Photo: Person Holding a Box of Fresh Vegetables

by Tandis Bishop, RD

For thousands of years, farmers used human and animal power to grow food that was mostly consumed locally. By the 20th century, mechanized "industrial" farming greatly improved crop yields while cheap fossil fuels made it possible to ship produce to consumers far from where it was grown. However, the improved food productivity and availability came at a heavy price. The more we learn about our current food production system, the greater the concern for what it means to our health, the environment and our future generations.  

What are the concerns?

  • The industrial agriculture system is depleting topsoil through land erosion and it is consuming water and fossil fuels at unsustainable rates.  At the same time it is contributing to air and water pollution, reduced biodiversity, and fish die-offs.1
  • Industrialized food, which is most of the food found in typical supermarkets, depends greatly on foreign oil that is transported and processed using large amounts of non-renewable resources.
  • Food grown on industrialized farms is being heavily treated with synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which are harmful to our health and the environment.
  • Most wheat, corn, and soybeans are genetically modified, cloned, and patented -- including 80% of Hawaiian papaya (Rainbow and Sunup varieties).  Gene-altered sweet corn, zucchini and some summer sqush varieties do ocassionally show up in stores.  A new genetically engineered "Arctic" apple that doesn't brown when sliced has received USDA approval.  Although it will be some time before you start seeing it on store shelves, the continued degradation of our food supply is concerning.  To avoid these foods look on the packaging for the USDA certified Organic seal or the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.

What is sustainable food?

  • Sustainable foods are real natural foods that our bodies were designed to eat.
  • Sustainable food tastes better because it is local; it is not shipped far away, as is most conventional food. This means it is picked closer to its peak ripeness, allowing its flavor to fully develop.
  • Sustainable food is healthy for us. It is grown without reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers that poison our bodies.  And the food is grown without being genetically modified or irradiated.
  • Sustainable food is better for the environment and produces less waste. Compared to industrial farms, smaller farms do not depend as much on water and fossil fuels for success. 
  • Sustainable farming supports local farmers and the local economy instead of large corporations.

How to eat sustainably?

  • Eat local. Surprisingly, much of our staple food can be found locally grown or produced. Local food is often fresher and can even be more nutritious. At Down to Earth, you will find a large selection of "Locally Grown" produce with labels clearly stating where the food was grown.  You'll also find a nice selection of local, made-in-Hawaii products.
  • Shopping sustainably at Down to Earth will become easier with the new HowGood labeling system that we will launch this April. HowGood lets you easily identify the best products based on sustainability, social impact, and environmental friendliness. New HowGood labels include graphics that convey other product attributes underneath the rating: Organic, Local, Gluten Free, Non-GMO, etc. Be sure to read this month’s In the News article for more details.
  • Eat Organic. It may not be realistic for all our food to be purchased organic, so check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” to determine which vegetables and fruits have the most pesticide residue and should be bought organic, and which are okay to buy conventional.
  • Eat less meat. Replace meat with a plant-based diet to help protect the planet, improve health, and reduce costs. Plant-based proteins from beans, nuts, and tofu are far less expensive than meat and provide all the protien you need.  In its 2006 report, the United Nations said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Most of it comes from methane gas generated by manure. This is one of the reasons why the UN and many leading environmental organizations—including the National Audubon Society, the WorldWatch Institute, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists—have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. 

Shop sustainably, eat local, and from all of us at Down to Earth, "Love Life! Eat Healthy, Be Happy!"

Footnotes: 

1Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker. How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture. Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 110, Number 5, May 2002.