The key to sustainable diet and agriculture

Mara Galeano Carraro of the Soil Association discusses the importance of biodiversity in ensuring a healthy diet and agricultural sustainability.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of this food or thing is ‘good for you’ and this one is ‘bad for you’. Whilst our logical category-sorting brains might like to neatly place foods, items, and often people into neat little categories, nature has more of a smorgasbord approach to things.

Biodiversity in relation to a healthy diet

The most recent research on diet and health points to the importance of a varied and balanced diet, where we eat all kinds of foods in moderation, both in terms of the diversity of foods on our plates and the amount that we eat at any given time.1 This gives us some indication that our bodies, the ecosystems that they are in their own right, prefer diversity over sameness day in and day out.

So much money has been spent in past decades trying to convince the purchasing consumer that one particular kind of food is better or far worse for you than another. Whole food groups have been villainised just as quickly as they were held in the highest dietary esteem. We were told that protein is what you need most, and then fat and carbs would kill you.2 In reality, the human body requires all the major food groups: fats, proteins, and carbs in order to survive, as well as many micronutrients, minerals, and vitamins. None are empirically worse than the other; we now know that true health in relation to diet comes down to your digestion and what happens to these foods once you start to ingest them.3

A huge portion of the picture that has only recently started coming into view relates to how we support our intestinal ecosystems as we choose what we eat. In this field, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our inherited microbiomes are ancient and that they live in the most harmony with a balanced and varied diet containing lots of plants and minimally processed produce – as would have been our diet for many centuries.

Biodiversity in relation to agricultural sustainability and seasonality

As for how that varied diet is produced, we have become as blasé about cultivating crops with the use of industrially produced pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers as we have become blasé about nuking our insides with antibiotics at any sign of disease. If we compare our intestinal flora with a more macroscopic ecosystem in a nearby location, say your nearest wood or nature reserve, every time you embark on a course of antibiotics, you could imagine a small bomb being dropped amongst the trees.4

Cultivating crops with industrially produced chemicals is not altogether that different. To maintain a healthy-balanced ecosystem, whether that be on the inside or outside of your body, you need to allow many different life forms to thrive – you require a certain amount of biodiversity. Killing whole groups of organisms weakens the entire system, interrupts the flow of energy and nutrients, and makes it more vulnerable to disease.5

© shutterstock/Piyaset

Within the agroecological systems of farming, we support biodiversity, which is key. No biological system can remain resilient when it isn’t diverse. That is why we support agroecology, agroforestry, permaculture, and smaller-scale farming where a mixture of organisms co-habit, where some are farmed, and others are not. A diversity of crops not only allows for a probability insurance against failure of any one crop, but it also allows for resistance against disease and adds natural fertility back to the soil.6,7

Finally, this sort of agriculture and consuming produce coming within a reasonably local range means that what you will be eating will be mainly seasonal or preserved from previous months of the year. Either way, you will not be eating the same ingredients all year round each week. This marks a certain respect for the seasonality of the diversity that you are cultivating.

Finally, not only do we advocate for biodiversity within the systems of agriculture that make for sustainable production, but we also champion diverse and alternative routes to market. It’s well documented that farmers and producers rarely receive fair prices when they sell to large retailers such as supermarkets.8 Therefore, by building diverse supply chains and buying directly from producers, local food systems can be resilient to global market price fluctuations and weather events in other regions of the world.9

Diversity in terms of people, their choices, community and mental health

Who is involved in producing, processing, preparing, and choosing food is also not to be taken for granted. We live in a very multicultural world. Food is essential to all human beings, and we believe that we should all have the right to choose to eat sustainably, healthily, and culturally appropriately. Which seeds are sown is determined by whether they will grow and whether their fruits will be eaten. Therefore, we should take note of the many different voices in our spaces and find out what they would like to eat.

Giving people access to grow their own food has been shown to have remarkable benefits in terms of community cohesion and personal mental health.10,11 Not everyone can grow their own or spare the time and energy to join community projects; however, if spaces are inclusive and accessible, then more people can partake and reap the benefits. Suppose diversity in our natural world within and outside our bodies is clearly so important to overall health and wellbeing. Why would we not prioritise existing in more diverse spaces and conversations?

References

  1. Why eating more plants is vital to our physical and mental health. | Sustainable Food Places
  2. Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom : The Salt : NPR
  3. The Diet Myth – Tim Spector (tim-spector.co.uk)
  4. Frontiers | Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota (frontiersin.org)
  5. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability | Learn Science at Scitable (nature.com)
  6. Diversification for enhanced food systems resilience | Nature Food
  7. There are more than 1,000 varieties of banana, and we eat one of them. Here’s why that’s absurd | Food | The Guardian
  8. Save British family farms (getfairaboutfarming.com)
  9. Sustainable Food Economy | Sustainable Food Places
  10. The benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing | Sustain (sustainweb.org)
  11. Why diversity in nature could be the key to mental wellbeing (theconversation.com)

Source link

Total
0
Shares
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts