Food Footprint: Ingredients To Avoid
It's hard to remember it sometimes when you're rattling down a metal tube 100 metres under concrete on the way to work every day, but we are all intrinsically connected to nature, and all of our consumer choices affect these kinds of ecosystems and other areas of biodiversity around the world.
I often see a few harmful ingredients, mostly in pre-made, packaged food, that tend to slip under the radar for a lot of us when considering the environmental impact of what’s on our plate. Here’s the lowdown on a few that are worth avoiding -
High-fructose corn syrup
Corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning the land is used only for corn and not rotated for other crops. The process is highly energy intensive, and erodes and depletes soil and its nutrients, which results in more and more pesticides and fertilizers being used. The use of these chemicals contributes to ecological disasters like the Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’, an area in the ocean the size of Connecticut that’s now completely void of live due to chemical runoffs from corn mega farms.
About 40 million tonnes of palm oil is produced every year. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared every single hour to make way for palm oil plantations, accounting for the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and taking down thousands of animals and endangered species with it.
It’s a hard truth to swallow for plant-based foodies but soya is a big contributor to deforestation and subsequently to the destruction of fragile ecosystems all over the world. In the last few years, Greenpeace has estimated that over 1 million hectares of soya have been planted in the Amazon rainforest every year. The agrochemicals used in soya production also pollute soil and water supplies used by millions of people.
Some of the most biodiverse regions on the planet have been cleared for sugarcane production. Waters around the Great Barrier Reef are impacted by huge amounts of effluents, pesticides and sediment from sugar farms, and the reef itself is threatened by the clearing of land, which has destroyed the wetlands that are a crucial part of the reef’s ecology. Massive rivers around the world, including the Niger in West Africa, the Zambezi in Southern Africa, the Indus River in Pakistan, and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, have nearly dried up as a result of the water-intensive process.
Aside from their environmental impact, the production of these ingredients has social repercussions too. In the interests of financial gain, governments have allowed mega corporations to move in and essentially take the land away from indigenous communities and small farmers, causing conflict and encouraging exploitation of workers and violation of human rights. Even more reason to give these offenders the middle finger.
Statistics from www.wwf.org and www.greenpeace.org.uk