Changing the way we see our food
On the heels of devastating bushfires, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, eating well in a sustainable way is more important now than ever. Eating locally and growing your own fruit and vegies can save money, provide families and local producers with vital income – and it can also improve our health and strengthen our immunity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic provides many good reasons to eat in healthier and more sustainable ways,” says Flinders University researcher and dietitian-nutritionist Associate Professor Kaye Mehta. “Gardening or being part of a community gardening or local food swap group lifts social connection, reduces anxiety and stress and improves mental health by nurturing plants out in the fresh air.”
In a new study, Flinders University researchers warn the Australian diet is not sustainable, with high rates of eating meat, excessive packaging and food waste and unhealthy consumption levels. But how much time do people actually spend weighing up food decisions for their nutritional content, environmental sustainability and fairness?
“At the supermarket and when you eat out, do you investigate where the food comes from? Associate Professor Mehta asks. “In an ideal world, food supply would not only be healthy but also be environmentally and socially sustainable.
“Our dietary choices are made within a complex, powerful and unsustainable food system which contributes to rising problems of food insecurity, malnutrition, chronic disease, climate change, loss of biodiversity and unfair food trade practices.”
For the study, researchers ran a two-week course that examined aspects of the food system, including links between food production and greenhouse gas emissions; the environmental effects of “food miles”; power, profits and fair prices for farmers; and the association between the industrial food system and public health nutrition problems.
Participants of the course found their understanding of the food system and their attitudes towards food changed to consider social and environmental sustainability, as well as health.
“Food choices that help the environment will also be healthier because people will eat more locally produced vegetables and fruits, less meat and less processed foods,” says Associate Professor Mehta. She says the study shows how much more can be done to improve our food supply and personal food decisions, so that every bite we take considers the food’s origins and cumulative impact on the planet.
“Food system literacy is an opportunity for people to make better food choices that are good for their health as well as the environment and farmers.”
The Flinders University food system course is now being delivered by Adelaide-based social nutrition enterprise, The Food Embassy, which is running a program called Food Matters.