Foods and the environment's diminishing health
Plant-based foods — such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, and lentils — generally use less energy, land, and water, and have lower greenhouse gas intensities than animal-based foods.

FOODS we consume daily, according to an article by the United Nations, have been directly linked to the diminishing health of the environment as "the climate impact of food is measured in terms of greenhouse gas emissions intensity".

"The emissions intensity is expressed in kilograms of 'carbon dioxide equivalents' — which includes not only CO2 but all greenhouse gases — per kilogram of food, per gram of protein or calorie," the UN says.

It is said that animal-based food, "especially red meat, dairy, and farmed shrimp, are generally associated with the highest greenhouse gas emissions", and the report went on to state the reasons for this.

However, "Plant-based foods — such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, and lentils — generally use less energy, land, and water, and have lower greenhouse gas intensities than animal-based foods," the UN explained.

This report helps to bring perspective to the work being done in Jamaica by the National 4H Gardening Programme, the Jamaican Hummingbird Taino and Maroon Peoples, and the Caribbean Youth Environment Network, who have held several workshops titled 'Teaching Climate Justice and Resilience Through Ancestral Plant Heritage In Jamaica'.

Their fight against climate change and for climate justice has seen them advocating more plant-based foods to be added to the diets of all Jamaicans.

Kasikeiani Ronalda, a member of the Jamaican Hummingbird Taino and Maroon Peoples, notes that food consumption and production have changed in Jamaica as more people are looking to get their nutritional benefits and satisfaction from unethically produced food. She says that while plant-based foods are easily accessible in the local markets, they are being pushed to the side for other food items.

"The food that we consume has changed, and a lot of our foods like cassava, dasheen, and some types of yams and sweet potatoes are being slowly but surely wiped from our plates," Ronalda says.

Climate justice advocates have also sounded major alarms against agricultural monoculture and its effects on the lands. Agricultural monoculture can be defined as a form of farming that is based on growing only one type of crop, at one time, on a specific field. Ronalda says that in her Taino community, food items are planted with the lands in mind as different seeds are sowed at a specific time to ensure that nutrients are always given back.

"We work with the land and the cycles of the land, and that assists us in keeping our diverse plant heritage intact to this day. As indigenous people we look at our plants as an extension of who we are, so the same way we treat each other in our community is the same respect that we have for the plants and the land," she explains.

Senior Researcher Dr Marisa Wilson believes that the effects of agricultural monoculture are far too great to be ignored by the larger countries who, she says, are the main ones participating in this method of production.

"A part of climate justice for us is about diverting palates, food systems, and the ways that foods are produced and consumed away from those industrial models of production and towards locally produced foods. But also, the justice element has a lot to do with the discredited, marginalised, and dispossession of resources and land from indigenous peoples and Maroon communities who have not been given the resources to build up their food production systems in such a way that they could feed their communities and beyond," Dr Wilson explains.

"What we're trying to get across is the fact that it's time for people in power and those who are teaching youth to remember the importance of these foods, because they have been also disregarded as peasant foods across the world. Plus, a part of the issue with the mass monocultures is that it is creating climate change, so one third of CO2 emissions that are affecting the Earth is due to agriculture and our industrial food systems," says Dr Wilson.

She notes that these "very climate-destructive" actions are usually beneficial to the larger countries in the global north as they are the ones who mostly earn from the agricultural industry. She says that there is a disproportionate use of global atmospheric commons by these companies as, though there are many other ways of producing food, they have chosen to rubbish them as "post-colonial forms of knowledge and production systems".

"You have mass landscapes in Canada, the US, and Europe across the global north that are benefiting from the mass global emissions from monocultures. It is also not just monocultures; it is the shipping, production, and the different chemicals in the factory production that are used in trying to make the handful of ingredients that are produced in monocultures into a whole range of different, ultra-processed food products," she says.

Another researcher and climate justice advocate, Dr Sylvia Mitchell says that while agricultural monoculture affects the entire world, it does not affect all citizens in the same way. This, she says, is another reason for their advocacy programmes seeking to encourage a plant-based diet.

"The part of climate justice you have to think about is that the climate is not disrupted for all people. So there's a part of justice that has to do with remembering everybody, remembering all voices, and letting all voices be part of the solution that needs to come for us to continue existing on this earth," says Dr Mitchell.

Rochelle Clayton

Published with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.

Rochelle Clayton

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