The way food is produced, processed and distributed is a major contributor to climate change. Food production can have positive and negative impacts on the environment depending on how it is produced and distributed. For example, strong local food production with easy access for people to purchase can greatly reduce the amount food needs to travel to get to our plate. Small scale and organic agriculture has fewer environmental impacts.
On the negative side, major grocery chains rely on central distribution systems which see locally produced foods shipped to a central location to be processed and packaged and then shipped back to our local stores. A lack of local infrastructure (abattoirs) means food has to travel farther to be processed. We also import the majority of our foods consumed and export a great deal of what we produce locally. The Nova Scotia report, Making Food Matter states that in 2008 only 13% of our food dollars spent made it back to local farms.
In addition, the loss of small local grocery stores through consolidated control in the grocery industry has also concentrated the locations of stores, leading to reliance on car travel to access food.
Climate change can lead to increased food prices due to weather extremes damaging crops: droughts, floods, unusual cold, hot or dry. When we have food shortages the price of food goes up and it is felt on a local level. People living in poverty and food insecurity are most vulnerable to these negative impacts.
There are many things we can do individually to make a difference. Simple actions we can take include learning to grow your own food, buying more local food, organizing with your neighbors to grow food together, and preserve food when it is in season. You can ask your grocery store for more local food and for information on how the food is processed. On a larger scale it is important to raise the issue of food with your neighbours and with local politicians to create action to address food insecurity.
by Karen MacKinnon