Beyond the rhetoric of academics and corporate social responsibility reports, words like “sustainable” and “sustainability” can actually have meaning when applied to your daily life. In fact, many of the choices we make during the day—such as what we had for lunch and where we bought our coffee—help to shape the way we live, directly affecting our bodies and the world around us as a result. Essentially, every time we buy food and agriculture products, we are supporting a given type or system of agricultural production and distribution, which in turn, has an impact on the economy, the environment and society; not only in our own backyard but also in parts of the world where our food is produced, processed or transported. Although the impact of our choice is felt throughout, some of those most affected tend to be the workers operating at the beginning of the food supply chain in agriculture production.
The agriculture industry is one of the most dangerous industries in world, where workers may be subject to poor working conditions, pesticide exposure, low wages, few benefits, and long overtime hours. In some cases, the type of food we purchase may lead to socio-economic or environmental improvements but in other cases, the opposite may occur. Factors that can contribute to a positive outcome require that the issues are addressed at the ground level, by providing fair/living wages to workers, fair commodity prices to farmers or price premiums and other such incentives necessary to preserve social and environmental resources. While the outcome is largely dependent on the systems of food production and distribution available to consumers, as well as the price that we are willing to pay for this food, other actors such as manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and government also play a large role in determining whether or not food and agriculture production contributes to sustainability.
To better explore various social and environmental issues surrounding food and agriculture production in my future postings, I will be using a concept of food “sustainability” that is derived from the Farmer’s Link website and included below for convenience.
From the Farmers’ Link Website, “sustainable food” is:
- Proximate: originating from the closest practicable source
- Healthy: as part of a balanced diet and not containing harmful biological or chemical contaminants
- Fairly or co-operatively traded between producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Non-exploitative of employees in the food sector in terms of pay and conditions.
- Environmentally beneficial or benign in its production
- Accessible both in terms of geographic access and affordability
- Maintains high animal welfare standards in both production and transport
- Encourages knowledge and understanding of food and food culture