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Geographies of Food

Food choices affect health

What is Food Geography?

You’re probably asking yourself “what has food geography got to do with nutrition and healthful eating?” Well, rather a lot really! When you scrape the surface and dig deep to unearth the lengths to which corporate food industries go in order to sell their ultra-processed foods just about everywhere in the world. Food Geography is a field of Human Geography. It focuses on patterns of food production and consumption on the local to global scale. It examines the type of foods these multi-nationals provide consumers highlighting that they are devoid of nutrients and are a far cry from the sustainable diets once eaten by our not-so-ancient ancestors.

Why Should We Eat Foods In Season?

A sustainable diet involves eating foods that are grown and produced nearer to home; consequently, such food is rich in nutrients for the human body to thrive. Have you heard about the term, “food miles”? Well, it refers to the distance food has travelled to arrive on your plate. It is the difference between eating globally- and locally- grown and produced foods. Transportation exerts effects that are damaging to our planet, Mother Earth who nourishes us. We have lost our “true” connection with nature. Today, everything is possible. We have become so accustomed to consuming food all year round that arrives from the four corners of the globe. For instance, here in Europe and generally in the Northern Hemisphere, eating tomatoes in winter and citrus fruits in summer has become normalised. They are bland and often more expensive. Why not look forward to eating Brussels sprouts at Christmas time and tomatoes when they are full of goodness and ripened from the sun. We need to reshape the way in which we eat – quality over quantity! Whatever happened to eating foods in season that are produced locally? What is the impact on human health? So many questions that are left unanswered as mass media “sing the tunes” of exotic foods and ultra processed products; telling “consumers” that these foods are made specifically with us in mind.

Reducing The Food Miles

The current food industry is driven by profits. The agribusiness encourages monoculture and, consequently, the use of chemical pesticides. Let’s think about human antibiotic resistance, that is, their excessive use has made microbes resistant to them. The same thing is occurring in intensive agriculture due to the overuse of chemical products to control pests and diseases. Pesticides are destroying our natural resources and, as a result, damaging human health. Despite their harmful effects, pesticides continue to be used, leading to soil infertility. Sequentially, chemical fertilisers are utilised to overcome poor soil quality.

As soon as food is harvested it begins to deteriorate. As we know, the majority of our food in supermarkets comes from far and wide so by the time it arrives on the shelves it has lost many of its nutrients. Furthermore, it usually contains pesticide residue. Of course there are foods that grown in certain regions of the world and not in others. It is our choice to decide whether or not we continue to eat foods that originate from thousands of miles away. Perhaps we could start by altering our eating habits just a little by reducing our consumption of such foods. Moreover, we should opt for foods that can be and are grown in our own regions. For instance, apples are abundant in Europe so why eat varieties that come from the other side of the globe? It is understandable that we enjoy a tropical fruit once in a while but let’s make it an exception rather than the rule.

Source: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) See link for further map information.


Are Processed Foods Damaging Our Health?

Huge corporations have successfully established global brands with the promise that they are “supporting” farmers by processing their foods. Such foods become ultra-processed which are devoid of nutrients, high in refined sugars and salt. Scientists work for these companies in laboratories with their white coats processing “foods” that are rendering many people addicted and ill. It is a vicious cycle from which people find it increasingly difficult to escape. With regards to global brands, I would like to discuss what has occurred since the rise in “veganism”. Increasingly people are turning towards a vegan diet for diverse reasons; whether it is for animal welfare, our health or our planet it appears to be right and just. Unfortunately, the majority of people lack the necessary information about “how to” create a plant-based meal from scratch. Here is where these, usually same, corporate food brands wave their “magic wand”. Supermarkets are now inundated with vegan processed foods. For those with little culinary skills these products are the answer! Foods that look like meat but are not meat but made in a laboratory by “white coat” scientists, not by qualified vegan chefs I might add. Is there any nutritional value in these “glorified” vegan foods? I place these on the same level as any other ultra-processed produce.

Current retail environment is driven by the race to providing more and more refined and ultra-processed products to “feed” the growing global population. But, there is a difference between feeding and nourishing. These products may fill that hunger gap but will not nourish the human body. Such foods are highly processed containing additives, preservatives and so forth in order to provide ultra-long shelf life. Food has become a commodity. What we eat has a market value which has led food to the Stock Exchange!

You Have The Choice!

As consumers we need to go back to basics; think about the food we are eating and reconnect with nature. From where is our food coming? How is it grown and produced? And most importantly by whom? As consumers, we have the power of choice. We must take back the responsibility of making the right choice for our health and the health of our children and the planet we will leave them. Be in-the-moment while you shop. Do not take packaging at face value. Become an ingredient reader. The more you put your mind into your shopping, the better you become at spotting good quality food. Sustainable and healthier diets will not only lower the global carbon footprint but especially reduce the ever-increasing disease states of the world population. Not that long ago peasant farmers cultivated and preserved the land through polyculture which enhances ecological resilience. Crop rotation helps to preserve the soil and the environment, thus, providing us with healthful, wholesome produce as the soil is rich in nutrients. I like to call it a “virtuous cycle”.


International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
Khoury CK et al. (2016). ‘Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide’, Proc. R. Soc. B, 283: 20160792.
Kneafsey, M. Maye, D. Holloway, L. and Goodman, M.K. (2021). Geographies of Food: An Introduction, London and NY: Bloomsbury Academic.
Sage, C. (2012). Environment and Food, Oxon & NY: Routledge.
Sage, C. Quieti, M. and Fonte, M. (2021). ‘Sustainable Food Systems <–> Sustainable Diets’, The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, 27(1), pp. 1–11.
Trauger, A. (2023). Geographies of Food and Power, Oxon & NY: Routledge.
WHO (2023). ‘Antimicrobial resistance’, Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance.

Written by: Elaine O’DRISCOLL-ADAM

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Blog/Article content reflects the author's research and diverse opinions, not necessarily CNM's views. Items may not be regularly updated, so represent the best available understanding at the time of publication.

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