As The Nature Conservancy celebrates Earth Day today with several hundred Picnics for the Planet around the world, many picnic organizers are carefully filling their baskets with sustainable food choices, from free-range chicken to locally harvested tomatoes.
Whether or not you’re headed to a picnic, Earth Day is a good time to think beyond the fridge and the supermarket in terms of where your next meal is coming from. Some interesting questions to ponder:
Where does your food, and all of its ingredients, come from?
How far has your food had to travel to get to your plate?
How was it grown, raised or harvested?
And who or what may have been displaced in order to produce it?
Agriculture and the demand for food and meat from livestock lead to much of the world’s deforestation. Many of the planet’s remaining forests are being gradually cut down in order to make room for farming, cattle ranching or other livestock production.
The Nature Conservancy is working to promote climate-friendly agriculture and ranching practices that keep forests alive (and their stored carbon out of the atmosphere).
For example, oil palm is a crop that intersects with the Conservancy’s work in Indonesia because there are nearly 1 million acres of forested land available for conversion to plantations in one district alone – Berau.
You may not be familiar with palm oil (produced from the kernels of oil palm trees), or aware that you eat it. (Recently, I spotted it on the ingredient list of my jar of hot fudge.) This ubiquitous substance is used as a cooking oil in some cultures and in consumer products from cosmetics, soaps and pharmaceuticals to processed foods like cake mixes, energy bars, baby formula and snack crackers.
Palm oil is also a source of biofuel that Europe has been importing in recent years.
The Conservancy is working with the Berau and federal governments in Indonesia to pursue policies that will encourage development of new plantations on lands that are already cleared of trees, or where forests are degraded, rather than cutting healthy forests to make room for oil palm.
And in Brazil, one of the world’s largest exporters of beef and soy, the Conservancy is working with farmers and ranchers in places like São Félix do Xingu and Paragominas to maintain the level of their production without clearing rainforest for their ranching.
Being aware of environmental conditions in the places where your food is produced is one more way to eat sustainably. Through your food choices, you can make a real difference in keeping yourself – and the planet – healthy.
Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Bridget Besaw © 2009 (Harvested palm oil fruit awaiting collection at an oil palm plantation in the Kalimantan region of Borneo, Indonesia. Growers are increasing production of palm oil to meet the global demand spurred by biofuels, however, fresh land clearances are contentious for their environmental impact.)
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