Green Food: Connecting Food and Ecosystems

We want to encourage a broad community conversation about food in the city. So every week until our Food in the City conference we are going to offer up a “juicy” question about food and agriculture.

Last week’s question was the healthy food question that explored nutrition and health. What became obvious from all the thoughtful comments that were shared on last week’s post is that health means more than just personal health. So, taking a cue from our readers, this week’s question asks about the connection between food and healthy ecosystems.

There are some common assumptions that we are hearing more and more these days around food and the environment. Local food is greener. Eat less meat (particularly beef) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Organic food is better for our bodies and the planet. There seems to be a lot of evidence to support these kinds of claims. However, we can’t help but wonder how we can be sure about how our food choices will affect our ecosystems.

Let’s say, for example, that I really like how avocados add nutrient value and taste to my meals, and my dietitian even recommends them for my particular dietary needs. How can I be sure whether my love for avocados is a green food choice? After all, avocados don’t grow in Edmonton, so they definitely won’t be local. I can find some organic ones, but they’re coming from so far away. And how about my favourite summer barbeque choice – burgers? I know, eating less meat is supposed to be the greener choice, but if I get the local organic beef I should be good, right? Or is consuming less meat still greener than consuming local organic meat?

As if food choices for my personal health weren’t difficult enough, now I’ve got to think about how my food choices also impact the planet!

What do you think? Our question to you this week is: What food choices do you think are best for healthy ecosystems?

Join the conversation, post your comments, and share what you are thinking with others!

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About the Author
Larry Retzlaff
Larry Retzlaff is a Senior Planner with the City of Edmonton.
7 Comments
  1. Laura
    6 years ago

    The best food choices for healthy ecosystems are those that least disrupt that system’s natural rhythm. In as much the natural ecosystem in the Edmonton area is already highly disrupted, the best food choices in the City are those that require low levels of input, chemical or otherwise – in other words, food that is raised in accord with the principles of permaculture, and on land that is available to be put to such use. Edmonton has a strong permaculture movement that is actively transforming lawns into gardens. Edmonton could further encourage this type of activity by making more unused areas available to community gardens, by allowing people to raise eggs and honey for themselves, and by keeping valuable growing areas zoned as such.

  2. Mary
    6 years ago

    My efforts in choosing and consuming food are local first, organic second. As this post points out, the relatively lower impact of organic can quickly be eliminated if that food item is coming from the other side of the world. I also wonder how the nutritional value of the food declines as it travels over those thousands of kilometres. I’m new to Edmonton, so not only am I looking forward to starting my own backyard garden, I can’t wait to discover and experience the many local farmers’ markets that appear to be on offer here. Supporting local growers and ranchers in turn supports a healthy, robust agricultural and food system, and what better benefit to consumers than knowing exactly where your food comes from?

  3. 6 years ago

    Foods that are best for the local food system include foods grown locally in a sustainable way. Whether they be fruits grown by Edmontonians picked by OFRE volunteers who then share the fruit with the community, or community gardens, or local farms raising grass-fed beef. There are some great local choices out there for Edmontonians. I think it’s important on a system level to keep healthy high quality soils zoned for agriculture and not sold off to developers for subdivisions. Edmonton has very rich soil, some of which is the highest quality soil in Canada for agriculture. We need to enjoy that and protect it.
    With the new food in the city strategies being developed, I am looking forward to seeing Edmontonians getting more engaged with growing and raising food whether it be chickens, bees, vegetables, or fruit. I think when we make connections with our food by growing and raising it, the experience contributes to a healthy ecosystem for both the consumer and the community.

  4. Kirsten
    6 years ago

    Our family prioritizes local but also organic. Ideally both, although one of the things I love about buying local is that even if a producer isn’t certified organic I can find out quite easily what their processes are. Many local producers use sustainable practices and low or no inputs in terms of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When I can ask them directly and visit their farm I have a much better idea of what my family is eating. We buy local meat, that isn’t factory farmed. We do still eat meat but not nearly as much as the average Albertan.

    I think diversity is key to this question. Monoculture isn’t ecological or sustainable in the long term. We need a food hub that has enough growing capacity to create adequate diversity in terms of crops. For example, we can’t eat wheat, rye, barley or conventionally grown oats. I’d love to see more quinoa, amaranth, millet and buckwheat. Also many vegetables and fruits found in the grocery store are bred for long haul transport not nutrition or flavour. Local producers can grow a much wider selection of produce and including many heritage varieties. This protects the genetic diversity of our seed stock. Something that is increasingly under threat.

    Local producers might not automatically be more ecologically aware, but another benefit to a local food system is that local producers have more flexibility in responding to local consumer demand. A strong local food economy is more resilient and responsive to it’s local realities. Including the demand for a decreased environmental impact.

  5. 6 years ago

    I think this whole discussion is the perfect home for a grow your own, all in one (aka permaculture) installation. When you learn to grow your own food, you can get rid of resource sucking lawns, install permanent food bearing plants, set up water retention projects, plan for diversity (good for your health and the health of the planet) that brings in the beneficial bugs, compost to dispose of waste, and put in chickens and bees to complete the cycle. The results? Healthy people, healthy planet.

  6. […] Last week’s question explored the connection between food and healthy ecosystems. We received great comments that lead to a wonderful image of Edmontonians as healthy people living in healthy ecosystems, buying and eating healthy food. […]

  7. 6 years ago

    Wow! Some great people making some awesome comments here! The only thing I will add is the human factor. The labour involved in making this kind of food is more than your conventional models. So if more people want more food local producers need more help. This would also ensure an educated populace where necessary growing, preserving, saving skills won’t be lost to the next generation. If eating is something we all do then growing food is something we should all do. I might add that the city’s population will not be fully fed from within and access to rural farms needs to be enhanced.

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