Our Perspectives

Defending the planet starts on your plate


Sustainable consumption and production is the theme of this year’s International Youth Day. It invites us to reflect on how young people can help to achieve the Sustainable Develop Goals, especially Goal 12.

Young or not-so-young, many of us ask ourselves whether, on a personal level, we can contribute to the fight against climate change and other major global challenges. Turning off the light when leaving a room, recycling waste, reducing the use of plastic bags, having a shower rather than a bath… Many of us have already adopted such habits in our everyday lives.

But what about our eating habits? Here too, the choices we make have an impact on the environment. A simple experience can suddenly crystalize how this is indeed true:

As a student living in Montreal, I was doing my grocery shopping as usual at one of my neighbourhood stores. Automatically, I chose some garlic, the same garlic that I bought each time. Except this time, when reading the label, I realized that I had just chosen a food product from China.   

That small clove of garlic had travelled 10,460 km before ending up in my shopping basket, a consumption 125 520 litres of fuel, supposing that the garlic had been transported by air. So I put back this small piece of garlic, which had, to my mind, travelled too far compared with the same product from Quebec.

The food sector represents 30 percent of all global energy consumption, 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of human consumption of fresh water.

Of course, eating is an essential part of life, one of our most basic needs. Even though we can’t do without it – in fact because we can’t do without it – why not at least try to do it in the most responsible fashion possible?

Each of us can do our bit to protect the environment, once we have the necessary information to make an informed choice.

So, before purchasing a food product, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this product in season? If not, it was probably grown in a greenhouse, and its cultivation has definitely required a more significant amount of energy.
  • Where does it come from? If it had to travel across the entire country, or even continents, before being placed on our shelves, just think about the amount of carbon emissions related to transport and to the marketing of imported products.
  • What type of agriculture was utilized to produce it? Try to buy foods produced by small farmers rather than large-scale industrial production. In doing so, we will be positioning ourselves against crop homogeneity whilst preserving agricultural diversity.

These important questions should guide our choices as consumers. It is our duty to think more about the consequences of our actions.

Everyone knows the famous expression ‘think globally, act locally’, words spoken in 1972 by René Dubos, a Franco-American biologist, during the first UN conference on the environment in Stockholm.

Now we need to think global and eat local!

Doing without tomatoes, beans or mangoes in winter may be difficult for many of us. Yet it is a fair price to pay to adopt thoughtful consumer behaviour.

On this International Youth Day, we all have a role to play in defending our planet, and it all starts on our plates.

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