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With more than half of the planet's population now living in cities without access to the natural cycles of nature, our world faces tremendous challenges of diminishing resources and a devastating loss of biodiversity. It's hard to imagine that anything we could do as individuals could change this – but it can! Here are a few ideas.
I am committed to ensuring a sustainable future for our food production ecosystems. I sit as a director on the Sustainability Council of New Zealand, which keeps me up to date and well informed on current issues with regard to sustainability and future-proofing our environment and across the food chain. For further information, visit Sustainability Council of New Zealand.
I would urge you to find out more about the significance of GM and support GM-free food production wherever you live. In her book of essays, Small Wonder, novelist and biologist Barbara Kingsolver has written a succinct piece on why this issue is so environmentally important. Entitled A Fist in the Eye of God, it offers compelling reading.
Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, is another excellent read on the subject; it weaves a great story through some of the key GM issues we face globally.
Around the world, farmers' markets are experiencing a resurgence as people seek to source the freshest local produce and the most delicious artisanal products, reconnect with their local community and understand the provenance of the foods they buy and eat.
Wherever I travel in the world, one of my first actions is always to sniff out the local produce markets and spend time discovering the local fruits and vegetables and talking with the passionate producers who grow and sell them.
In New Zealand we are blessed with some wonderful farmers’ markets where you can support local growers and shop for the freshest produce. Here’s a list of some excellent local markets around the country:
For more markets see Farmers Markets NZ
It was my grandfather Put who first took me fishing when I was a kid. He always seemed to know where the fish would be biting, and I can still recall the childhood triumphs of a safely landed catch. To this day it remains a simple thrill - bait a hook, drop a line and, with any luck, haul in dinner.
Hopefully, wise management of our planet's fishery resources will help reduce the risk of commercial overfishing and allow us a sustainable catch long into the future. When we shop we need to think about the fish we buy and choose species that are not endangered and that are being fished sustainably. In New Zealand, Forest & Bird's Best Fish Guide will help you make informed choices. Internationally, Greenpeace publishes a Red List of species it believes may be fished unsustainably.
For us recreational fisher folk, we need to land only what we can eat and be open to tasting something new, not just the well-loved favourites. It would be great to think that our grandchildren and their grandchildren in turn could visit fishing spots around the globe and marvel at the wilderness, taking the same pleasure that we do in dropping a line and hauling in a wriggling fish for the table.
Do you find yourself chucking out old food every week, scooping tired celery stalks out of the vege drawer, binning unused mince, chucking stale bread? You’re not alone - it's estimated that we each throw away about 70kg of food a year, or a third of all food bought, and much of it perfectly edible.
It’s bad for the planet and it has a deflating effect on the wallet as well. By introducing a few new practices, you can reduce your household food waste and put away a little extra money as well.
First, take stock of what you already have hidden away in the pantry and freezer before you go shopping. You may be surprised at the number of half-used packets of rice and biscuits you have cluttering up your shelves. Remember that ‘use by’ dates and ‘best before’ labels are very different beasts. ‘Use by’ labels tell you how long a food can be safely used when stored properly - it should not be consumed after that date or you could become ill. ‘Best before’ labels are all about food quality. You can still safely eat food after its ‘best before’ date, it just may not be as nice.
If you're trying to save time and money, plan the main protein portion of your meals for the week in advance, so you only buy what you'll actually use. When you snag a special deal on mince at the supermarket, divide it into smaller portions and pop it in the freezer - it'll last for three to four months. Then you can decide how to use it on the day, depending on the seasonal vegetables you've got at hand.
If you have a glut of fresh vegetables from your garden or favourite market, blanch them in boiling water before freezing to keep them good for two to three months. Don't let your summer herbs go to waste either - harvest them when they're plentiful to make my Herb Oils, then freeze them in iceblock trays. Once frozen, store them in plastic bags in the freezer to add a ray of summer sunshine to winter stews and soups. Chilli Jam and Harvest Tomato Sauce are other useful recipes for making the most of your autumn harvest.
Over-ripe bananas can also be tossed in the freezer for later use in cakes and muffins. The skins will go black but the insides will be fine. Or peel and slice them and freeze free-flow to drop straight into the blender when making smoothies.
Bottling and jam-making is back in vogue and easy to do. It’s a nice way to introduce summer flavours into your winter cooking, and jars of peaches, tomatoes, feijoas and chutneys are pretty on the kitchen shelf. Here's my favourite recipe for Strawberry Jam, plus an easy recipe for Feijoa Chutney.
It's estimated that about a third of household rubbish could be reduced, reused or recycled. That's a huge amount of unnecessary waste going into landfills, and a challenge to us all.
Here are some simple tips for minimising your rubbish output:
* In the western world we each use an average of 300 plastic bags a year. Every single person! Plastic bags can take up to 500 years to break down in a landfill, so make it your new year resolution to get yourself a big, durable reusable bag to use when you shop.
* When possible, buy products that don’t come in a lot of unnecessary packaging. Look for the symbols that mean packaging is recycled and biodegradable
* The health benefits of water are obviously great, but buying water in non-recyclable bottles isn’t great for the environment. So if you prefer bottled water, look for brands packaged in glass or recyclable plastic, and make sure the plastic is BPA (Bisphenol A) free. BPA is a compound used in the manufacturing of many plastics and some studies suggest it may leach into water or food. The concern is that BPA can mimic the body’s own hormones and continued exposure may have negative health effects.
* Give homemade presents, such as Preserved Figs or embroidered tea towels. They save money and resources and your friends and family will appreciate the love and care that goes into them
* Reduce your use of disposable items such as paper plates and plastic cups
* Instead of relying on paper towels, use washable cloths to clean the kitchen bench and wipe up spills
* Use baking paper or kitchen paper instead of plastic wrap when cooking and filling the lunchboxes
* Buy in bulk and transfer to jars in the pantry
* Print on both sides of paper
* Choose recyclable batteries
* Give unwanted clothes away to friends and family or charitable organisations. Plus, stop buying cheap clothes that don’t last - it's a false economy. Quality second-hand clothes are a good option
* Join the 8.5 million worldwide users of freecycle.org to give away reusable household items that you don't want any more - free to a good home!
* Think before you buy. Do you really need a new sofa? Try recovering your old one. Trawl antique and junk shops for abandoned treasures. Tart up old shelves with a couple of coats of paint. The vintage look is all the rage!
Ethical shopping is a broad term that basically means shopping with a conscience, considering the fate of the producers, the animals and the natural environment that brought you the products you use.
There are many things you can do to make sure your shopping expeditions have a positive effect on others. You might want to start by buying locally grown foods, supporting the farmers who stock your nearest farmers' market or the butcher down the road. This is all about reducing your ‘food miles’ (the distance a product travels from its origin to your stomach) and strengthening the bonds of your local community.
You could choose free-range eggs and chicken and pork that have been farmed in an ethical and sustainable way. The living conditions of chickens laying free-range eggs can vary tremendously, so research brands that interest you. The same goes for pork and chicken, although often your independent butcher will stock good free-range products. Your nearest SPCA should be able to offer advice on brands that walk the talk. Alternatively, you could keep a couple of hens in the garden or become friendly with a farmer.
Fair Trade products have been made in a manner which is sustainable, guarantees decent wages and working conditions, and is good for the local economy in the developing countries they come from. Look for Free Trade coffee, tea, nuts, chocolate and dried fruits at your supermarket, or buy products online or from aid organisations.
Just thinking about our energy consumption and its impact on the planet can be overwhelming, but the good news is that every little bit you do helps - it really does. Start in the kitchen, by switching off appliances at the wall when they're not in use (you'd be amazed at how much electricity pilot lights and LED clocks use) and making sure you fill the dishwasher completely before using it.
Replace your light bulbs with eco-bulbs, which use just 20 per cent of the energy that conventional bulbs do. When it comes time to replace your dishwasher and fridge, choose energy-efficient models. Switch off the lights when you leave the room, and use window coverings to keep in heat at night. Good old-fashioned draught stoppers in front of doors are great for minimising chills. If you are really committed to saving energy, think about installing a solar heating system for your water.
In the garden, make motor-powered jobs more planet-friendly by maintaining sharp blades on lawnmowers and hedge trimmers to reduce wasted energy. Instead of using a leaf blower to tidy paths and driveways, get out a broom and enjoy the incidental exercise. Hang your clothes out to dry on the line whenever possible rather than running the dryer, and use solar-powered garden lighting, which looks just as pretty as more expensive, energy-hungry systems. And rather than buying new building materials, whose manufacture burns through yet more energy, get innovative with salvaged items for making patios, walls and garden borders.
It's relatively easy to deal with water wastage in the kitchen. First job is to fix any leaky taps and install tap aerators, which reduce the amount of water used but not the pressure. Instead of washing your vegetables under a running tap, partially fill the basin with water and rinse them. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge rather than under running water in the sink.
Outside, consider using barrels to collect rainwater for watering the vegetable garden and lawn. Water your lawn and plants in the cool of the evening, and concentrate on the roots to minimise waste. Use mulch around the base of each plant and dig it into the soil to help prevent moisture loss in the summer heat.
One of the best things you can do for your sustainable garden is to fill it with native plants that suit the conditions. They not only look great, they are easier to care for.
We all have one, no-one wants a big one, but what really is a carbon footprint? In simple terms, your carbon footprint is the volume of greenhouse gas produced to sustain your lifestyle. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) result from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transport and manufacturing, and also from natural sources - methane results from some agricultural processes while nitrous oxide is released into the atmosphere when permafrost melts.
There are two components to your carbon footprint. The primary component is directly controlled by you: how often do you use your car, do you travel by air often, how do you heat your home? The secondary is the upstream effects of your choices - the energy burned to make your trainers, farm the beef for your hamburger or deliver your favourite coffee to the supermarket.
There are all sorts of ways you can address the size of your carbon footprint. It helps to know the impact of simple actions, like running your computer for 32 hours or driving your car 6km, both of which produce 1kg of carbon dioxide.
There are many websites that help you calculate your personal carbon footprint - the average is four tonnes per person per year. The countries with the highest CO2 emissions are China, the United States, Russia and Japan. Interestingly, if you look at which countries have the highest per-capita CO2 emissions, the tiny duchy of Luxembourg is number one, followed by the United States, Australia and Canada.
A contentious, complicated topic, this one, but hugely important. Climate change is the long-term change in our global climate system due to human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels. Unlike the term ‘global warming’, which refers to the Earth’s surface temperature, climate change takes into account temperature, precipitation, wind and other factors.
While there are natural processes such as volcanic eruptions and variations in sunlight that also impact on the climate, scientists overwhelmingly believe climate change is due to people burning fossil fuels for energy, cutting down forests to plant food and build houses, creating waste byproducts through manufacturing, and other processes with large carbon footprints. Industrialisation in the past 100 years has had an undeniable accelerating effect.
The best-known part of the climate change equation is the greenhouse gas effect, whereby methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour and carbon emissions in Earth’s atmosphere trap heat in the same way a glass greenhouse does. This raises the Earth’s surface temperature and is thought to contribute to the rising ocean level.
Perhaps the most telling indicators of global climate change are glaciers, our most sensitive early warning system. They are believed to be melting and receding at a rate unmatched in the past 5000 years.
But the result of climate change most noticeable to the average person is extreme weather patterns - unusual flooding, unseasonably warm winters, rapid desertification and an increase in tornadoes and droughts.
All the sustainability ideas on this website will help you do your bit towards reducing your carbon footprint - you really can make a difference!
In the simplest terms, food miles refer to the distance your food travels from the producer to the consumer. It is one of the factors used to determine the environmental impact of a particular food, including its potential contribution to climate change.
In the global food market that has developed in the last 30 years or so, food travels significantly further than it ever did before and there is concern that this is having a major impact on the earth, not to mention local producers who are now competing with farmers from distant continents.
The term ‘food miles’ was coined in the United Kingdom 20 years ago, and it is in the UK that the debate about food miles has raged most fierce. There has been particular discussion about the impact of foods from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa being transported from one hemisphere to another for consumption. But food miles are just part of the story when it comes to food sustainability, and many critics say the food miles debate has been very misleading.
You also need to consider the conditions in which your food was produced. How much fertiliser was used, what did the animals eat, what social and economic impact did the food production have on the community where it was raised? In the United States, carbon footprint studies have shown that the transport used to move food from place to place is not nearly as significant as the emissions from whatever pesticides and fertilisers were used to raise the beef, lamb or oranges on your plate.
For an interesting discussion see this report from The New York Times and this report from The Telegraph in the UK. As the Telegraph journalist notes: "One study by Lincoln University, in New Zealand, found that 2,849kg of carbon dioxide is produced for every tonne of lamb raised in Britain, while just 688kg of the gas is released with imported New Zealand lamb, even after it has travelled the 11,000 miles to Britain."
Generic content for all other countries not on the list.
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