As trends go, none are as fickle or all consuming as those pertaining to food, particularly if the very word is prefixed by “super” or “health”. In 2020, it appears our quests are becoming more and more narcissistic, with a great number of resolutions probably centred on our diet and exercise. And while it’s fair to say there is a health imperative for such things, it’s also fair to suggest that healthy bodies are turning into ones driven by restriction and regimented discipline. Food is less something to be enjoyed now as it is something consumed to make our bodies function at an accelerated pace in a capitalist-driven world. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in the New York Times back in 2017, “People were now fasting and eating clean and cleansing and making lifestyle changes, which, by all available evidence, is exactly like dieting.”
Yeah, we hear you Taffy.
With so much of our lives lived online, the information regarding health and wellness is largely derived from pop culture. From Internet news items, Netflix documentaries or celebrities posing as qualified nutritionists, the bodies we see and admire often intersect with the health habits we later adopt. And while imitation is considered the sincerest form of flattery, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy lifestyle or aid the quest for a sustainable environment. As Naomi Klein writes in her critically acclaimed book, “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal”, when our economic model in Western culture is one based on the premise that “nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out, it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract,” it’s easy to see how our food choices have had such disastrous consequences for poorer nations and communities.
So, in the hope we might become better consumers in 2020 and heed the concerns of environmentalists everywhere, here are the foods that, if not cancelled, should be eaten conservatively.
When people caught on to the fact that the dairy industry contributes to roughly three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a shift from dairy milk to alternative forms was swift to occur. It’s the reason your local barista takes about five minutes reading out the “milk” options to those pondering their coffee purchase in the morning.
Almond milk became a favourite for many, with most enjoying the nutty taste it gave coffee. But there has been a significant dark side to the popularity of almond milk, as surging demand has caused farmers to have to drill into the ground to tap into aquifers due to the five litres of water required to grow one almond. A knock-on effect of this drilling, as The Sydney Morning Herald suggests, is the collapse of honeybee colonies. It’s believed up to 25 per cent are dying from the pesticides.
The grain so many of us still struggle to pronounce was taken up by foodies and the health conscious alike. Dieticians loved the grain because it ticked the box of being low-fat and still provided individuals with a starchy food to base their meals. In fact, so popular was the grain, that in 2013 the United Nations declared it the International Year of Quinoa.
Rumours swirled however, that with growing pressure to produce quinoa due to its popularity in the West, farmers in Bolivia and Peru were being greatly affected. This claim was repudiated by a number of researchers, who discovered that the popularity of quinoa had actually helped these farmers get themselves out of poverty. But it’s not all good news. Pressure to produce vast amounts of quinoa have contributed to environmental degradation. Bolivian farmers say their soil is worse than it was before the quinoa boom, with land that once wasn’t used to grow the grain now being brought into cultivation, leading to erosion and loss of nutrients. With farmers now having to reduce their llama herds to make room for quinoa, less manure is available as fertiliser to protect the soil.
Kale continues to be a staple for everyone on the quest for health. Eaten by the gallon by celebrities and models who whip it into a green smoothie just to help them attack the day, it's often been the symbol of a clean diet. But as Vice uncovered in 2015, it has a negative impact on the environment. A study published in Agriculture and Human Values found that the organic farms responsible for producing most of our kale, is also producing more greenhouse gases than their conventional cousins. The organic pesticides used can also wreak havoc on waterways, leading to serious environmental issues.
Global demand for cocoa is rising at an alarmingly high rate, with many believing cocoa in its purest form to be an extremely beneficial superfood. But given that it can take an entire year for a cocoa tree to produce the cocoa required for just half a pound of chocolate, the demand for it has led to serious deforestation as tropical forests are cleared to make way for new cocoa trees. This has been particularly problematic for West Africa and the Ivory Coast where experts estimate 70 per cent of the country's illegal deforestation is related to cocoa farming.
And while not an environmental concern per say, cocoa production often enlists child labour to help with growing, harvesting and transporting cocoa beans. According to World Wild Life, during the 2013-14 growing season, an estimated 2 million children were used for hazardous labour throughout Ghana and Ivory Coast.