Everyone needs to eat, yet even in our democracy there are people with low access to food and the food they can get is low quality. This shouldn’t be the case, so let’s do something about it! Colin Dring created the Just Food website to help educators explain and explore our food systems in Canada. The National Observor intervied Dring to find out why he created the site.
The Just Food website says the resource “brings diverse standpoints relevant to food discourses to the table.” Can you give me an example of one of those perspectives?
Much of contemporary food system perspectives come from people in positions of privilege. Take, for example, a food bank. When we think of the food bank, we’re not necessarily thinking that people who use the food bank should have a say in the decisions or the kinds of services offered or the kinds of food provided. The dominant discourse is that people experiencing poverty should just be grateful and thankful. I think this reproduces a system that treats people like objects. So, when we talk about including diverse perspectives, we’re really talking about elevating and drawing attention to the impacts of privilege in maintaining the world as it is.
A new company based in California is hoping to drastically reshape our food supply in the coming years. Plenty uses vertical farming to lower its land use per crop and robots to help grow and harvest the crops. The results so far have been impressive for the young company and they see a lot of growth on the horizon. One of the benefits of vertical farming is that food is grown closer to where it’s consumed so the carbon footprint of transporting it is basically null.
The company has signed a deal to supply 430 stores with fresh produce in the States while also getting hundreds of millions of investment from various sources. The future of this vertical farming company is one to watch!
Plenty’s climate-controlled indoor farm has rows of plants growing vertically, hung from the ceiling. There are sun-mimicking LED lights shining on them, robots that move them around, and artificial intelligence (AI) managing all the variables of water, temperature, and light, and continually learning and optimizing how to grow bigger, faster, better crops. These futuristic features ensure every plant grows perfectly year-round. The conditions are so good that the farm produces 400 times more food per acre than an outdoor flat farm.
Gas stoves have reputation for being good to cook with, but they are really quite bad for everything else that happens in the kitchen – like inhaling air. Indoor fas stoves can actually make your kitchen air quality worse than a highway’s. Thankfully, electric stove technology has improved to the point that the cooking benefits of gas are negligible compared to a quality stove.
So if you’re in need of a new stove, go electric.
On the air-quality front, at least, the evidence against gas stoves is damning. Although cooking food on any stove produces particulate pollutants, burning gas produces nitrogen dioxide, or NO2,, and sometimes also carbon monoxide, according to Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who studies indoor air quality. Brief exposures to air with high concentrations of NO2 can lead to coughing and wheezing for people with asthma or other respiratory issues, and prolonged exposure to the gas can contribute to the development of those conditions, according to the EPA. Homes with gas stoves can contain approximately 50 to 400 percent higher concentrations of NO2 than homes with electric stoves, often resulting in levels of indoor air pollution that would be illegal outdoors, according to a recent report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainability think tank. “NO2 is invisible and odorless, which is one of the reasons it’s gone so unnoticed,” Brady Seals, a lead author on the report, says.
Since at least 2008 we’ve been championing that people with land should plant a food garden. The best time to start your garden is today, the second best time is tomorrow. Being stuck at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 has inspired people to start growing their own gardens – great! Interest in gardening has grown this year and this means (very) local produce for more people. Gardening is fun and a great way to better understand food you eat, give it a shot!
For a city boy like me, born and raised in Brooklyn, where I had spent most of my adult life, this was all very new. Once you get your hands in soil—really get dirty with it, feel it under your fingernails—there’s a change in perspective, and you’re someone different. You’ve opened the tiniest of windows onto the ecological reality of the forces that sustain human existence, the biogeophysical relationships of water, sunlight, air, earth. Quite suddenly, what seemed mysterious quotients—say, the balance of phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, and potassium—become commonalities of understanding and, eventually, of wisdom. The plants that depend on all those factors in harmony rise up, or they don’t.
It’s hard to express the pride and lovingness and delight in seeing a plant germinate, and grow tall and hardy, and then flower and put fruit out. When the crop came fresh and healthy last summer—there wasn’t a hint of blight, and no insects attacked it—I felt a bit like Viva and I had brought green babies into adulthood. We will never not do it again.
Smart people have been following the advice from health officials to limit trips outside the home to slow the spread of COVID-19, which means bigger grocery trips. This sounds innocuous until you realize that since this is a time a lot of people are regularly cooking at home they don’t know how to manage their filled fridges. Produce goes bad faster than expected and people might by stuff with good intentions only to forget about it.
How do we deal with this increase of potential food waste? Make a list.
Keeping your fridge stocked without much of its contents ending up in your compost bin (note: this is also a great time to get a compost bin if you don’t already have one) isn’t hard, but it does take a modicum of effort. To that end, I made up a very basic, fly-by-night system to organize yourself, your groceries, and your cooking. You can basically modify it however works for you! The idea is just to keep track of what you buy and when it will go bad using lists, and keeping that information in plain sight on your refrigerator.
The system is extremely low-tech, and it’s based on a series of lists: picking out a few exciting things you want to try cooking before you go to the grocery store, putting ingredients for those meals on your grocery list, writing down when all the food items you’ve purchased will start to go bad, and then making a cooking schedule to accommodate all those (approximate — we’re all guessing) expiration dates. I suggest putting these lists in plain sight, like on your fridge, to keep your meal plan front-of-mind.