Mercury Food and Wine article No.12 – We are what we eat!

We are what we eat

I think it would be a good guess that the readership of this magazine are responsible, caring individuals who are sensitive to how their actions and behaviour might affect society and the environment as a whole. Most of us are sensitive to such issues as social justice, animal welfare and green issues and will be supportive of charities and be active in recycling or neighbourhood clean-ups and other environmentally supportive activities. However I wonder if many of us realise that the most powerful and direct interaction we have with those issues is to be found right in front of us on our dinner plates.


Our food choices are the most direct way we can influence social, ethical and environmental issues, both global and local. After fresh water, food is our most important need as human beings, and the production and and procurement of this sustenance is the most direct way we as humans interact with the natural world. Agriculture and fishing have significant effects on our environment, and on human societies that are directly affected by these activities. Unfortunately because of the industrialisation of these activities, these effects have become largely negative if not devastating.

Most people globally have very little choice of what food to eat due to poverty or repressive political systems, however I would think that the majority of our readership are fortunate in having a larger degree of choice. My call is that you exercise that choice. If you care about how others live, if you care about how farm animals are treated, and if you care about the kind of world your children and grandchildren will live in, I ask that you choose wisely.


I would like to show in this article and in future articles leading up to the COP17 Climate conference, to held in Durban in December, what the choices are and the effect that they have.


The author Jared Diamond, wrote an essay titled “The worst mistake in the history of the human race”, in which he asserts that agriculture has been the source of many ills affecting humanity and our environment. This is counter-intuitive as most of us think farming is a noble pursuit. I am a farmer and I certainly do not enjoy the thought of practising a great mistake. However Diamond touches on an important and can we say, an inconvenient truth. Farming and how we practice it has been most influential on the state of our planet, and on our society, and in this I would agree with Diamond, this influence has been mostly negative. However I do feel strongly that we can still redeem our agriculture, and this is why I am an Organic farmer.

There are many farmers who care about the effects of their activities and have adopted practices that minimize harm, and try to build and enhance the environment and the society in which they are part. They have adopted agro-ecological methods such as Organic farming and permaculture. Some conventional farmers are now moving in this direction by adopting biological farming techniques, which are a half way house between sustainable farming and the industrial farming method.

Ultimately, it is the choice we make when purchasing our dinner, that will support the producers making an effort in the right direction, or those for whom profit is the only consideration. Do we choose the grass fed steak over the feed-lot steak, or the organic salad pack over the hydroponic salad pack? That choice could have real consequences on the world that we live in. For those of us who are fortunate in having a choice, we truly are what we eat.




About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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