According to the United States' Union of Concerned Scientists, a fifth of the average family's environmental footprint is determined by what it eats. This means that every consumer, when they shop, can choose whether to exploit or, on the contrary, respect the environment and the people who work to produce the food they eat.
Advertising taps into consumers’ desire for healthy and natural foods, appealing to concepts such as “natural”, “genuine”, “pure”, and so on, even if the products on offer don’t possess these qualities. So, it is important to be well-informed when choosing “healthy” foods. Businesses themselves are called to respond to this need for transparency and clarity.
People who are conscientious towards others and the planet require a healthier diet, rich in beneficial active ingredients and which can contribute to preventing many diseases. This food must respect their values and be produced through farming and production practices that respect nature and biodiversity, and guarantee fair wages to workers, small farmers, and local communities.
LifeGate’s sustainable food manifesto sums up the standards for sustainable, respectful and conscientious food habits in ten points.
Twenty years ago the WHO issued its Global Strategy on Diet and Physical Activity and Health, which recognised the negative role played by unhealthy nutrition. Foods rich in fats, additives and refined sugars not only cause obesity and addiction, but don’t provide the body with adequate nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fibers, and high quality proteins. The first rule of sustainable nutrition is thus to be healthy by eating quality foods. The foods most representative of a sustainable and balanced diet are: wholegrain cereals, seasonal fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds, colourful spices and aromatic herbs, extra virgin olive oil, fish caught using sustainable fishing practices, eggs, meat and dairy products from organic farms.
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Organic oranges contain 30% more vitamin C compared to non-organic oranges (source: Italian Institute for Research on Food and Nutrition, INRAN); and organic grapes have a higher concentration of resveratrol, an anti-cancer agent produced by vines as a self-defence mechanism (source: British Journal of Cancer). Not only does organic farming consume less energy and emit less greenhouse gases, it also functions as a reserve of carbon: every hectare of farmed soil absorbs one and half tonnes of CO2, almost half a tonne more per year than soil cultivated non-organically (source: Italian Association for Organic Agriculture, AIAB). Organic food costs more than non-organic food because it requires more care, but if we were to include the value of the environmental damage caused by non-organic agriculture, the price of non-organic foods would be higher than that of organic ones.
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This cheap and versatile vegetable fat is produced by cutting down rainforests in Indonesia and other countries around the world, and is provoking the extinction of orangutans and Sumatran tigers and the replacement of small scale farms with industrial ones. According to a study carried out by researchers in Stanford and Yale Universities, the expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Borneo could cause the emission of over 558 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020. The RSPO, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, is the certification body for palm oil that is produced reducing its negative impacts on the environment and local communities. Palm oil is often present in margarine, spreads and baked goods.
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If possible, it is always better to buy non-packaged food. Packaging and containers have a negative environmental impact and, according to recent studies, contain dangerous chemicals that easily transfer onto foods, representing a risk for your health. In cases in which packaging is essential, we should choose it made of recycled materials (such as bioplastics or paper certified as deriving from sustainably managed forests) and designed to save space and raw materials.
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Fair trade organisations assign farmers higher prices for their products than local distributors do. 75% of extra money is spent on socially useful projects, 25% goes directly to the farmers. Farming cooperatives that work with Fair Trade organisations are run democratically and child labour is prohibited: children freed from labour go to school. In some areas of the world, herbicides are released by planes onto land even whilst farmers are working, and every kind of initiative to improve the labour or sanitary conditions of workers is opposed: this does not occur where farmers work with Fair Trade organisations.
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It takes ten kilos of cereals and forage to process one kg of meat, and a stretch of land ten times bigger than that necessary to produce the caloric equivalent of a vegetarian diet. The production of 1 kg of meat emits 30.4 kg of CO2 equivalent in the environment, while the production of the same quantity of beans emits 26 times less CO2. 15,500 litres of water are consumed to produce 1 kg of meat, versus an average of 100 litres to grow 1 kg of vegetables. According to the Italian Association for Research on Cancer, the average Italian daily diet contains a surplus of animal fats and proteins, which can cause health problems. The excessive consumption of meat, especially red meat, is connected to the risk of heart diseases and heart attacks, cancers, constipation, arthritis, rheumatism and kidney stones.
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It is anachronistic, expensive and unsatisfying to expect to eat all foods all year round. Out-of-season vegetables are grown in artificially heated greenhouses, where, in order to reproduce ideal growing conditions, much energy and many chemicals are required - a highly unsustainable practice. Seasonal products are flavourful, rich in nutrients and active ingredients, as well as being more sustainable. Therefore, we need to buy non-processed foods or foods processed as little as possible, with the least amount of additives. The more foods are processed, artificially flavoured, coloured and irradiated, the more they lose nutrients and contain health-threatening substances. A label with a short list of ingredients indicatively points to the simplicity of a product.
Fruits and vegetables in season by month: March
Fruits and vegetables in season by month: February
Fruits and vegetables in season by month: January