Food production is at the heart of how we look after our planet and growing enough to feed us all makes significant demands on global resources, particularly in terms of land, water and energy. More than a third of the world’s available surface is given over to agriculture in one form or another, almost half the world’s food comes from the one-fifth of this land which is irrigated and in some parts of the world, irrigation accounts for approaching 90 per cent of total water use.
What we choose to eat can have a big influence on how green we really are – not all agricultural practice is as environmentally or ethically correct as we’d like it to be, for instance and we all know about the issue of “food miles.” Few of us set out quite deliberately to purchase products that exploit poor farmers or could be grown just as well much closer to home; it’s more often a question of simply not knowing where and how something was produced.
The bottom line is, if yours is an eco-friendly family, you owe it to yourselves to find out some more about the food in your cupboard – and it’s something that the kids should really enjoy!
We’re all used to food labels carrying a wealth of nutritional information these days to help us eat healthily, but they’re a good place to start looking for tips on eco-eating too. Many products have useful information regarding how they have been made, so look out for the likes of free range or organic certification and fair trade logos, which can tell you a lot about the conditions surrounding manufacture.
It’s also the place to find out contact details for both the makers and the organisations behind the certifying schemes – and that often means a website and access to a wide range of other useful sources of information which can help your kids investigate their food further. Since every company worth talking about has an environmental policy and is keen to parade its green credentials, there’s often a considerable amount of detail to be had in this way – and if you want to know more, the answer is probably only an email away!
Mapping Out Those Miles
Labels often also carry country of origin information too, which can frequently be enlightening, especially when the product names suggest otherwise – “English” Brie manufactured in France and well-known brands of Australian beers brewed in Britain, for example.
This can also lend itself to a range of fun educational activities if you wish, such as mapping out where your food comes from and how far it has had to travel to get to you. It’s obviously open to all sorts of different slants, everything from sticking pins on a wall map of the world to a sophisticated computer-based presentation, blog or personal website, depending on your kids’ own interests and inclinations.
Taking things still further, the weekly shopping trip can be another ideal opportunity to explore the idea of food miles and production methods, particularly once your youngsters have got themselves armed with a few of the basics. If you think about it, it’s the obvious and logical end point of the whole eco-eating idea – checking out the food before it goes into your cupboard. Involving kids in purchasing decisions based on ethical and economic considerations can not only make the time spent in the supermarket a bit more interesting for everyone, but it could also help set them on the right road for life.
There are plenty of other potential avenues to explore around the whole question of food, if you wish. Local farms and food factories often run trips so your youngsters can see some of the things involved in getting food onto their plates, at first hand. For kids with a mathematical bent, there are endless opportunities, from working out where most of your food comes from, to calculating the total number of food miles your yearly shopping has travelled, while keeping food diaries should appeal to any budding writers in the family. For younger children it can be a great way to gently introduce a little geography and encourage them to learn about other lands and other peoples as they rummage through your food cupboard – with a bit of careful supervision, obviously!
One thing’s for sure, spend a little time getting to know the where, what and how of your household’s typical trolley-load and none of you will ever look at food in quite the same way again.