City Living and Eating Habits
"Cities are not built for people, they are built for commerce." Ron Finely, Gangsta Gardener
The notion that cities are built for people is a flawed one. If it were built for people, we could just pick fruits from a tree, travel without danger of getting run over, and live in homes apt for the climate. Instead, we have cities that lack provisions for equity, consume tons of energy, and constantly release air, water, and noise pollution.
How cities are shaped today is largely due to the idea of what a ‘developed’ society is. Economic growth today is based on society’s capacity to consume. The more money a certain space and time can make, the better. We are made to believe that we must work to be able to afford the products and conveniences that elevate our status in society. On the other hand, time for leisure and personal growth have been deemed as a luxury that can only be afforded when you have attained a certain kind of life.
This fast-paced, workaholic lifestyle has also affected the way we consume food. Global fast-food chains can be seen all over the cities. Food-delivery services have been popping up and restaurants, both local and international, have been booming. Since people have been living in smaller spaces closer to where they work, more often than not, it is the kitchen space that is sacrificed. The food industry boom has been good to the economy as it provides employment and allows for more consumption. However, problems with waste, deforestation, wildlife displacement, and ocean pollution are often not considered in our decision-making process when we purchase products or services. Despite our better knowledge of different kinds of cuisines and flavors, this food boom has made us more distant from the food we eat.
How well do you know your food? Can you name the fishes in the market? Do you know how bread is made? What is in that favorite wrap you just ate? Do you know how the café brews the perfect cup or what makes it different from the rest? Do you know that the rice we are eating does not come from our farmers*? Maybe not, and what’s worse is we probably don’t even care. Increased purchasing power distanced us from the food we eat. Since we have the money to buy, we no longer find the need to know where our food comes from or how it is made. (This also applies to other products we consume such as clothing and other household items.)
However, the current pandemic has forced us to become more mindful of the food we consume. Farmers are trying to meet the demand for food especially with the loss of supply from imports. But strict border controls within regions have limited their access to markets, oftentimes leading to the waste of their products. There is an imbalance of supply and demand in the country. Regions in Northern Luzon and Mindanao have an oversupply of agricultural goods while many non-agricultural regions and cities struggle to meet demand. Therefore, cities are not equipped to feed their populace, relying heavily on importation and other regions for food security. If we are to imagine a world free from hunger, the future of food is in hyperlocal food production.
*The Philippines is the no.1 rice importer in Asia in 2019, even exceeding China
Hyperlocal food is food that is grown very close to where it is consumed. This means that food is sourced either from a garden or from a nearby urban farm, instead of miles away. With the technological advancements in farming methods, any building, parking lot, rooftop, or even balcony can be turned into a food-producing space.
Hyperlocal food production is a step towards food security and sustainable development. It cuts a lot of carbon footprint from traditional food production methods which involve tons of packaging and transportation (not to mention the pesticides you unconsciously consume and all the energy used to process food to make them marketable). You can kiss plastic laden produce in the grocery goodbye because there is no need to package fruits and veggies, just pick them fresh on demand.
Where is the closest place you can hyperlocalize for food production? The answer is in your very own garden. Imagine if everyone in your neighborhood is growing their own food, everyone could just trade their produce for someone else’s, while extra ones could be given to soup kitchens for the less privileged population. How about meat? Chickens and fishes can be integrated into garden set-ups through methods such as aquaponics. Growing pigs and goats in the backyard are not new concepts for humans; people have been doing it even centuries before (But in my opinion, we should cut on meat consumption). Many restaurants have also started to utilize a hyperlocal food system, where they grow their produce in rooftops or source out ingredients from within the locality. Hyperlocal food processing can also give birth to small-scale and artisanal products by members of the community. It’s a win-win for all: the producers, the businesses, and the people. You get fresh and healthy products while helping the local economy.
Aside from economic reasons, gardening and farming create a better relationship with the food you eat. Having a better understanding of how food is grown and the experience of sowing to harvesting creates a better appreciation of the food we eat. It helps us practice the virtue of patience because growing can never be commanded, only appreciated. Those that have harvested and tasted their homegrown produce can testify its superior taste vs store-bought ones, mainly because it’s guaranteed fresh and maybe because there is already a part of you in it.
While this pandemic has forced us to implement physical distancing, it has brought us closer to the food we eat. Having to stay at home and slow down from our fast-paced lifestyle allowed us to appreciate the things that we truly value. It has also revealed something that has always been true - that food doesn’t necessarily have to be distant, and that many of what we think we need are just frivolous. It is high time that economic growth and development be redefined. It should no longer be measured by people’s consumptive capacity, but rather of how well it can sustain its populace, not only of the human population but of animals, rivers, and trees. After all, humans aren’t the only ones living on this planet. Let us help create better cities with better food security. Let’s share.