Growing your own food can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. At one end of the scale you could just put aside one small area in your garden in order to grow a few vegetables yourself. At the other end of the scale you could start your own small holding, become almost self sufficient and produce not only your own vegetables and fruit, but also your own meat and eggs.
Having read a *lot* about food recently from a whole range of differing points of view (the environment, health, cookery etc.) I am becoming ever more convinced of the importance of growing our own food – either as a family or on a slightly larger scale as a community project.
However if you need convincing (or would like some ammunition to use on others!) then I have put down what I think are the six biggest reasons for starting to produce your own food as soon as possible.
Palm Oil Problems
One of the problems that crops up time and again is that not only do we really know what goes into our food, but often even if we do there are aspects which are very difficult to avoid.
Palm oil is a perfect example of this. It is included in massive numbers of products on the shelves of our supermarkets right now from ready-meals to toothpaste. The fact is that if you buy your weekly grocery shopping from a supermarket chain you are almost certainly buying products which contain palm oil, and so as a result supporting the growth of this industry.
So what’s so bad about palm oil anyway? Palm oil grows best in warm, tropical areas of the world; the exact same areas where rainforests grow. So it is natural that farmers are cutting down areas of the rainforest and replacing them with palm oil plantations.
The problem doesn’t stop at the destruction of the rainforests though. You also need to appreciate that most of these plantations are monocultures which offer very few habitats for the wildlife they displace. And lastly many of these cleared areas are actually on tropical peat bogs which means not only are the peat bogs themselves being lost but many scientists also believe this will have a significant impact on global warming.
Whilst some of the the huge multinational manufacturers that use palm oil are *trying* to convert over to “sustainable” palm oil, the fact is that it is very difficult indeed to tell one from the other (if at all). So every time you buy something “processed” from a supermarket you are potentially contributing to the loss of the world’s rainforests as well as helping to warm the planet.
So in other words the only way to easily reduce the impact we’re having is to boycott these companies and try to source food that we are 100% certain is free from palm oil. And growing your own food is the easiest way to do this.
For loads more information on palm oil, I recommend visiting the Greenpeace site who offer plenty of details on the trade – http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tags/palm-oil.
Chemists Or Cooks
Look through the ingredients of a typical “processed food” such as a premade pizza or a prepacked sandwich and you can find some pretty shocking things. For example, consider all the different additives and preservatives that are added to these foods. Many of these can have nasty side-effects.
Much of the processed meat we find in these products has been doctored by adding water to it (so it goes further) and may have salt, sugar and other additives added to it to make it taste “nicer”.
According to Not On The Label which I read recently, often protein and gums must be added to a meat to keep the water inside the meat and not leaching out during cooking. The book reported that the cheapest form of protein like this is beef protein and that some chicken breast sampled in major supermarkets actually contained traces of beef or pork which is used to bulk up the meat. Personally if I buy chicken, I expect chicken, not a bit fo chicken with a load of water and some beef added to it.
Global food production these days is as much about chemists as cooks. Finding ways to make food look, taste and smell better using a huge variety of different chemical compounds.
This is often the result of trying to keep down the costs of production to maximize profits for the manufacturers. Rather than adding in premium steak to a steak pie for example, they may use lower-grade steak and then add in a variety of chemicals to make it *seem* higher quality than it is. This is perfectly legal, but I personally don’t like the sound of it.
Basically what I am saying here is that food processing and manufacturing is huge business and these foods are designed by chemists as much as cooks. Personally, I don’t like the sound of this and if you, like me, want to avoid these “tricks” then once again you’re best off avoiding processed foods as much as possible, growing as much of your own food as you can and buying what you can’t from reputable organic farmers and small-scale producers who are likely to rely far less on this battery of chemicals.
But the story, unfortunately, doesn’t end there. The production of food is a business and so most farmers understandably want to create the highest yields possible.
To these ends crops are spraying with fertilizers regularly which can leach into the water source causing problems. Crops are also often spreayed with pesticides and fungicides to keep the crop looking as healthy as possible. Some crops require this so often that some fruit, for example, can receive over a dozen doses of these potent chemicals before reaching the shop.
Even livestock is fed on a potent cocktail of antibiotics to try and keep it fit and healthy and growing as quickly as possible. Bacteria are growing resistant to these treatments over time and leading to potential risks when treating human diseases.
Fewer Food Miles
Food miles is now a commonly used phrase which looks at how far food has travelled to get to you. A tomato may be grown in Spain, flown into the country, taken by truck to a distribution centre hundreds of miles away, then trucked to the supermarket for you to then drive home with it. That’s a crazy distance for a tomato to travel when you could just grow your own at home.
Of course all this travelling has an impact on the use of fossil fuels and on climate change so the less distance your food has to travel to arrive in your kitchen, the better off for the planet.
We all know just how overpackaged everything is these days. Supermarkets claim that the packaging is what customers want. They make customers lives easier and prevent the produce from getting damaged.
But most of this packaging is then disposed of shortly afterwards in landfill. Clearly the less we throw away the better it is for the planet both in terms of the landfill itself, and in terms of the processing and creation of the packaging in the first place.
And don’t forget that you’re paying for all that packaging. It has been suggested that the actual can that a Coca Cola comes in is the most expensive part of the product and the actual drink inside costs less than the can.
What about recycling? Certainly recycling your food packaging is better that sending it to landfill, but appreciate that:
a) Not all packaging is recyclable
b) Even if it is recyclable, your area may not have the facilities to process it
c) It still uses energy to recycle packaging
So any way we can do away with packaging altogether, or reuse existing packaging, is going to make a very real difference to the environment (and your pocket). Growing your own fruit and vegetables will help you to drastically reduce the amount of packaging you throw away each week and help you do your bit for the planet.
Savour The Flavour
These days many of the fruits and vegetables we buy in supermarkets have been chosen for their shelf life as much as their flavour. Clearly if a tomato is going to be flown from Spain then it’s pointless if that tomato goes off while still on the plane. And so the importance of flavour to supermarket buyers has dropped while the importance of shelf life has increased.
Ask anyone who remembers life before the supermarkets and they’ll tell you about when fruit and veg really *tasted* of something. So why not start to grow your own food. Take the time to discover the amazing variety of flavours just waiting for you to discover.
Many key elements of our diet – such as vitamins and minerals – can be lost either when a product is displayed on a shelf for a long period of time or through factory processing.
A number of studies suggest that, for example, salad crops can quickly lose much of their benefit to the body if kept for weeks on end in a supermarket supply chain. Irrespective of how good it *looks* it may simply not be as nutritious as food grown organically in your own garden, dug up and eaten within days (or even hours).
Also, let’s not forget the temptation to use low quality ingredients in processed foods and then doctor them with chemicals to make them seem higher quality than they are. Why would a manufacturer use they best meat and vegetables in a meat pie if they can use cheaper, lower-quality ones and simply add some chemicals to mask the fact?
Home grown food simply has the potential to offer you far more nutrition and so, I hope, keep you healthier for longer.
Look After The Pennies…
Lastly of course growing your own food has the potential to really save you some money. To me, all the other reasons above are enough to encourage me into growing my own food but this is the real clincher. Just think how much money you could save on your weekly grocery bills if you grew your own fruit and vegetables. Answer? A lot.
So I hope you can see by now all the benefits of growing your own food – both to you as a consumer and to the wider environment. And lastly, for many of us, it’s also incrediably good fun to do. So go on; grab your wellies and get going!