THE LOCAL-GLOBAL LIFESTYLE LINKS -
THE EXAMPLE OF SUSTAINABLE EATING
Paper presented at the
8TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
(Thessaloniki, Greece, 15-17 October 2004)
The choices that each of us make when we decide what to eat all have
implications for sustainability.
• How and where it is grown
• How it is sold and reaches the market
• How the waste is handled
This will be illustrated with an example: the coffee that you just drank
this morning. The coffee beans are grown in far off countries, on the
hillsides and in the valleys of Brazil, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Kenya and a
large number of other countries. They are cultivated in different ways
each with its implications for sustainability.
• Sun or shade grown coffee - deforestation, biodiversity
• With ground cover or not - erosion, biodiversity
• With pesticides or not - short and long term health and environmental effects (persistent, acute, workers and consumers)
• On marginal lands or not (too steep etc.) - erosion or not, water stress or not, deforested land or not
• Many middle men or not (always long in this case) - good/fair prices or not
• Available certification schemes (with premium prices) or not
• Composting of waste or not - waste generation, soil fertility
This case thus illustrates a number of the local-global links in all three dimensions of sustainability and these can be expanded further
• local and global environmental impact of agricultural practices such as
• export of organic material without import
• environmental costs of long transport
• human health in close and distant places
• cost for consumers (organic food for only the rich?)
• educational approaches (if they do not learn of the impact of their actions on distant people they cannot even chose to take sustainable choices)
• work and labour
• for how long sustainable for consumer and producer
• trade (agricultural subsidies, tariffs, quotas etc.)
This leads to the question: how do we make our choices of food? for our local and global sustainability? What motivations do we base our choices on? How can we incorporate considerations for the impact of our eating habits on ourselves as well as those very far away? There are two possible approaches to this.
If the assumption is that everyone needs a private interest for contributing to collective success this would imply that the coffee farmer recognised that his spraying and handling of pesticides may influence the health of himself and his family. It could also involve that the consumer buying coffee in the northern coffee market recognises that he/she influence his/her own exposure to pesticides in the food bought. This would require a lot of knowledge production and awareness raising among stakeholders.
The second strategy would be to extend the borders of our loyalty to encompass humanity at large. This would mean to open up for other motivations for human action than pure self-interest. the European and American consumers extend their concern to the health of those farmers, and their families, who produces the food products they buy. And it would mean that farmers in the South avoid to use certain types of persistent pesticides also because they are harmful to people and organisms in the other end of the world.
Can we make those choices for ourselves such as through the help of certification schemes of organic and fair trade? Or do we need governments to support those choices in their global and national policies? I will argue that we need both.