled and processed with extensive use of water, chemicals, fuel, and machinery. To be produced, paper bags require up to 70 times the energy needed for plastic bags and 17 times more water. And even more, power is necessary to recycle them.
Giving up packaging is not easy, yet we must not do everything ourselves. Consumers’ behavior is also moving industry. There are more and more food outlets selling products without packaging, both food and drinks. They are also inventing different solutions to create completely biodegradable or even completely edible packaging.
For example, the group of students and scientists Wiki Foods, at Harvard, has created particular edible membranes, which would act as a shell, but with the same taste and properties of the food contained.
Perpeceuticals, a British company, would instead be competing to make ingestible and anti-microbial films for the meat industry.
What about packs for foods that reproduce the appearance of fruits, packages of rice that you can peel like apples or fruit juices with raspberry-based containers? They are not science fiction but creations of a Swedish start-up, the Tomorrow Machine.
The inventiveness goes even further with brilliant creative ideas that challenge the rules dictated so far by the most traditional food packaging. Such as the food designer Diane Bisson, who makes food containers using tomatoes or Chelsea Briganti and Leagh Ann Tucker, the designers of US start-ups Loliware offering a set of bio-degradable and edible glasses, to eat, perhaps, after sipping a good cocktail.
Food transportation plays a fundamental role in pollution and environmental impact. For example, many argue that reducing meat consumption can save energy. If we consume more vegetables and fruits in a vegetarian diet, then the trend of global warming could even be reversed.
However, if we buy bananas or soy that come from the other side of the world, we have canceled all the benefits. Transportation means the use of fuel, and it means more pollution. Furthermore, we cannot check that crops grown in another country comply with environmental standards.
It follows that consuming the foods grown closer to us translates into energy savings and a reduction in environmental pollution. Local shopping, as far as possible, is the first step to encourage the production of healthy food and pollute less.
The immediate consequence of local shopping is to consume seasonal products. In general, each territory is specialized in particular productions: tomatoes, wine, cheeses, bread. Each country has a tradition, and consuming local goods can mean substantially changing one’s habits and diet, not getting involved in global advertising.
The large retailers have accustomed us to consume any product in any season. Still, if we talk about variety and quality, eating pumpkins in the fall, and watermelons in the summer bring different colors and fragrances to our table and help us get out from the routine.
We are not saying that we must never buy from supermarkets or we cannot enjoy exotic fruits now and then, but if we put local and season food at the base of our diet, we will undoubtedly gain health and at the same time help the environment.
Beware of Organic Waste
Organic waste is the easiest to dispose of. They are biodegradable and leave no residue. Yet there are unsuspected foods that can put seas, rivers, and our meal at risk.
Oil. Never throw frying oil in the sink or toilet drain. This action has a severe impact on the environment, and it is prohibited in many countries of the world.
The oil does not dilute in water. It settles around the clods of soil, creating an impermeable film preventing the typical passage of water and the nutritious particles that are usually absorbed by the capillary roots of plants.
Once it reaches a water table, oil can penetrate in drinking water wells, making them unusable. A single liter of oil can damage a million liters of water, making it no longer drinkable.
Creating a superficial film, the oil that reaches water basins, rivers, and seas, prevents the oxygenation of the water, compromising the existence of flora and fauna. Also, waste oil prevents the penetration of sunlight in-depth, drastically damaging the marine environment and life in the water.
Vinegar. Another unsuspected ingredient is vinegar. The vinegar used in the salad and many recipes is perfect. It has anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, and antioxidant properties.
However, vinegar should not be used in contact with metals or appliances. Many use it as a fabric softener to wash clothes either by hand or in the washing machine. Or as a degreaser, both in the sink and in the dishwasher, but these uses are incorrect. Furthermore, if you have vinegar that you do not want anymore, for no reason should it be poured into the sink drain.
Vinegar is composed of acetic acid, which, in contact with metals, is corrosive, favors the release of nickel by metals, and promotes the onset of systemic nickel allergy.
It means that every time you do a washing machine, you pollute because you discharge a dose of acetic acid mixed with heavy metals into the water. This way is hardly biodegradable and creates a toxic environment for fish.
When we talk about the ecological nature of detergent, we often refer only to biodegradability. Indeed, the vinegar is biodegradable. Unfortunately, when used in washing machines or dishwashers, it develops toxicity that ends up in rivers and seas: basically, a liter of vinegar pollutes 100,000 liters of water!
If we want healthy food, we must commit ourselves first. We can’t worry about eating just when the food is on the plate. Many things are indeed beyond our control: the pollution of factories, the use of pesticides, and many other factors that can change our food.
However, we can do a lot in our homes and with our shopping habits. We can decide to reduce packaging and reuse it as much as possible.
We can reduce the distance that separates us from our food and prefer shopping local. If most of the world population would follow these behaviors, we could count on healthier and safer food.