Eat fair. Eat green. Eat well. Why did I choose these words to describe my vision of FoodCircles? Over the past seven years, eating has become more than just putting fuel into my body, today I can say it is the core of my yoga practice. The food we eat reflects our values and our lifestyle in more ways than we think. Not only in our body but in our relationships and behaviour towards others.
How can eating not be fair? And what is fair anyway? Fair has to do with social justice. Is my food causing poverty or the loss of a family’s access to drinking water as conventional coffee brands, packaged salads or bottled water often do? Are my ingredient choices contributing to child labour or even slavery as cheap chocolate or out-of-season exotic fruit often do? Fair also has to do with love and compassion. Not only towards others but towards ourselves. How can food that has caused violence and poverty be good for us? How can it possibly nourish our children?
Start slowly. It’s not a 180° lifestyle change in a day. Don’t strive for perfection or get fanatic about it. Simply take a look at the three ingredients or foods you use most frequently. Pasta? Tomatoes? Cheese? Bread? Chocolate? Müsli? Observe your shopping basket and note your top 3 (in quantity!). Now become curious, open, critical, and yes, become passionate. Become passionate about the food that makes up who you are and that you give your children.
1. Buy local food. Spelt for example is originally at home in Central and Southern Europe. Rye in the North. These foods will have the minerals and other nutrients your body needs and nourish you better than fashionable foods from elsewhere. Why drink French mineral water in Germany when perfectly good water is available locally? Just last week I saw Norwegian water in a supermarket in Singapore. Why? Why fly water from Fiji to the USA? Why eat Spanish or Italian zucchini and tomatoes in Austria when village gardens or urban farming centers are bursting with ripe fruit?
2. Grow your own food. Whether it be fresh mint and basil on your balcony, sprouts in your kitchen, tomatoes in your garden or papayas behind the house, seeing edible plants grow out of real soil has something magical about it. Get your fingers dirty and connect with the sun and moon cycles again. Buy organic seeds (no genetically modified hybrids!) or get some from your mother, neighbor or local farmer.
3. Buy from locals. When I buy tomatoes in Europe at Carrefour, Tesco or Lidl, I am paying the supermarket, the wholesaler, their central distribution system, the lorries and the mass vegetable plantations in Spain, Italy or Holland. When I buy them at my local farmer’s market, I pay the farmer and… that was it. For the fruit or vegetable you eat the most throughout the year, it is worth going out of your way to build a relationship and maybe make a new friend. Order home-delivery boxes of organic fruit & veg, and share with neighbors and friends.
4. Buy fair trade products. More and more supermarkets offer fair trade products, check them out, try them, change your habits. Gepa, Germany’s widely spread fair trade brand has the creamiest, darkest orange chocolate ever. You will easily find alternative brands for coffee, tea, rice, exotic dried fruits, nuts, seeds. Fair Trade is the industry’s reaction to a growing demand for better relationships between retail and producers, support these initiatives and show them it is the right way. Are they perfect? No (Starbucks), but they are a step in the right direction.
5. Become a gourmet. Coffee, cacao, tea, sugar and spices are luxury products. And like all luxury products, the world is full of cheap copies. Chocolate bars are full of sugar, sugar is chemically processed and spices are full of taste enhancers and colorings. But above all, cacao plantations in third-world countries employ women and children at minimal wages and with no protection against pesticide abuse. Question your consumption of these luxury products and become a connoisseur, a gourmet. Only treat yourself to the best foods, produced with love and honesty, without chemicals or violence.
6. Understand how much water is required to produce food. Did you know that packaged salad is often washed and packed in third-world countries? You pay 99p. Africa pays 50 liters of fresh water. Understand the notion of Virtual Water. Show these posters to your children or their schools. Download the app from virtual water.eu. Stop stealing water from those who don’t have enough.
7. Stop drinking soft drinks. It takes 3-5l of water to produce 1l of Coke. Question your need for soft drinks especially when you are in drought-endangered countries or areas. Read about Coca Cola in India on Wikipedia.
8. Please, please, please stop eating meat. I am not even going to start writing about cruelty towards animals or the health hazards of meat consumption. The amount of grain that is being grown for meat consumption and the amount of water that is required is shocking. Every day newspapers write about food safety, “will organic feed the world”, and world hunger. If we simply reduced our meat and dairy consumption, many problems would be solved. If you don’t feel ready for a vegetarian or vegan diet, simply introduce meat-free days like Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday. Please.
9. Ask you local pub or favorite restaurant where they get their ingredients from. At least the main ones. Is their bread from a local bakery or do they simply de-freeze cheap and chemicals-laden rolls made in China? Do they have locally grown fruit & veg when they are in season? Are they paying their staff well? Or is half the bill financing some big chain headquarter somewhere? Make conscious choices.
10. Understand who is behind big brands. I am not asking you to become a radical activist (am I?). Simply find out who is behind the brand of your favorite products. What is their goal? Does it say anywhere on their website that they care about the people supplying and working for them, about you or about your children? Or does it just say “make the largest possible profit for our shareholders”? Think about it.
And if this list seems overwhelming, just pick one. And maybe read it again next month.