Food and the Environment

Even the choices you make about food have a big effect on the environment! Most of us don’t think much about where our food comes from. We don’t know what country it was grown in, and we don’t know what chemicals were used to grow it. You can find out if you look for the information, and you can make a difference by shopping carefully.

» Organic Foods

Organic foods [aliments biologique] are foods that are grown using certified organic farming. Basically, this means they were grown without artificial (chemical) fertilizers or pesticides (poisons to kill insects or weeds). They are also not GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and if the food is meat, milk or eggs, the animals did not receive any hormones or drugs to make them grow faster.

Organic farmers use more traditional methods of growing food, so often, organic fruits and vegetables are a little smaller, and don’t look as perfect as non-organic ones, and they are more expensive. Because they don’t use chemicals, the farming is better for the environment, since there is less chemical pollution on the land. Many people say organic foods taste better, too.

Most supermarkets have an organic food section in the fruit and vegetable area. You can also find local organic fruits, vegetables, meats and other foods at health food stores and at Atwater Market and Jean-Talon Market.

Le Frigo Vert is an organic food store cooperative associated with Concordia University where you can buy organic and fair trade foods. You have to become a member ($15) to shop there, but the prices are very good. The address is 2130 Mackay Street. It is open every day but Sunday.

If you are interested in getting a basket of organic vegetables every week, you might want to join the Community Supported Agriculture network with an organization called Equiterre. How it works is you join as a partner of an organic farm in the Montreal area. You buy a 15 to 20 weeks of organic vegetables in advance from the farm at the beginning of a season. Then, every week, you meet the farmer at a drop-off point to get your basket of fresh vegetables or fruit.

» Local Food

Another very important thing to think about is where your food comes from. Here in Canada, our winters are cold, so most of the fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets is imported California, Florida and Mexico. To eat fresh tomatoes or strawberries in February, they usually have to travel over 4000 kilometres in trucks. Huge amounts of energy are used for the transportation of fruit and vegetables. Often, the fruit and vegetables that are shipped that far are picked too early, so they are not ripe, and they don’t taste good.

To prevent the waste of energy, we can make choices to not buy some kinds of fruit and vegetables that come from far away, and to eat them only when they are “in season”. For example, we don’t need to eat tasteless strawberries in February, especially when the strawberries from Quebec are so delicious in early summer.

Some vegetables, like tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers, are grown in Quebec in the winter in greenhouses. They are a little more expensive, but they are chemical free and they come from nearby.

Some people say we should try a “100-mile diet”. This means we should never eat anything that comes from more than 100 miles (160 km) from where we live, so that our food choices are better for the environment. It is difficult to do it, but it is possible.

» Fair Trade

Another choice you can make when you are buying food is Fair Trade [commerce équitable]. Fair Trade coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate and spices are available in some stores. Fair Trade means the farmers and workers in developing countries get paid a good price for their products. With regular coffee and chocolate, the prices go up and down according to international markets, and sometimes the small producers in poor countries get paid very little for their very hard work. Chocolate comes from cacao, which in some countries is grown with children under 10 years old working very hard getting paid just a few cents a day. Fair trade products are more expensive, but more money goes to the farmers, and they use more environmentally friendly farming practice.

Some Fair Trade organizations use the money from the sale of their products to build schools and help develop the communities and improve the lives of the growers. Look for the Fair Trade logo on certified Fair Trade products.

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