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Think global, act local

Think Global, Act Local

Chris recently moved from Canberra, Australia to New York, USA to work as an AusAID Development Adviser. He loves to dance, cooks an amazing pumpkin soup and collects maps from all over the world. He is also a big fan of languages.

Canberra: Yesterday was a Saturday, and there was a light mist of rain across the town where I live, and I woke up early so I could go to the farmers market. The market takes place weekly at the showgrounds, in a number of big tin sheds, but you have to be there before 10am if you want to get the best produce. I hadn’t had any breakfast, so first of all I stopped off at a little stall near the entrance for a hot chocolate and a slice of cake with elderflower and dates. The rain sounded beautiful on the tin roof and there were people bustling everywhere, examining the vegetables, the roasted macadamia nuts, the jams, the fresh fish packed in ice in big plastic containers.

Carrying my two canvas shopping bags, I started moving from stall to stall, checking things out. I was cooking some Middle Eastern food for some friends that night, so I knew what I wanted – zucchinis, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggplant… all as fresh as possible. I roamed around, guided by the magnificent colours of the fruit and vegetables. I got some organic lamb steaks and butternut squash for a stew, and a massive loaf of crusty bread (it must have weighed at least a kilogram) covered in seeds. All along the way I bumped into people I knew – old friends and work colleagues, everyone just strolling relaxed with their families, soaking up the market atmosphere.

Choosing the food we eat, and where we buy it from, doesn’t seem like that much of a big deal at first. But when you really start thinking about how much food we consume, and all the energy, labour and time that has gone into growing that food and bringing it to our plates, we realise that as consumers we are part of a network, a huge, complicated web. The food system has potentially huge impacts – on the environment, on our health, even on human rights (do the people who harvested the cocoa in your chocolate bar or who killed the cow that’s in your hamburger have access to safe working conditions, free speech, a salary high enough to live on?). The way we choose to eat raises questions of ethics and priorities – it is one way in which every single one of us can make an impact – either a positive or a negative one.

There are so many questions we can ask ourselves about our food – should I eat meat? Does ‘organic’ really mean ‘sustainable’? What food is really good for my health? And so on. A good place to start when it comes to eating ethically, however, is to eat locally. In Mosaic we often use the expression “think global, act local” – in no area is this saying more relevant and important than in the food industry. Since food is needed by everyone, every day, a small change in the way it is produced and marketed can have a huge effect on individuals’ health, the ecosystem and the preservation of cultural diversity. 

I like eating local foods wherever possible because I like my food to be fresh. I like the idea that it has come straight from the farms – farms I drive past any time I get out of town – and to the markets, no more than 20 km by road. I like that I can meet the people who produce the food, and know that they are small, independent producers and not massive, money-driven chains. I like that I know that the food is organic – and I know this because I talk to the person who grew it, and because I can taste the difference in the food itself. And most of all, I like the fact that, because I am eating what is available to me now, in the area around me, I am supporting variation in food – I am not eating exactly the same thing fast-food product as someone in Jakarta and someone in Johannesburg and someone in New Orleans. I am eating Canberra food. And as long as we keep eating Canberra food, Canberra food will exist.

So, this is my idea for a Mosaic project ---- food! One day I want to do a project where we meet, once a month for a year, and every time we get to eat some different amazing meal, cooked with fresh, environmentally sustainable ingredients. Alongside the eating I want to visit farms and slaughterhouses, factories and discount food stores, and I want to learn about the industry that more of my money goes than anywhere else. I want to learn where the things I eat come from, and what footprint I am leaving on the world by eating the things I do. I want to meet the people who make my food, and learn from them about what I could do, day to day, to eat more ethically.

But wait – which of the CISV educational content areas could this theme involve? Well, as a matter of fact, all of them! For example:

How do we ensure that we maintain a cultural diversity of food, allowing regional variations and recipes to continue and not be lost by globalization?
Where does our food come from and who is producing it? Does the food we buy have any impact on the human rights of those who produce or manufacture it?

Can food have an impact on conflict? What can happen when people suddenly don’t have access to food because of rising food prices, or natural disasters such as drought? What conflict is caused between the competing interests of local farmers and food producers, and the interests of big business and corporations?

How can we eat in a way that ensures sustainable development? What carbon footprint is caused by growing garlic in China then shipping it to Australia? What about the carbon footprint of growing tomatoes in greenhouses with artificial light and heat, in countries where, naturally, tomatoes just don’t grow (like the UK)? What problems are there for the environment when a monoculture like corn is grown everywhere, every year – instead of having a diverse polyculture with a number of rotating crops?

The popularity of farmers markets is increasing rapidly, as people begin to understand more and more the importance of having small, sustainable farms on the fringes of urban environments. Farmers markets in the US, for example, have grown from being 1,755 in 1994 to 5,274 in 2009. And they are not only a great place for good food – they are also places which encourage community and dialogue between people.

Great food, a better environment, healthier and happier people, a sense of community – that’s what I think about when I think about Mosaic.

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