There is a growing awareness on climate change (thanks to young activists like Greta), going hand in hand with the gradual declaration of Climate Emergency across the world’s cities, regions and countries. In this context, it is time to rethink our role as citizens in the great challenges of our times.
Specifically, today we will discuss how more sustainable food systems can help fighting climate change and – at the same time – support rural societies.
What is the link between our food systems, climate change, and the rural world?
Eating is one of the most basic activities of our daily lives. We eat multiple times a day, and the food consumed causes certain impacts, both environmental and social, depending on factors such as the production model, the distance between producer and consumer, levels of waste, and the season.
So, there’s a big sustainability difference between consuming a cheese produced by shepherds whose goats graze under cork oaks in the Sierra de Espadán, and an orange produced through monoculture and out of season in South Africa.
We tend to choose the cheapest food, which unfortunately rarely matches what is most environmentally sustainable or socially just. The first example, of extensive livestock grazing in the Espadán, is a product of proximity, produced in harmony with the natural environment, supporting the local economy and giving rise to multiple ecosystem services (such as the maintenance of biodiversity, prevention of forest fires and conservation of attractive landscapes). Its environmental impact is low, and allows rural inhabitants to earn an income without having to move to the city, thus avoiding rural depopulation. Here you have a very interesting video from the University of Vic, explaining more about the benefits of extensive livestock.
In contrast, the example of South African oranges reflects a product from far away, requiring colossal quantities of water, fertilizers, pesticides and energy for its production and transport, and causes an enormous environmental impact through an intensive use of resources. Moreover, it does not benefit society: on one hand, the multinationals keep most of the profit, not the South African producers themselves, and, on the other hand, it negatively affects the traditional and local producers in Valencia by creating unfair competition with the lower prices. In other words, it negatively affects the Spanish countryside, leading (among others) to the abandonment of traditional activities. Here is an article telling more about the issue.
So, what can I do to fight climate change – and the challenges of the rural world – through my food choices?
There are many articles explaining how to fight climate change through food choices (look for example at this very useful article) but they rarely relate to the rural world. Fortunately, it is based on very similar principles because, after all, true environmental sustainability is linked to social justice. Here we share three tips that you can start applying immediately to your daily diet:
- Buy local or kilometre 0 products. To give you a few examples, you can buy them through local product/craft markets, direct sales by producers, or initiatives such as SlowFood and Venda de Proximitat.
- Consume products with distinctive labels showing their environmental and social commitment, such as those products produced ecologically or in certain territories (such as Parcs Naturals de la Comunitat Valenciana), play a key role in preventing forest fires (such as Ramats de Foc), or even promote coexistence with large carnivores (such as Pastando con Lobos).
- If you want to eat animal products, make sure they are produced extensively. There are two very interesting initiatives, DeYerba and QueRed with maps so you can find meat and dairy producers from extensive farming systems.
To end, we share this phrase to reflect upon: “every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want” (Anna Lappe). Every time you buy a local product, produced sustainably and by rural people, you are not only creating a smaller ecological footprint. You are also helping farmers, shepherds, and small producers to obtain an income allowing them to have a decent life in rural areas.
Isabeau Ottolini, Environmental Scientist, October 2019.