Ethical Eats

Brought to you by Oxfam @ Queen's


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Understanding Green Droughts

A green drought occurs when rain falls irregular to its usual cycle or when there is only enough rainfall to maintain shallow-rooted plants on the surface. Green droughts are a result of late rainfall delaying harvests and, thus, stalling food production. Green droughts tend to confuse the international public who view images of green, flourishing lands but are still told that there is a dire situation occurring that needs international aid relief.

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In 2011 Ethiopia’s green drought began its most notorious famine. Rainfall in the region came too late to produce crops so farmers were unable to harvest on schedule. Short rains usually fall in February or March and are crucial in germinating seeds for crops but in 2011’s Ethiopia, short rain did not fall until May. This irregular rain schedule leaves farmers with fewer crops due to late harvesting or even inabilities to harvest. Even after rainfall finally falls (off schedule), farmers experience slower growing – if growth at all.

Contrary to the typical understanding of droughts, droughts are not necessarily a result of a lack of rain but can also be due to the timing of precipitation in which rain cycles are not on schedule with crop harvesting. Green droughts are deceptive but equally as disastrous and destructive as characteristic droughts. So although a green drought may not look like a problem at all, the resulting agricultural complications leave farmers and communities without food or prospects of food production for indefinite periods of time.

– Angela


Drip Irrigation Systems

Part of the LOFT movement includes a commitment to environmental responsibility. Less packaging, more reusable and recyclable materials, shorter transportation of food itself – but more directly, and perhaps most importantly, is farming techniques. The meat industry is often highlighted as unsustainable and inhumane as well as highly wasteful. Surprisingly, the agricultural industry can be equally as unsustainable.

Farms are major contributors to water scarcity – about 70% of all water consumed is through farming techniques…and most of the water is wasted.

Drip irrigation (also known as trickle or micro irrigation) is a horticultural method engineered to control the application of water and fertilizer to enable water to drip slowly to the roots of the plants. Although the technique continues to be developed, the network of valves and tubes has proven efficienct, effective, and worth pursuing for both farmer security and water security.

What are the benefits of drip irrigation?

  • reduced water use – drip irrigation can use up to half the amount of water overhead irrigation systems do
  • improved efficiency – the direct application of water and/or fertilizer keeps costs low and less nutrients are losses (and nutrients can be timed more precisely to the plants’ needs)
  • less weeds – the direct application can also help focus the irrigation on the plants rather than the surrounding foliage
  • low pumping – drip irrigation requires lower operating pressure than overhead systems
  • better distribution – the direct application improves the ability of the field to be watered equally and properly throughout (even with irregularly shaped fields)

ImageUnfortunately, drip irrigation systems can be expensive to both install and maintain but the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages especially when considering the amount of water such a system can save. 


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Certified Local Sustainable

The L in LOFT is not always easily accomplished and can get even more complicated when you add sustainability to the mix.

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Local Food Plus (LFP) is a Canadian non-profit aiming to educate consumers, producers, and distributors about the benefits (and standards) of local and sustainable foods. LFP developed criteria to certify local sustainable foods so that consumers know, and understand, exactly what they’re purchasing.

The definition of local is often ambiguous ranging from 100km radius to within a province or group of provinces. Likewise, sustainable is overwhelmed with limitless conditions. LFP seeks to amalgamate the two concepts identifying local sustainable food as:

  • being grown or caught, processed, and marketed locally
  • financially viable for all stakeholders (not just chain retailers/distributors)
  • ecologically responsible
  • meat from producers who treat animals with respect and without reliance on artificial hormones or drugs
  • socially responsible workplaces (fair wages, fair treatment)
  • energy conservation (low reliance on fossil fuels)
  • water conservation (low water waste)
  • stewards of the environment (biodiversity and protecting wildlife)
  • helping to grow a resilient food system

The LFP label is subject to independent third party expert inspections. And unlike organic labelling systems, LFP does not charge farmers for the entire cost of certification but charges a minimal fee while the rest of the expenses are paid through LFP fundraising (reducing the burden on small-hold farmers).

LFP got its start on the University of Toronto campus proving that the differences students make in their community can extend to the entire food system.

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– Angela


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Growing a Better Future

GROW is Oxfam’s food security campaign launched in 2011. Oxfam’s sustainable solutions include…

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This means sharing how we consume food and how corporations and institutional structures function. We can make a difference by using environmental resources more delicately, addressing climate change, and helping farmers adapt to rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Let’s change what and how we consume.

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This means utilizing women farmers in developing countries giving them equal access to land, seeds, equipment, credit, and training. We can make a difference by helping women farmers in developing countries gain equal access to land, seeds, tools, and credit that would help them grow more food and eat better. Let’s change how food is produced.

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This means that the distribution of food needs to more balanced. We can make a difference by asking our governments to change policies that undermine people’s right to food. Let’s change policies and ensure the right to food is met.

What we want to see:
investment in small-scale agriculture that recognizes women having a critical role…this does not mean large corporate farms should not exist,  but they currently get most of the investment and support — resolving the food crisis will take a variety of approaches in which small-scale agriculture (which feeds 1/3 of the planet) can do
moratorium on land-grabs in developing countries
– responsible government regulation
– stop climate change

What you can do:
– buy food produced fairly and sustainably
– demand accountability from companies
– get governments to include support for sustainable agriculture and women farmers in the aid budget
– press the government to stop subsidizing food for fuel
– reduce greenhouse gases

 – Angela


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Growing an Indoor Garden

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As students we may not have a large enough backyard to cultivate an at-home garden but that shouldn’t stop us from growing our own food! Indoor herb gardens are an easy and fun way to get creative this spring.

What you’ll need:

-A window sill (or just a window with sunlight)
-A planter (feel free to decorate it to make it your own — but make sure it has drainage holes)
-Herb seeds (which sometimes come with starter-kits to help you out!)
-Or even already grown plants you can buy at the grocery store (but make sure you inspect the plant before you buy it)

What to do:

  1. Fill your planter with your favourite herb seeds (or pre-grown herb) in a bed of quality potting soil.
  2. Place planter by a window where it will get lots of natural sunlight (it’ll need 6 hours a day) but not too hot in the afternoon.
  3. Water the herb occasionally to keep the soil moist.

Some tips to keep you going:

– give your plants plenty of room — don’t overcrowd your pots with too many seeds or multiple herb plants being grown too close together
– water regularly but make sure the water drains through the entire pot to avoid rotting roots
– rotate the planter on occasion to distribute the sun evenly
– most herbs like moderate to poor soil so fertilizer is not always necessary (also better for the environment!)
– let the plan reach about 15cm before harvesting leaves — and only ever take about a quarter or less of the plant at a time — but clip regularly to promote growth

Easy herb suggestions to start you off:

  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Basil — tip: prefer to be watered more frequently than most herbs
  • Rosemary — tip: prefer to be drier than most herbs
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Mint

Your indoor herb garden is ready to go! Fresh herbs while cooking will make all the difference in your meals. And who wouldn’t want to brag about growing what they’re serving.

-Angela


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Eating Fair Trade

There are a lot of uncertainties about what “fair trade” is and there’s no conclusive answer. It’s a fairer way of doing trade and the consumers interpret that as they wish. An easy way to know whether what you’re buying is truly “fair trade” or not is to look for the Fair Trade International logo.

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Still, Fair Trade certified products are plagued with misconceptions. Hopefully this post can clear some of those up for you…

Misconception #1: Fair Trade is just an economic agreement

Fair Trade is not just an economic agreement but includes a manifold of other standards and regulations required for certification. Certified Fair Trade products guarantee farmers are not exploited receiving better prices and longer-term, meaningful trading relationships. To be a Fairtrade certified product, producers have to meet certain criteria ranging from labour standards to sustainable farming to democratic participation (ie. as a co-operative). Company relationships with producers need to maintain a minimum price and longer contracts regularly audited by an independent certification body (FLO-Cert). A Fairtrade certified product does not solely mean a fair price is given to the producers but encompasses a myriad of other requirements.

Misconception #2: Fair Trade is more expensive

Although the nature of Fair Trade necessitates higher prices for producers, it does not automatically mean the products are unaffordable for consumers. You’d be surprised at how inexpensive and available Fair Trade products can be.

Misconception #3: Fair Trade is difficult to find

Fair Trade products are more readily available than many assume. Regular grocery stores, even Metro, Loblaws, and the Campus Grocery Store, have Fair Trade products in stock. It is true that Fair Trade is not as easily accessible as regularly traded products but with consumer pressure for stores to start selling more Fair Trade this can certainly transform.

Misconception #4: I’m a student and Fair Trade just isn’t possible for me right now

Fair Trade products are available on campus at cheap prices! Oxfam at Queen’s started what is now known as the Fair Trade Co-Operative a few years ago. The sole purpose of the Co-Op is to have Fair Trade products available on-campus for the student body. The Co-Op sells Fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, and other treats at whole-sale prices making absolutely no profit. Our products are from Canadian-based companies (Equita, Camino, and Just Us) who work with co-operative farmers from all over the world. The kiosk is run entirely by volunteers out of the Walkhome booth in the lower JDUC from 11:30-4:30 every Monday to Thursday.

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No excuses now: it’s fair, it’s cheap, it’s on-campus, and it’s delicious.

— Angela