Will you be asking for a straw?
We all know about the fires in Indonesia. Over the past few days, we have also learnt about the incredible size of Amazonia’s fires in Brazil, and now we hear that the sub-Saharan region is also on fire, and apparently this has been going on year after year.
Medias are pointing at governments that are letting enterprises “organize” these fires, mainly to create space to grow palm oil, corn or soya to feed us and livestock; Or to create space to grow beef, chicken and other livestock quickly enough to meet our demand.
I have done a bit of research to understand where we import our meat from in Singapore. Here is what I have found. The average Singaporean consumes 55 kg of meat a year, as well as 22 kg of seafood and 323 eggs (AVA).(2) And most of our meat comes from… Have a guess...
Oh dear, most of our meat comes from Brazil. We import 280 tonnes of chicken and pork (the most consumed meats in Singapore) daily, from Brazil… One should note that it is not because it comes from the US or Australia that it is more sustainable… Let me put it this way: if it is cheap, it cannot be sustainable. Indeed, if it is cheap, it was fed with GMO corn/soy (which needs a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow), it was probably given antibiotics all its (short) life and some other products to grow faster. In the case of beef, give them grains and they will develop fat faster (yes, the marbling we love so much), but this diet will also very likely make them sick and they will need medication for the extreme acidity this diet provokes in their digestive systems. Cows do not eat grains, cows eat grass.
I just touched on medication given to livestock: here is what the World Health Organisation published last year: antibiotic resistance is one of the major threats to human health today. For example, colistin, the antibiotic ‘of last resort’, is used on an industrial scale to boost the weight of healthy chickens, and could render life-threatening infections untreatable. Pork tends to contain higher levels of antimicrobials than poultry or aquaculture. Professor Harrison, a senior lecturer in public health at the University of Manchester, who chairs at “Action on Antibiotic Drug Resistance”, asserts: “We need to be concerned as tens of thousands of people die because of this, and plenty more will continue to do so until we get new antibiotics in the pipeline, improve sanitation and general infection control.” (3)
One would think that with this sort of news, we would start to be a bit more reasonable with our way of consuming. Not at all: meat demand is on the rise in Asia, like never before. It is expected that if nothing changes (and why would it if no one takes ownership?) and Asia continues to eat meat and seafood at current rates, by 2050 the equivalent of an additional 95 million cars will be on the road and a land area the size of India will be used. These figures are so big that I cannot even understand them. We will need a farm the size of India by 2050? (4)
This is NOT sustainable, this cannot carry on.
What can we do? What can I do? What shall I feed my children with that will be as sustainable as possible?
I hear people say that we are not strong enough to make a difference. It makes me think of the campaign "It's just one straw, said eight billion people".
Since the “It’s Just one straw” campaign started, individuals became aware of the situation and started consuming less straws and asked their bars/shops/favourite brands/restaurants to stop distributing them. We now have a global movement of companies, cities, and even states, banning single use plastic. This is great and this just shows our power, the power of consumers, when we get together and show it is enough, using our best and strongest argument: our wallet.
An interesting aspect of straws history is that they have been around for quite a short time: plastic straws have only been on the market since the mid-1960s, when the manufacturing infrastructure to mass produce them was put into place.(6) It took 40 years for them to be absolutely everywhere, and then about 10 years for us to start to get rid of them. It seems here that the main issue when asking people to stop using plastic straws is their resistance to break their habit, as people got used to using them.
I would like to take a minute and reflect on this last point as it is actually the exact reason why fires are burning in Brasil, Indonesia and the sub-saharan region. These fires occur because humans quickly got used to the “on demand” model of consuming.
Do you realize that up until our parents’ generation, everybody, I mean every single human being who ever lived, consumed what was available at the local market. This means that one would eat what was in season and adapted to what your body needed when you shopped (more root vegetables in cold weather; more lettuce, green leafies and fruits in the warm days). Meat was available, but not in great quantities. A family would eat meat once to three times a week. Parents knew that proteins could be found in many vegetables. And of course, no processed food was available: everything was cooked fresh.
With the rize of globalization, fruits & vegetables, as well as livestock, started traveling across the globe to reach us. Fast forward 60 years later and we are not even surprised to find French beans that were grown in South Africa at our local supermarket. This “on demand” way of consuming results in about 40% food waste. Between the moment food is harvested and the moment it reaches your fridge, about 40% has been trashed. Why? Farmers usually grow more than what they will be able to sell. Wholesalers will take extra stock. The importer will not sell everything. And your retailer needs fruits and vegetables to look fresh and will put in the bin whatever does not look fresh enough to be sold to you.
As for processed food, it contains so much of a mix, or all, of the following: sugar, additive, colorant, preservatives, pesticides (if not organic), and in some cases heavy metals, that more and more studies link its quality to different health conditions.
So here it is, what will it take to break this habit that was taken 60 years ago of eating what I want, when I want; instead of what is available at a given time (and grown sustainably, may it be greens or livestock)? One straw at a time. Will you use your wallet to make a stand for our planet? Or will you be asking for a plastic straw?
Claire Chabrieres is a French mum who created ShiokFarm in 2015 when she realised that the organic pear she was feeding her toddler cost $6. ShiokFarm gathers families who commit to buying a farmer's entire harvest. This allows good prices as the farmer does not have a risk of unsold inventory anymore. Giving farmers this much needed visibility also allows the ShiokFarm community to reduce food waste by about 40%. This is huge, and this is about to get better when you join the program. :) You can choose between different bags that contain organic fruits and vegetables that were mainly grown at ShiokFarm partner farms in Malaysia and Thailand. Buying local and seasonal is a sustainable way to consume. It benefits nature, minimises the energy needed both in transportation and storage to bring you food, and quite importantly, you actively support and protect the local economy.
(1) Main image is a screenshot of the homepage of the following fascinating web site: https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/ NASA provides insights into fires and thermal anomalies occurring daily around the world. Satellite derived fire data and imagery available in Worldview are from the MODIS instrument on board the Terra and Aqua satellites and the VIIRS instrument on board the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi-NPP satellite. Terra passes over the equator at approximately 10:30am (Day) and 10:30pm (Night) local time and Aqua and Suomi-NPP passes over the equator at approximately 1:30pm (Day) and 1:30am (Night) local time. The fire information are available within Worldview approximately 3 hours after satellite overpass.
(2) Where does Singapore source its food from? https://www.asiaone.com/health/where-does-singapore-source-its-food
(3) Farmers using powerful antibiotic 'of last resort' on healthy chickens to boost weight, report finds
(4) Asia’s appetite for meat spells ‘environmental destruction’
(5) For cattle farmers in the Brazilian Amazon, money can’t buy happiness http://theconversation.com/for-cattle-farmers-in-the-brazilian-amazon-money-cant-buy-happiness-85349
(6) A brief history of how plastic straws took over the world - https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/news-plastic-drinking-straw-history-ban/