We have come to think that doing our bit to manage our waste is the most obvious way for us to have a positive impact on the environment. But, have you ever considered the impact of having a healthy eating plan on the world around you?
Years of working towards carefully managing our waste has taught us that making waste your major focus isn’t the most sustainable solution. The big hitting game changer in day to day behaviors isn’t waste, it’s our cooking: for the sake of our health, our families and the environment.
Why A Healthy Eating Plan And A Healthy Environment Are Linked.
Despite a total of 7000 edible crops to choose from, nearly 40% of our diet today consists of only 3: rice, wheat or maize. You might think with all the new foods and products popping up on shelves that our diets are getting more diverse but that is not the case. Our shopping trolleys might be more complex but many of those different products are made from the same few ingredients. Our diets are becoming less nutritionally diverse and less balanced. This has largely become a global norm.
Healthy Food Depends On Where You Shop
Even stores with a wide range of whole foods don’t necessarily reflect all our healthy ingredient options. The very select group of crops we find in supermarkets have been specifically chosen, but not for their diversity and nutritional value. Often the crops sold in supermarkets are chosen because they bruise less, have higher yields, last longer, grow in more geographical areas or are easier to harvest. These crops are chosen because they can withstand our food systems better. Today, out of the 7000 edible plants around the world, only about 170 are commercially grown and sold in stores.
7 Reasons Your Diverse, Whole Food Cooking Will Change Your World.
1. Cooking allows you to create a more nutritionally balanced diet
Traditional, non-standard crops are often very nutritious and can offer us a more well-balanced diet. Here are some examples of how alternative grains could benefit you:
- Millet, Sorghum and Quinoa are all naturally gluten free.
- Millet is high in calcium and iron and is a great substitute for couscous in recipes.
- Sorghum has more antioxidants than blueberries and is high in protein and minerals.
- Teff is higher in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C than any other grain.
- Quinoa is the only cereal that contains all the amino acids needed by human beings.
Many traditional and underutilized crops such as these are rich in micronutrients and can help add essentials back into our increasingly oversimplified diets.
Millet, Sorghum and Teff are locally grown traditional grains in South Africa. Read more about why eating more local foods is a healthy food choice.
2. Cooking can become a binding family activity
We have to eat and have to feed our families every day. There are many studies on the negative impact of the loss of the daily ‘family dinner around the table’. When we cook we have opportunity to involve family members in a grounding activity. Cooking together not only creates valuable quality time, it also develops the passing-on and appreciation of a very valuable life skill.
3. Cooking can improve and preserve your local agriculture
By relying on so few crops to feed the majority of the world, we leave ourselves vulnerable to one disease or pest destroying a large part of our food systems. If we actively seek out more diverse food types we give farmers more options of what to grow, inter-plant and rotate within their growing seasons. More variety creates more sustainable food production systems, reduces the spread of pests and diseases as well as assists in preserving the environment around agriculture.
4. Cooking can reduce the impact of climate change
Many traditional crops have climate-resistant properties, like being able to survive floods or droughts. They can often grow in climates that “standard” crops cannot. Prickly pear grows in deserts and arid areas. Oca and quinoa survive at high altitudes. With weather conditions becoming more extreme, these crops are solutions for places where it is difficult to grow other foods.
5. Cooking more traditional foods helps preserve traditional knowledge
Local people who have come from families that have grown traditional foods for generations often use production methods that are naturally sustainable. They usually have systems for better use of water, require little to no fertilizers or have processes to help replenish the soil, among others. These traditional methods are valuable tools for future sustainability improvements.
6. You can boost the livelihoods of small scale farmers
Standard large scale commercial crops have become monopolized by large scale corporations, with little room for small farmers. Some traditional or less common crops have good commercial potential and could be an excellent cash crop for small scale or family farmers. Traditional crops, like pulses and beans, are also useful for intercropping and actually increase yields of other crops, helping to raise incomes for farmers and their families.
7. Cooking more reduces your waste.
When we cook with more whole foods we tend to have more options on where and how to buy those ingredients. You can often buy in bulk or more direct from smaller scale producers. Often the packaging is simpler, you have more flexibility over the packaging those products come in, or the option of choosing no packaging at all. When you move to cooking with more whole foods your packaging waste can naturally reduce, without it being your dedicated focus area.
Creating the ultimate healthy eating plan
Agriculture is a hot topic in South Africa but our current diets are hurting our economy. By expanding how we cook and what ingredients we use we can improve our nutrition, our family dynamic, our communities and our environment.
Next time you are in a store look for whole foods (products with only 1 ingredient). Pop in to your local farmers markets and browse the fruits, veg and grains you haven’t tried. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many unique and interesting crops you find.
Not sure who to cook with whole foods? Check out our natural meal recipes made from 100% whole foods for healthy food recipes for all occasions and requirements.