Where does the food you eat come from?

Believe it or not, the food you eat (its origin, quality and quantity) has an impact on the planet as well as your health. Choosing foods that respect nature is called eating responsibly.

Why eat local and seasonal produce?

Believe it or not, the food you eat (its origin, quality and quantity) has an impact on the planet as well as your health. You’re no doubt aware that these days you can buy almost any kind of food no matter what the season. That’s because some food has travelled huge distances by truck, boat, or plane, or been grown in heated greenhouses* (or both!). This burns energy and generates damaging pollution.

For example, if you live in France, you may be aware that cherries grow in spring and summer. As opposed to autumn and winter produce like pumpkins.

Following the rhythm of the seasons when you eat fruit and vegetables respects nature, and in general the food tastes better. (See table of seasonal fruits and vegetables, like this one or that one)

* A greenhouse: a closed shelter in which we grow plants (vegetables and fruits but also plants).

What is "responsible eating"?

Choosing foods that respect nature is called eating responsibly. This means that you take an interest in your surroundings: nature, the people who produce the food (farmers, livestock breeders, fishermen etc.) and their production methods. You focus on seasonal foods that have been produced near you, by people in your area.

This does not prevent you from eating fruits and vegetables that are grown in other parts of the country, in order to have a diversified diet. But if you occasionally eat "exotic" fruits (like mangos, pineapples and bananas) from the tropics, try to ask yourself how they got here. Transport by plane preserves the taste of the fruit after harvest, but it is more polluting. By boat is slower and less polluting but is disadvantageous if the fruit was picked too early.

Eating responsibly is also about avoiding food waste. Buy the right amount, do not overfill your cupboards, cook according to the size of the family and learn how to recycle leftovers.

So, are you ready to eat responsibly?

 

                                                                 © valeria_aksakova / Freepik

For older children (9 to 12 years old)

Did you know? The food you eat can travel vast distances before it gets to your plate.

To limit this phenomenon and increase the consumption of local products, a movement (that is to say, a shared idea) has emerged: locavorism*. Its goal is to promote the consumption of food produced within 200 km (125 miles). That’s because food from within that range requires less fuel for transportation and less energy for storage (refrigeration, for example). Plus, when picked at maturity fruits and vegetables generally taste better and have more nutritional qualities.

But that's not all! A genuine locavore also favours seasonal fruits and vegetables, keeping in mind that some grow only in winter and others in summer. For example, a tomato you eat in winter was either grown in a heated greenhouse (where it used up a great deal of energy and water), or comes from a warmer region or country; which means it may have come a long way on a polluting mode of transport. Maybe it's better to do without fresh tomatoes in winter and eat them in a frozen or canned tomato coulis instead?

In addition to being more eco-responsible, it so happens that seasonal produce is better adapted to your nutritional needs*. For example, in winter you need food that is richer in vitamins and minerals (such as cabbage, squash or pears) while in summer it should be lighter and contain more water (like peaches, apricots, tomatoes and cucumbers).

Perhaps you’re already a locavore* without knowing it? Ask your parents: they can probably tell you if they are careful about where your family's food comes from.

What guidelines to follow to eat more responsibly?

You can always find out where a food item comes from: it’s usually indicated on the signs at market stalls or on the labels of packaged products. To follow the rhythm of the seasons, there are calendars to help you: you can put one on your kitchen wall, like this one or that one.

If your parents shop at supermarkets, examine the packaged products and look for the "best before ..." date. This is a benchmark indicating when you can consume the product without it posing a risk to your health. At a small independent business it is the butcher, baker or grocer who ensures the freshness and quality of the products sold.

Finally, encourage your parents to buy just the right amount in order to avoid waste.

A special case: exotic fruits

Eating local produce may not be easy. If you live in a city outside the tropics, you won’t able to find bananas or pineapples grown near your home. Some fruits and vegetables require different climates to your own. So these foods must be imported from overseas. They will have travelled a long way before arriving at their place of sale. No doubt they will have come by plane or boat. In the first case, the fruits will surely be better thanks to much faster transport, but the level of environmental impact is higher. Sea transport is less polluting, but the fruits are of lower quality when they arrive because they will have been picked before maturity to survive the trip.

These foods help diversify your diet, but if you want to eat in an eco-friendly way, you should eat them only occasionally.

Lexicon

Locavorism*: Privileging the consumption of local products, that is to say that they come from less than 200 km (125 miles) around your home.

Locavore*: A person who practices locavorism by consuming local products.

Nutritional quality: The ability of food to meet your body’s needs in terms of its health and performance.

Nutritional needs*: Your body’s needs in terms of the nutrients (elements contained in food) that enable it to function well and be in good health.

Sources (for french readers only):
Locavorism : Locavore.fr
Locavorism : definition and etymology    
Eating responsibly
 : Place2Swap