The Most Sustainable Food Model for the Caribbean
Sustainable: The ability to be maintained, upheld, or defended
The term ‘sustainable’ has become the new buzzword for many food companies trying to appeal to a generation of consumers who have become far more savvy about the industry than executives could have ever imagined; we want to know what’s in our food, where was it made, who’s made it and above all at what expense to our environment. Our generation of Caribbean citizens are striving to take ‘sustainability’ from an ambiguous, idealistic marketing ploy into actionable, accountable practices which will allow us to inherit a Caribbean society that treats our natural environment and our people, our most valued resources, with the reverence they deserve. However, the question arises: What does a sustainable food system look like and is it achievable in a Caribbean context? (Spoiler alert: it most definitely is!) This article will look at ways in which both consumers and producers can strive towards the sustainable development of the food and agricultural sector we all so desperately want to achieve.
1.) Reduce Meat and Dairy Consumption
The meat and dairy industry accounts for more than 14% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The meat and dairy industry produce more GHG than the entire transportation sector and accounts for a significant amount of deforestation for cattle grazing and feed production. Ironically, the meat and dairy industry is also largely responsible for the Chronic disease epidemic (according to the National Institute of Health) that has plagued the Caribbean for decades as our dietary patterns became more westernized and meat-dependent. The meat industry is the perfect example that health and the environment are inextricably linked and the Caribbean community could mitigate the effects of both climate change and non-communicable diseases all by simply reducing the amount of meat and dairy we consume.
Meatless Mondays anyone?
2.) Buy Local
There is a hidden environmental cost of the food industry that isn’t given much attention but vastly contributes to the unsustainability of the sector: Transportation. The UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs estimates that moving food is responsible for 25 per cent of all miles covered by heavy goods traffic in the UK producing 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually – equivalent to around 5.5 million typical cars. Similarly, the Caribbean imports more than 70% of all food consumed creating a dangerous dependence on foreign manufacturers thousands of miles away thus contributing to the colossal carbon footprint of the sector. By opting for locally made and regionally sourced products, we can lessen the carbon emissions associated with food transportation, stimulate our agricultural economy, support our local farmers and leave consumers with more money in their pockets by avoiding the exorbitant importation taxes of the region.
I don’t know about you but that sounds quite sustainable to me.
3.) Backyard Gardening
If you were to ask: At what point was Caribbean food and agricultural system the most sustainable? My answer would most definitely be the early to mid 1900s. During this period of extreme volatility due to plagues, wars and natural disasters, food imports and exports regularly came to abrupt, indefinite halts. This forced us in the Caribbean to build strong, resilient food systems which we could solely depend on to feed our community. At the foundation of this system was subsistence farming. It was very common for the average citizen to use the limited space they had to grow food or rear livestock to feed their families and to earn a secondary source of income. This shifted the reliance away from external, off-shore, industrial producers to the individual. We were responsible for the quality, standard and safety of our food to great success. Hence the answer to achieving a food system which produces safe, accessible and nutritious food for all may be found in our past and people are beginning to revert to the home-farming which served us so well.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition in partnership with the HCC Childhood Obesity Prevention Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Action Team launched a backyard gardening initiative last year which aimed to promote this practice by providing helpful tips and a platform to showcase backyard gardening initiatives from CSOs across the region.
4.) Circular Economy Model
A circular economy model is an efficiency-focused, zero-waste approach to economic development which places our society, community and the environment at the core of the business model while maximizing a company’s revenue from their production line. About one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted globally and In this model, by-products of food production and foods which failed quality test due to cosmetic reasons and are safe to eat, are not seen as waste but as a potential value-added product or as a resource which can be further used in the production process. Companies around the world are adopting this hyper-efficient production model with resounding success like Coffee Cherry Company created by a former Starbucks engineer who learned about the challenge of coffee cherry waste (tiny fruits that hold coffee beans and usually end up rotting on coffee plantations). He created a new process that converts the fruits into flour. Imagine all the novel, exciting possibilities for the region if manufacturers adopted this model of business development?
Good for business and good for the environment!
In closing, with natural disasters, droughts and other environmental events becoming more prevalent than we have ever seen before, and millions of global citizens being forced to flee their homes as a result, we have reached the point where corporate apathy regarding the environment is beginning to have real, disruptive consequences. It is no longer a matter of what ‘may happen’ but rather what ‘is happening’ and must do everything we can to protect what is left of our planet.
Jared Spencer is a recent graduate from the University of Nottingham with an integrated masters degree in Food Science and Nutrition and he is the incoming Technical Systems Coordinator at The Addo Food Group in the UK. His academic interests include the study of novel sustainable food systems and consumer behavior change within the food industry. Jared has been a Youth Advocate with the Healthy Caribbean Coalition since 2019 and is keen on creating an enabling environment which allows for the access of safe, nutritious and affordable food for all.
Disclaimer: In this blog, the views and opinions expressed are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.
Main image credit: foodunfolded.com
 Beckford CL, Campbel DR, The Role of Agriculture in Caribbean Economies: A Historical and Contemporary Analysis