A recent study at Lincoln University in New Zealand revealed that “2,849kg of carbon dioxide is produced for every tonne of lamb raised in Britain, while just 688kg of the gas is released with imported New Zealand lamb”. According to this study it is more environmentally friendly to buy New Zealand lamb than British lamb, despite its exhausting journey. I found this puzzlingly especially when I can look out of my window and see local farmers rounding up their own sheep. How unsustainable must our food production be for this to be the case?

It made me realise that I had little to no concept of the origin of the food on my plate and reading the label left me more hungry (nice pun) for this information than ever. What weren’t they telling me about the total production from a grazing sheep on luscious rolling green hills in New Zealand to its final destination, on my plate?

After further research I discovered various environmental food related horror stories. For instance the ‘tonnages of caramels from Canada and ice cream from Germany and Switzerland that are imported into the UK are the same as are exported from the UK’. You could probably still justify this in your mind because of course Canadian caramels are so much yummier than British caramels. But, what about one brand of King Prawns that are ‘from the coastal waters of Britain and Ireland’ but what you don’t know is that they’re frozen at sea and sent to Thailand to be shelled by hand. The journey is an incredible ‘36,000Km round trip’.’ How can a British company justify the environmental impact of such a journey?

Somewhere between Saxon farming and international 21st Century trading we have become entirely dissociated from food production and as a result mislead about the journey of our food. When did we stop killing our own chickens and growing our own vegetable gardens? And despite our food now being cheaper and mass produced what price has that come at? We have become so far removed from our food and its production that we feel it necessary to label our food products ‘organic’ and ‘free range’, when in 2nd and 3rd world countries these are concepts that don’t need to be pointed out. They are obvious. Because why wouldn’t your food be organic or free range?

Well that’s simple, in the western first world countries our food is so processed and so manufactured that now we can’t identify between what is real food (both organic, free range, naturally grown and supposed to grow in that season) and what is not. I remember once sitting at a bar on a cattle farm in Costa Rica and being offered a bowl of unknown meat. I was sceptical, I don’t like eating food when I’m unaware of its origin. I looked up and saw the cattle grazing on miles of farm land. I did know where this meat had come from. This meat had a long and healthy life grazing and running freely in the fields in front of me. I even knew who had killed the animal (the owner) and after asking him, I quickly found out how. I was almost unwilling to eat meat because I ‘didn’t know where it had come from or what it was’ when in reality, I knew more about this bowl of ‘carne’ than I had ever known about the food I consume here in England.

So, what are we doing about this issue of a clear lack of connection between food production and consumption, well, we’re telling butchers to remove their window displays because it’s displeasing and uncomfortable to look at. However, whether a butcher takes down his display or not the truth is, the hanging carcasses are where our meat comes from and all we will achieve by taking these down is a lack of education for our children. What sort of nation are we raising where the next generation doesn’t associate a pork chop with a pig and when asked where it comes from, simply replies, the supermarket?

How much do we really know about our food? Let’s go back to the horse-meat fiasco of 2013 when news broke that Tescos own brand beef burgers were actually 29% horse meat. The Guardian online reported that “The factory that supplied Tesco with its 29% horse “beefburgers”, for example, was using “multiple ingredients from some 40 suppliers in production batches, and the mixture could vary in every half-hour”. This led to the testing of other major brands beef burgers and resulted in Burger King, Co-op and Aldi all testing positive for horse meat. How had something like this been able to go unnoticed for so long? Had we entered into a relationship of trust with our food suppliers that had been deceived or was this a case of the British public being ignorant and not caring enough to ask the right questions about where their food was coming from?

And even those of us that try to eat ethically are faced with the problem of dishonesty from companies, you may for instance choose organic over Tesco’s own brand because you believe that the mistreatment of animals is unnecessary for a protein packed diet. What you’re unaware of when doing this is that by choosing ‘organic’ animals may suffer in pain from lack of medication if they’ve hurt themselves. Peta highlighted this issue when speaking about cattle “If their udders become infected from frequent milkings, which often happens, many farmers deny them medicine, because if they medicate the animals, they won’t be able to sell the milk as organic.”

Are we fighting a losing battle? It all seems a little doom and gloom and you just can’t win. It seems fairly obvious to me that this information needs to be more readily available. At the end of the day it comes down to personal preference, many people will not give a second thought to the treatment, artificial editing and unknown added extras that go into producing our food but if you do care then there are solutions. Boycott these products and replace them with wholesome local produce that support local farms, butchers and bakeries and if you’re unsure how your food was made at least then you have an opportunity to ask! On a side note, having a few veggie days or just eating less meat will also reduce your carbon footprint, as farms are a large contributor to both methane, added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (through transportation), water consumption and the extremely saddening deforestation of the world’s most pristine and biological diverse rainforests.

If you want to be an ethical and environmental superstar then remember; buy local produce, support local farmers and don’t trust the label.

References:

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/free-range-organic-meat-myth/#ixzz2vfFiKjqL
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1553456/Greener-by-miles.html                                                     http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/oct/22/horsemeat-scandal-guardian-investigation-public-secrecy