Food Fads: Sustainability’s worst enemy?
Look around your kitchen. Do you have any of the following? Avocado’s, almond milk, matcha powder, spirulina, coconut oil, quinoa, a nut butter or two? If so, well done, you can officially congratulate yourself for being aboard the latest food fads train.
Over the past 40 years, our food habits have changed dramatically. We’re consuming fewer British classics like tea and toast today than our relatives were three generations ago, instead opting for exotic options from much further afield. The last 10 years have seen nothing short of a food revolution with the advent of ‘clean eating’ and a strong focus on healthy living. Where the full English was once your staple Saturday morning treat, we are now knocking back smashed avo on toast like never before.
It used to be our style choice that defined us, now, we also deeply connect our food choices with who we are. We share everything digitally, making our diet as much a part of personal brand as our favourite pair of heels. Does a matcha latte with an acai berry bowl for breakfast define who I really am? Or am I more of a kombucha with a raw date protein ball (paleo of course) kind of girl?
Although boosting our own wellness, our penchant for exotic superfoods, is coming at a devastating price to our environment. Food transportation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Watch Institute. Each year, 817 million tons of food are shipped around the planet. Our desire for a diet of imported products uses up to four times the energy and produces four times the emissions of an equivalent domestic diet.
There are also the human rights issues. Avocado’s for example; far from being just a simple superfood with a deceptively tough shell, avocados have popped up, persistently, throughout some of the notable human rights issues of the last century. Although first arriving in England in the 17 century, avocados didn’t become popular until a few years ago, largely thanks to celebrity chefs and influencers sharing a never-ending stream of avocado recipes on their websites and feeds. Our demand for avocados has led to cartel wars in Mexico akin to the war over drugs. Families have been forced from their homes by cartel gunmen who seize their land to grow avocados on, leaving them homeless or in some case dead.
Take the recent boom in quinoa as another example. Quinoa is a nutrient-dense, gluten-free grain that comes from the Bolivian Andes, where indigenous peasants have traditionally grown it alongside potatoes, llamas and alpaca for thousands of years. With the burgeoning demand in Europe and the United States for healthy, gluten-free grains, quinoa has become very popular.
Because of this, today, Bolivians cannot afford to buy quinoa, and the quinoa-growing region of the country is the most malnourished as they export everything they grow. The region also faces decreased soil fertility, as farmers mine their soil to grow quinoa year after year to meet our demands, instead of using traditional rotation methods that naturally restore fertility and prevent erosion.
The good news is that shoppers are now more plugged into where their food comes from than ever before and mantras like ‘buy local’ and ‘farm to table’ are starting to have a real impact. Nonetheless, no matter how you justify it, the choice to be a ‘green’ consumer is still to be a consumer. Over-consumption and sustainability are not compatible, no matter how eco-friendly we try to be about it. The message isn’t to stop consuming these foods entirely just be conscious about where they come from and how much of them we are consuming.