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Eating your greens – the sustainability issue

June 14, 2009

Ever thought about GE protests? What all the “fair trade” fuss is about? Why home made food tastes better than the supermarket equivalent? How cows have perhaps more to do with climate change than the daily car trip? The answers, pattiesandrice2or at least debates, surrounding these questions are implicated in some of the most significant global issues today. They’re fascinating, rewarding to delve into, and will affect where you buy, what you buy, and how much you’ll be willing to fork over for it. “You are what you eat,” and therefore what ends up making its way to your stomach will be changing the way you think, behave, and even the way you associate with those around you. Dramatic, I know…but more than ever, what and how we eat is somehow exerting unprecedented influences on our personal and political lives.

In the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of gaining serious interest in how the planet, social justice and the political/corporate relationship are intertwined with the food we eat and the drinks we consume. While I’m no expert, I thought I’d share the resources (which ARE written by experts!) which have interested me, informed me, and inspired me to change the way I live, not just eat. I’ll hopefully be posting more in future about possible solutions…but first, some things to get you more informed!

Here are some great resources that should get you warmed up on some of the issues (note that many of them cross over to various other issues, and that you don’t have to read everything to gain some sort of understanding). Please remember to purchase books from independent stores, and DVDs direct from the films’ websites if possible :)

Health and nutrition


books-1In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan) – A fascinating and engaging read about the “myths” of nutrition, and the need for “real” food in our diets.

Eat Your Heart Out (Felicity Lawrence) – From poignant stories straight from the roots of our food production system, Lawrence illustrates what is really going on with our food, why it’s so bad for us, and who is responsible. Some particularly interesting points on the affect food has on our mental as well as physical health (eg. how prisoners’ diets affect their behaviour).

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with more than 75 recipes (Mark Bittman) – From the legendary author of “How to cook everything,” who offers pertinent advice on what to do to truly eat healthier (I know, you’ve heard this before), with sensible, achievable recipes to provide practical examples.


Food Matters (James Colquhoun & Laurentine ten Bosch) – Looks at the relationship between healthcare and the nutrient-sparse food of today.

The food crisis that is the current food system


The Food Issue (Michael Pollan/New York Times) – Why large food producers are not necessarily the most energy efficient as you may have assumed, why we’re in such a pickle, and ways we can get out of it.

Slow Food Nation videos – Perfect if you’re not much of a reader – learn from the leading experts on the food system, why and how it should change, why and how it’s so crucial to climate change… and more :)

Slow Food International – An organisation that promotes “good, clean, and fair food” – find out what they mean!


We Feed The World (Erwin Wagenhofer) – Looks at many of the key inefficiencies of the current food system, how it screws over the planet, farmers, and ultimately, YOU.

Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner) – Doco featuring input from reknowned food writers Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and covering many aspects of the business of food. Website includes a great reading list too.


Stuffed and Starved (Raj Patel) – I’ll be honest – this is a very depressing read. Patel is a passionate advocate and thus he’s not going to sweeten you up before delivering the sad truths about the exploitative food system! This book uncovers some of the most significant problems with the food system and its inequalities, including their histories. The book’s website is also great for further examples and there’s an ongoing blog updated by the author.market2

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan) – Incredibly well known book that highlights the warped nature of the food consumed in industrial nations, particularly the US. Reveals the extent to which our “natural” foods have been unsustainably manipulated to the detriment of our tastebuds, health, and the health of the planet (Linked to Amazon for once due to the helpful reviews from various sources).

Food, Inc.’s reading list (scroll to the bottom of the page, navigation on the left).

Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food & Farm Bill (Daniel Imhoff) Looks into the way legislation regarding subsisdies for farmer has turned into one of the most important food issues of our time.

Genetic Modification/Engineering


Genetically Engineered Food (Anup Shah/Global Issues) – A relatively well balanced series of articles that consider key points of both pro- and anti- GE arguments for food, with a great short summary of the points, and whether they stack up. While some of the articles I concede are probably dated in terms of GE/GM research, many of the issues mentioned are still more significant than ever. garden24-copy


Food Fray: Inside the controversy over genetically modified food (Lisa Weasel) – Looks at the political, economic, and scientific spats surrounding genetic modification, with both sides covered. Lisa herself is a molecular biologist, and thus acts as a voice for science that also urges caution – not necessarily about how “safe” the science is, but who increasingly owns and controls it, and their motives.

Stolen harvest: The Hikacking of the Global Food Supply (Vandana Shiva) – Well known environmentalist from the global “South” documents the economic betrayals of the GE promise for better profits for farmers, revealing the continuing inequalities between farmers and the industries that exploit them.


The Future of Food (Deborah Koons Garcia) – Looks at the negative impacts on farmers of GM food technology and the potential of organic agriculture.

Organic food


The Real Dirt on Farmer John (Taggart Siegel) – A very human and personal account of the building up of a family farm to create a sustainable, community-based form of agriculture that values people, not chemicals. Watch this if you’ve ever wondered: what’s so great about CSA (Community supported agriculture)? DVD Extras are pretty worth watching too.

The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (Faith Morgan) – The title is a little confusing, but in any case – it’s about how organic agriculture became pertinent when Cuba’s supply of oil dried up (due to political reasons).

We Feed The World (Erwin Wagenhofer) – Looks at many of the key inefficiencies of the current food system, how it screws over the planet, farmers, and ultimately, YOU.garden71


Organic, Inc. (Samuel Fromartz) – Looks at the paradoxes within the organic food industry, and who is dominating the playing field.

Vegetarianism & the impact of meat production on the Earth


The Meat of the Matter (J. Motavalli, E Magazine) – How raising animals for food in the current food system is linked to global warming.

Price of Meat (blog) – A regularly updated blog critically looking at media reports of the effect meat consumption exacts on the earth.

101 reasons (2007) – Collated from a variety of sources, looking at other aspects of pollution caused by raising animals for meat.


The End of the Line (Rupert Murray) – Recent documentary examining the effects that overfishing has on our future, with some very alarming wake up calls.


Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (Mark Kurlansky) – A lot of this book unravels the history-defining significance of the cod in global trade relations of the past and peresent. However, it also delves into the issue of overfishing, and issues some grave warnings from the scientific literature about this popular fish (although you don’t exactly need to be a scientist to understand the problem). Again linked to Amazon for the reviews.

Food & Poverty


Feeding the World – Fact vs Fiction (Greenpeace) – Why, despite the fact that there is more than enough food to feed the world, is there so much hunger in the world?

Lessons from the food price crisis: Questions & Answers – Many assume that the rising prices of food mean that farmers are getting paid fairer prices – check out why this is not the case.

Causes of hunger are related to poverty (Anup Shah/Global Issues) – Fully sourced and clearly articulated, this range of articles illuminates particularly well the reasons for poverty, which is so interlinked with hunger. This is a well balanced article that acknowledges many facets of poverty, not just the obvious.

sustain03Myth: More US Aid will help the hungry (Anup Shah/Global Issues) – Why aid is not always the answer to alleviating poverty and hunger.

Trade and poverty – Facts and stats on the not-so-free side of “free” trade.

Making a difference

Stay tuned, and start making a change! Whether it’s starting to cook your own food from scratch, buying less processed food, or cutting down on packaging, the following links and resources will hopefully give you a heads up and head start!

Keeping informed…


The Ethicurean – Keeping you updated about food issues, although one weakness (for me) is that it’s mainly US focused.

basilpesto2Cooking – web first, then cookbooks.

Total beginners

Student Cook – A UK site dedicated to students, but it applies to anyone who is just starting out to cook for themselves. Great resources on basic terms and skills that will make reading and following (then adapting!) recipes a lot easier!

Kitchen Basics (Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food guides) – Equipment, cupboard essentials, hygiene – the basics covered. The seasonal guide is based on the UK though.

Basic cooks

Tastespotting – A collection of images (mostly of recipes) from the best food blogs on the net, with recipes from the super simple to the almost-professional.

Relatively experienced cooks

Gourmet’s buy this, make that guide – Using ingredients that have been featured in recipes that month, Gourmet magazine has a guide to prevent wasting that half-empty carton of almond milk you bought for that one recipe you just *had* to make.

The Flavor Bible (cheapest on Amazon I think) – A fantastic book that has a hugely comprehensive guide of flavour matches (inspired by America’s top chefs).

NZ based

sustpost copyTaste’s meal-maker – Enter ingredients and Taste will find a recipe that uses them! Their main site can be pretty helpful with ideas too. Previously this was Taste magazine online, but it appears to have sold its online persona to msn.

Cuisine magazine’s meal maker – Enter ingredients and Cuisine will find a recipe that uses them! The main food section has links to helpful how-to guides and a handy “what to do with…” guide. Cuisine is somewhat more high-end than Taste, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for budget-friendly food!

Cookbooks (NZ)

Edmond’s cookbook – Available at most supermarkets and an absolute baking bible, with measurements that make sense!

Alternative Food schemes

Organic Vegetable Box Schemes (NZ) -Vege box schemes get fresh organic produce delivered to your door, and is often not as expensive as you may expect. I’ve been really impressed with

garden48-copyCommunity Gardens – Community Gardens in NZ. The idea is that you can turn up for a few hours for a certain week to help out with the gardening, then take home a share of the vegetables harvested that day for free! Usually they’re all based around organic gardening, so you can pick up some skills for your own patch at home. This is a great option if you have little to no garden.

Simple gardening


The Grower’s Cookbook – from garden to table – NZ based, incredibly handy book for those thinking of tinkering around in their garden. Most of the basic veges and fruits are covered, and the tips are suited to the NZ climate (Finally! A reason to buy a gardening book!). Handy, realistic recipes dotted throughout, with unpretentious photography. Available at most independent bookstores.


bubble_squeak-2Kings Seeds – A NZ certified organic seed supplier. Click on Vegetables on the left hand nav bar and you can search vegetables by season to grow, which is very handy.

Wiki’s List of companion plants – Companion planting just means planting certain plants with others that have properties that help – thus naturally helping to prevent the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers.

A very simple guide to start composting – The Christchurch City Council’s guide to composting – a short and sweet 2 page guide.

Alternative, independent food outlets (Christchurch)

Piko Wholefoods – good range, with many products being better priced than supermarket food. Located in Christchurch central city.

Seven Fields Organic – generally has the best prices for organic foods

Opawa Organics – next door to an organic butcher

Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market (registered, with guaranteed local produce & gourmet food) – they only accept cash, although the shopping experience beats any supermarket you’ll visit! Cheaper & fresher than getting gourmet at the supermarket, as you’re buying straight from suppliers.

Lyttelton Farmer’s Market (registered, with guaranteed local produce & gourmet food) – generally only accept cash. Cheaper & fresher than getting gourmet at the supermarket, as you’re buying straight from suppliers.

yellow curry-4keep an eye out for the University of Canterbury food co-op, which will be starting sometime in the next few months (hopefully). Email me for more info, or comment below.

Vegetarian resources

Vegetarian restaurants in Christchurch – from the Christchurch vegetarian centre. Includes vegetarian-friendly restaurants too.

Quick recipes – “fast food” from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks.

The Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen) – a superb cookbook with simple, healthy recipes that taste amazing! Totally achievable, with consistently impressive results. Also incredibly well recognised among vegetarians.

Veganomicon (vegan cookbook) (Isa Moskowitz & Terry Romero) – the ultimate vegan cookbook, with incredibly useful and helpful cooking guides. I’m not a vegan, yet I really want this book!! The recipes look fantastic and really creative, yet use ingredients I’d normally have in the pantry anyway. Check out PPK for sample recipes.


Phew…I knocked this post up on a whim one night and it’s taken months! I’ll be posting this as a “page” too, so it will always be accessible on the home page.

Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts! Even if they’re critical ;)

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