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Food and Environment - an overview


Omer Sela, 6/7/2014

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The global food industry, restaurants, hotels and other catering not only have an impact on many aspects of environment, but often depend on it. As a result, the environment impacts directly on the plate. When we decide to put something on this plate it can affect the environment.

Reduction of the environmental impact

Basic principle of environmental protection is the need to reduce the environmental impact, in other words, people can make profits of their vital needs and improve the quality of life activities, while avoid doing harm to nature or environment by optimizing all the processes of growing, production and transportation of food, also reduce the immense use of environmental resources which leads to water and air pollution, climate fluctuation, animals rundown, etc. This task is sometimes difficult and full of problems and conflicts in modern society.

Resources of the environment for agriculture and industrial processing:

Food production is based on extensive cultivation of plants to yield food, feed, or fiber etc. Crop farming requires different environmental resources. Here are some of those:

  • Farming or agriculture mostly depends on its location, animals inhabiting these areas and water resources.
  • Sometimes new types of plants or new animal species can cause a harmful influence to origin  plants and animals. Those factors can dislocate local flora and fauna.
  • Water: plants, cattle, birds and fish require significant water resources. In countries with water shortages, such as Israel, there is often diverging opinions to make a public use of both: agriculture and irrigation needs.
  • Some of fertilizers and pesticides are made from oil and chemical residues which can remain in the soil, causing damage to the environment.
  • Electricity and fuel can be used for growing animals, poultry farms conditioning, heating greenhouses and dairy farms, as well as for agricultural machinery, refrigerators, freezers and equipment for collection and processing of crops. Large amount of energy involved in transporting and processing agricultural products. Wise energy utilization can prevent disasters, such as gas emissions, air pollution, leakage of toxic gases or oil in land and natural reservoirs.
  • Agricultural production and subsequent industrial processing associated with production of waste and wastewater (including animal waste), can cause serious damage to environment and pose a danger to the nature or other bad impact for health of people.

The influence of environmental factors on food:

Most of crops depend on the environment, such as weather, rainfall, cattle epidemics and all that sort of things. There are many examples in the history of the past years. For example, an epidemic of late blight in Ireland in the mid 19th century completely destroyed crops of potatoes in Ireland. Famine led to death of many people.

Modern industrialization has created new disasters worldwide. For instance, nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in April 1986 and Fukushima in March 2011, and the oil spill at the facility of British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. In the latter incident, there is evidence that serious damage caused to the aquatic environment and inhabitants of the ocean, comparable with a mutation in a nuclear disaster.

Environmental disasters can seriously affect both: meals served in restaurants and products at the supermarkets, in terms of quality, availability and prices.

Contradiction between environmental and social values​​:

Correlation between environment and food often generates conflict between environmental and social value​​, for example:

  • When comparing organic and genetically modified food: avoiding pesticides or genetically modified food can contribute health of the consumers, as well as positive impact on the environment and products. However, the cultivation of organic products, in contrast to genetically modified, in some cases may increase the cost of agricultural products to manufacturers and as a consequence for their customers. Prices should be moderated and socially oriented. For example, not many people can afford organic food in a restaurant or at supermarket, some products may become prerogative of affluent consumers.
  • Unreasonable energy consumption associated with transportation, leads to air pollution and should be reduced, although difficult to implement, but can be achieved using natural and human resources.
  • Increased cultivation of soy as a substitute of meat and milk, no doubt, will be a boon for some animals and reduce the harm caused by dairy farms, poultry farms and it will help to avoid the necessity of high volumes of forage for animals. Even a substantial increase of the amount of sown soybeans areas, cannot completely solve the environmental problem, moreover, those fields where soybeans are grown, could harm flora and fauna of a region.

Unfortunately, there is no way completely portion out the environment from food industry, but it is necessary to minimize the damage.

Influence of the environment in restaurants, bakery, banquet halls or catering services:

Even at the stage of food production, food industry has a significant impact on the environment. For example:

  • Consumption a lot of energy for cooking, baking, heating, cooling, freezing, transportation, lighting or air conditioning.
  • Significant water consumption (for ex. washing dishes, cleaning, industrial purposes) and as a result, large amounts of waste water.
  • Production of various wastes, some of them are not quite biodegradable, like plastic, the remains of cooking oil or waste paper.

The good news is that it is possible to minimize the losses even for an individual restaurant or bakery. For example , consultation with a specialist who is aware of energy -efficient equipment and installing lighting, efficient air-conditioning , saving timers, insulation in the dining room or a refrigerator compartments, recycling of waste oil (it is encouraged by legislation), collecting and recycling bottles and paper packaging , and in some cities even sorting of household garbage by type or re- use of recycled packaging materials.

It is quite possible to use cogeneration systems for the production of electricity, heat and steam or hot water (in restaurants and bakeries located in major industrial areas, shopping centers, etc.) and thereby reduce the consumption of energy used for the production of food and confectionery products. This will benefit the environment as well as reduce the expenses of doing business and as a result, prices for consumers.

The most important conclusion is awareness raising among consumers and manufacturers of food about its impact on the quality of the environment. There is a need to disseminate information about the various tools that can limit energy intake.

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