Biodiversity, climate change, food security

Food for thought:

We are what (and how) we eat

Did you know that we live in the most biodiverse area in “Canada”? This biodiversity is reflected in the variety of species and diverse environments across the lands and waters of what we call British Columbia. We are grateful to call this land home. Part of making a home in this area is understanding and appreciating the biodiversity, and fostering a reciprocal relationship with this land. 

One of the main ways we interact with the land is through what we eat. You’ve probably heard the phrase “You are what you eat” and this is true. The way that we eat shapes the way that we live and directly affects our environment. In order to foster a reciprocal relationship with the land, we need to think about the flip side: our environment should affect the way we eat. Nature is not something separate from us. Rather, the continued health of nature is vital to the continued health of humans. 

We are currently facing major threats to the environment, including the climate emergency and biodiversity loss. The industrialization of food and long supply chains are responsible, in part, for these threats. In order for us to care for the planet and ourselves, we need to address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss not as independent problems, but issues that are interconnected.

Wait, what is biodiversity?

For those who might not know, biological diversity (aka biodiversity) refers to the variety of living things in a given environment. Plants, mammals, insects, birds, micro-organisms, all contribute to the biodiversity of an ecosystem. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the stronger and more sustainable it is. Strong biodiversity is important–it provides balance to the overall environment that is essential to our health and the health of our planet. 

A biodiverse environment will have a lot of genetic variation, a number of different species, and a wide distribution of life across land and water. Within this environment, all living things are interconnected. The way these diverse species are woven together creates a strong web and provides the   foundation for a sustainable food system.

When it comes to preserving, conserving, and protecting the Earth there is a lot of work to be done. Ecosystems are carefully constructed webs and when disrupted there is a devastating impact on our environment and our health. There is a reciprocal relationship between biodiversity, the climate, and food. Our food system in so-called British Columbia is just one of many systems in “Canada” and the world. When we discuss biodiversity, what we’re discussing is the interconnectedness of all plants, animals, and people across the planet. Our systems might be incredibly biodiverse, but we may not be interacting with it in a way that reinforces that diversity (in fact we are interacting with the world in a way that causes a lack of biodiversity in other areas). 

Biodiversity, the climate, & food security

Climate change and biodiversity loss intersect and within that intersection is food. Where is it grown? How is it grown? How is it processed? How is it transported? Where is it sold?   

The 2021 Food Price Report identified the climate crisis as one of the leading macroeconomic factors to the increase in food prices across Canada. Considering we were also navigating a global health crisis, one that rerouted the entire food chain, that’s a big deal. And if the climate crisis is a major factor, and that is linked to biodiversity loss (which it is), we can assume that a loss of biodiversity also has a serious impact on the price of food. As food prices rise, so does the rate of food insecurity. 

Climate change and biodiversity are two separate issues, but they overlap. A lack of biodiversity amplifies the climate emergency. The heating of the planet destroys biodiverse environments, changes the way plants grow, changes where animals can find sources of food, changes migratory patterns. More than a ripple effect, these are big waves. We need to protect entire ecosystems, not just pick and choose which areas of the environment are deemed worthy of protection. 

A focus on preserving biodiversity and addressing the climate emergency is all part of changing our relationship to the land. We are not something separate from our environment. When we eat, we interact with the land. Where does this food come from? And how did it get here? 

Currently, we rely too much on long supply chains. Not only are these supply chains fragile (as demonstrated with shortages throughout the pandemic) but they are harmful to biodiversity and the climate. 

Much of the food sold in grocery stores is outsourced and imported, putting a strain on the environment. Industrialized agriculture disrupts biodiversity by growing only what sells (we see this with the overproduction of grains and corn required to make things like sugary cereals and corn syrup) instead of cycling through in season crops or growing native plants. We’ve shifted away from eating food that is grown, harvested, and processed locally contributing to a lack of biodiversity and increasing transportation-generated greenhouse gases that are harmful to the planet. One way to encourage biodiversity is to eat whole foods and to buy local as much as you can. The closer we can eat, the better. 

Of course, there are multiple factors to consider when changing our way of living and eating (money is a big one). But taking steps to live and eat in a more sustainable way (one that serves the ecosystem over the economy) improves the planet for everyone. Yes, we require overarching systems change. However, community actions can create a movement that shows the need for this change while making it seem possible for the world to shift in a way that is more holistic and beneficial for everyone.  

What can you do?

These crises are overwhelming and you might be wondering what you can do. Well, part of addressing the climate emergency and biodiversity loss is to acknowledge that this is happening and educate yourself about it. So, you’ve already taken a good first step by reading this article. Another important step to foster and preserve biodiversity is to take stock of your relationship with the land. How do you live, eat, work, and play on this land?

Other ways you can help preserve biodiversity:
-leave wildlife and their habitats alone. 
-leave native plants undisturbed and if you are planting/landscaping, use native plants.
-conserve water and reduce irrigation.
-naturalize your lawn. 
-make your backyard friendly to pollinators (butterfly gardens, bee condos).
-consider donating property to land trusts. 
-learn about nature, biodiversity, and the environment and share this knowledge with others.
-use environmentally friendly products and be mindful of consumption.
-drive less. Walk, bike, carpool, take public transport.
-encourage and support initiatives that preserve biodiversity.
-share this post and the other resources below.

Canada’s Food Price Report 2020
IPBES-IPCC Co-sponsored Workshop: Biodiversity and Climate Change Workshop Report
Nature Trust BC