Food Choices: Convenience vs. consciousness

Back in Hong Kong we once witnessed an interesting conversation.
A person was “protecting” and arguing for the use of plastic, because “without plastic, eg. a cucumber would have a much shorter shelf-life and would be difficult to transport without damage, which, on the other end, would cause much more food waste”.
We hear you. And we strike back! Curious why? Read on!

Do we have the right to the cucumber?

Should be the first question to be asked. Now, we have got used to having everything and anything in our hand’s reach. We rarely think of where something comes from, how it is made, by whom and at what cost. We want our things and we want them now. This applies to items, clothes, but also food. We are craving all different foods at different times of the year, or rather, should we say, we are craving all the same foods at different times of the year. Only a few of us think of whether this particular vegetable or a piece of fruit is in season at the given moment or whether it is locally sourced.

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Many times we have heard our friends complain about a tasteless, cold strawberries form the supermarket. Sorry to break it to you, but if you go to a European store in November and expect big, juicy, red berries, you are in for an unpleasant surprise. It seems like we have forgotten that some items are and should only be available seasonally (or not at all in certain parts of the world, which we will further comment on below), and the fact that they can be bought all year round should actually be worrying us.

Why do we seem to have forgotten the natural cycles of Mother Nature? Why do we demand on-demand abundant supply of Mother Nature’s gifts? And once that demand is met, do we know at what cost this is happening?

Gotta be thick-skinned in 2019 (especially if you are a tomato)

Mass demand provokes mass production that needs mass transportation onto mass retail leading to mass earnings (because that’s the goal, right?). Let us then look at the transportation and the potential loss risks implied. To explain this I will refer to SUSTAINABILITY DEFINED podcast, ep. 6 about Food Waste where the difference between Food Waste and Food Loss was eloquently explained. You see, food waste happens on the consumers’ side. It is what we do not use/eat and what we throw out. But then there is food loss, the trucks that damage the transported goods, the collapsed boxes the contamination in the factory that leads to discarding a whole lot for hygiene reasons.

Hence, food can be both lost and wasted and for us as consumers, food waste is easier to prevent than food loss, but there are indeed means used to prevent food loss too! That’s when ya’ veggies get thick-skinned. We recently had a quick chat with a family member whom we notified about the fact that tomatoes need thicker peel/skin in order to withstand more (bumps) in transportation. Thin-skinned tomatoes would probably arrive in supermarkets as “polpa di pomodoro”, rather than the round, shiny bulbs.

What needs to be done then?
Well we need to make the tomatoes more resistant. Pimp them up, tune the genes to develop more protection, a thicker skin… Have you ever thought of the genetical manipulation that your tomato has been through when cutting through its firm, thick peel?

Your Dior dress has arrived from Paris… and so has your ruccola

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When we lived in Hong Kong we did our best to adjust to the local eating culture, and if we really wanted some comforting food that we knew from back home, we would use the locally available alternatives to the greens we knew from Europe. It did not make much sense to go to a supermarket in Asia to buy a box of lettuce that has travelled 11 hours by air. All the excessive plastic packaging, the carbon footprint… it just did not make sense to us.

We know that many people face the dilemma (especially in Hong Kong) of the lack of locally sourced organic fruits and vegetables. And yet when you try to eco-weight the organic origin of your veggies against the travel time, the pollution caused by the shipping, the pollution caused by the production of the plastic packaging and the harm done by (most likely) improperly discarded packaging, we do not see a conversion. 

“The Easy Way” is rarely the sustainable choice, and food is no exception

Like with other areas in our everyday life, with food choices we must battle the convenient against the conscious. However here, “conscious” often implies some level of interest in the supply chain to be able to make “the right” decision when buying food. You must know what items are available in your region. You must know when the strawberry season is in your region. You must be willing and take action to read on the label where your ruccola has been flown from. And whereas this may sound very basic to some of us, there are many people out there who become more and more distanced from their food and its supply chain. We stopped caring, we stopped asking question. We want the food and we want it served (not always as an already made dish, of course, but we want the particular items to be “served” for us).

With food choices the call to action is simple. First, pay attention in your biology class (we didn’t either, quite embarrassing to have to do the catch-up in your 20s…), find out what can be locally sourced and what must be flown from abroad, even from other continents! Then, read your labels! All the ingredients must be listed, so if when picking up a pack of sausages, the label says “62% meat”, you may wonder what is in the the other 38% of your delish “wurst”… 

Want to hear some good news before we wind up? Once you see something, you cannot un-see it! And whereas this may seem like a burden for those who claim that “ignorance is bliss”, seeing through the dirty business of the food industry can lead to making healthy and sustainable food choices a habit.

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