Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Environmentally Friendly Choice.

So, as some of you may know, I work in the Evolutionary Biology and Forestry (conservation) building of the U of Toronto. Most specifically in the botany section. That being said it's understandable that my workroom is full of rather knowledgeable environmental lobbyists.

We had a discussion, after I read an article in Readers Digest, on what is truly the most environmentally friendly food option. Are GMOs bad at all? (The common belief in the science community is no, they really aren't. We don't get the issue.) Is organic really that great? What about that 1000 mile diet going around?

I came away with some of the things I'd been starting to think confirmed, other lessons I'd thought I'd learnt busted. Here's some interesting tidbits, and unfortunately I simply don't have the time to get you solid proof links. I do have access to a lot of databases the "common public" doesn't, so if any of the following really leave you skeptical, feel free to ask me to do some hunting!

ON EATING LOCAL:
-The 1000 mile diet leaves us the most upset. Why? Because it encourages some rather bad practices including:
-Using land for what its NOT best for. Eg: Land in California can grow up 5 times more strawberries per acre than land in Ontario, without taking into account that Cali needs significantly less irrigation, chemical aids, etc. So why are we wasting all the energy and polluting the environment for local strawberries? Ontario grows peaches so much better than Cali, if you catch my drift.
-Storage facilities. Eating an apple in the summer is NOT natural. How do you think you got that apple? It was in a highly ventilated storage facility which pumped ethylene out like crazy (no energy-efficient feat) and likely with the added help of 1-MCP.. Chemicals are never good, if only because producing them takes yet more energy.
-Believe it or not, the amount of gas per fruit used in shipping it TRANSATLANTICALLY, much less within the same continent, is often less than the amount of gas used by your car in going to get the groceries. Yeah. So when you shop local, take it to mean "from the local grocery store" versus "grown within 1000 miles."
-Don't get me wrong, local and seasonal is awesome, and supporting local farmers at the farmers market is cool. I just mean getting Ontario Apples in March at Loblaws versus something in season.

ON EATING ORGANIC:
-This is a harder one. As for the organic label implying non GMO... honestly... whats up with GMO hating? We develop GMOs all the time, mostly in order to avoid using pesticides or to increase yield. With GMO technology we manage to get the same amount of land to spit out TONS more food--that means LESS land we need to clear in order to make the same amount. Not getting the hate.
-As for the organic label meaning no pesticides.. this one I support fully and totally. Yes yes yes. Yes. Boooo pesticides. (I hate pesticide testing rooms in the greenhouse, creep me out to no end.)

ON EATING SEASONAL
-YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. See my eating local rant for why. ;)

Other Labels
So what about...
-Shade-Grown Coffee=greener? Bullshit. It's MORE environmentally damaging: the habitat damage per acre is the same (100%) but because of the 'shade' sources, MORE acres are needed.
-Organic Bananas? Environmentally, bullshit.. ethically good. FREE TRADE Bananas=AMAZING. Organic bananas rely on organic pest control methods such as plastic bagging, and still make plantations which are the prime cause of Malaria, soil degradation, and habitat destruction in places like Costa Rica. On the other hand, at least the workers aren't living and breathing pesticides all day--it's caused entire villages to go sterile. Fun? Free trade gives the bananas back to the farmers, they plant them intersparsedly in the forests causing little habitat destruction, using little to no pest control, and avoiding plantation issues. :D


I'll have to update this as I think of more.. this is just something that's been bugging my mind and I had a free hour just now. That doesn't happen often!

So, to recap. What do I want you to be eating? (I do want you to eat..)

Look for, in rough order of importance:
1. Foods in season. (Mostly environmental reasons)
2. Foods that are free trade, or local. (Mostly ethical reasons)
3. Foods that are organic. (Mostly taste reasons.)

What's in season right now you ask? I did some googlin' for you to report what produce is in season for June:

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