Food, Sustainability and New York City
You might wonder how food, sustainability and New York City are associated with one another. Unfortunately, the Earth is currently experiencing a rapid loss of biodiversity, and unsustainable human activity is now the greatest threat to biodiversity. Industrial agriculture reduces biodiversity by damaging the environment through pollution from untreated animal waste, chemicals and soil erosion. Excessive amounts of manure created by the thousands of animals found on large industrial farms create air, groundwater and surface water pollution. In addition, industrial agriculture uses enormous amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that leach into the ground and water and consequently pollutes its surroundings.
According to the book 'Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth' by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, "current rates of resource harvesting and waste generation deplete nature faster than in can regenerate, [but] pressure on both ecological integrity and social health is mounting [that will require] more effective sustainability initiatives including tools to stimulate a wider public involvement, evaluate strategies and monitor progress" (pgs. 1-3). Food and agriculture corporations are driven by profits, often at the cost of public health and environmental protection. But we, as voters and consumers, have the power to challenge them with their very own source of power and profits, so vote with your fork! As consumers, we all have the power to break down agribusiness by buying our food from small, local farms. If nobody buys food from agribusiness and industrial farms, corporations will no longer have the financial power to influence policymakers and legislators.
How do we begin? We should eat more vegetables, fruit, and grains and less meat. We should look for meat that is produced in the least harmful way: grass-fed, organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free. We should also buy organic whenever we can, as well as from small, local sources to reduce environmental impact. There are over 45 Greenmarket Farmers Markets in New York City, and I'm always looking forward to shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket.
I've also been a vegetarian for a little over a year, and this is my way to support biodiversity. I also participated in the Veggie Pride Parade on Sunday, May 18th 2008, the first of its kind in America. The U.S.-based parade was inspired by, but not affiliated with, the Veggie Pride Parade in Paris. The Parisian parade was the first ever in the world in 2001 and has been taking place annually ever since.
I was grateful to be able to partake in the expo and music performances by the Cheryl Hill Band that followed the parade at Washington Square Park. Those familiar with the park know that it is home to many rallies and other activities with its unconventional, open space. Vendors included VegNews magazine, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Farm Sanctuary, and Wildwood Organics. The entire event was spearheaded by Pamela Rice of VivaVegie Society, New York City's premier non-profit organization in advocacy and outreach for vegetarianism. She is also responsible for composing "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian. I had the privilege of meeting her a week before the parade began when I wanted to volunteer for the event. I heard about the event itself when I read AM New York May 12th issue. In the announcement, Rice shared her hopes that the event will allow vegetarians to come out of the shadows while dispelling misinformation about vegetarianism. She added that with the go green movement gaining prominence, I've lost our orientation to our food. There remains a conspicuous silence toward animal products that we need to examine.
There was extensive media coverage. According to The New York Times, the parade attracted about 600 people and at least one vegan dog despite the bad weather. There was a faux marriage ceremony between a seven-foot-tall pea pod and a giant carrot. Other sources include New York 1, New York Sun, CBS-TV local news, New York Daily News, 1010 WINS Radio, New York Metro, and Vegan Radio. Please click here.
I hope this article connected to you, wherever your food politics may lie. May 18th marked a milestone for vegetarians and vegans, and New York City is certainly heading in a greener direction. There are currently over 100 vegetarian restaurants and an estimated 50 greenmarkets in the City, and who knows how many there I'll be next year. As environmental historian William Cronon once said, "We are never outside the natural world, no matter where we live or what we do. The great challenge of modernity is to remember, in the face of all that tempts us to forget, just how interconnected the world is." We as consumers have the power to shop for a healthier planet - we only have one - and it's time that we started using it.