THE BLOG

The Dilemma of Ethical Eating

01/13/2014 07:58 EST | Updated 03/15/2014 05:59 EDT

How many New Year's resolutions revolve around food? Lose weight. Eat less junk. Eat more kale. Cook more and eat out less. Find out what kale is.

A global resolution that we as a planet have failed to keep is to "feed the world." We hear that phrase several dozen times over the holidays in that classic Band Aid songDo They Know It's Christmas. But that was almost 30 years ago -- so far back that George Michael was still one-half of Wham!, and many of you don't know what that means -- yet still close to a billion people worldwide suffer from malnutrition.

There are no easy ways to ensure access to adequate, healthy food for everyone -- known in policy circles as food security. But among all the head-spinning issues of food economics, agricultural science and, of course, politics, there are some small-step solutions within our personal reach -- including the dinner table right in front of us.

Our planet is currently capable of producing enough food to provide 2,700 calories to every person, every day, according to United Nations estimates. So why do so many go so hungry?

Depending on the expert you ask, the endemic existence of hunger in a world of plenty is blamed variously on meat, cars, war, climate change, free trade, farm subsidies, and general economic inequality. The debate over solutions is about whether these distorting factors can be fixed, allowing the planet to naturally provide for a rapidly growing population, or whether scientific advances can contribute to solutions without sacrificing nutrition, health or environment.

The real answer is somewhere in the middle. We won't spontaneously all become vegetarian, stop driving, halt rising global temperatures and end poverty. But we can collectively move in those directions by cutting out one meat meal and one car trip a week, making climate-friendly choices and pressing our governments to address global inequality.

In the developing world, we've seen how new agricultural technologies have potential to help without disturbing Earth's ecological balance.

In many of Free The Children's partner communities, changing weather patterns and desertification strain traditional farming practices. So we're introducing natural, modern methods to improve soil fertility and seed quality, increase water access, and build capacity for long-term food self-sufficiency.

These simple projects, with our partners PotashCorp, include community greenhouses, school gardens and crop diversification and make a world of difference in these communities. We're also planting trees, developing irrigation systems and nurturing watersheds to mitigate desertification.

Meanwhile, back at our dinner table there are some conscious food choices we can make to help fill the plates of our fellow global citizens.

At first glance, it's not easy to be an ethical eater. We're told to cut back on meat to fight climate change and open up farmland for more nutrient-efficient grains. But we're also told to "eat local," which often requires eating locally raised meat instead of far-away alternatives like soy and nuts. Eating local supports local farmers, economies and food security, but buying imported foods -- especially fair-trade products -- provides income for farmers overseas to afford a wider variety of foods and a better life. But importing food produces greenhouse gases, which lead to more climate change.

So, on top of the multiple junkfood-and kale-related challenges of modern meal planning, how do we navigate this complex ethical menu?

We suggest setting a late New Year's resolution to be more conscious of the food you eat. Eat local as much as you can, and when you buy imported food, look for a fair-trade or related certification that assures better outcomes for the farmer and the planet. Try to prepare dinners that make the best use of the planet's existing agricultural resources -- heavy on grains, vegetables and fruit -- and support overseas development projects that help struggling communities become food secure naturally. In addition to Free The Children, some great examples we've seen are the Equitable Agriculture Movement, Inter Pares, CARE, and Farm Radio International.

"Feed the world" is apparently easier sung than done. But through conscious choices of all kinds, especially the food we eat ourselves, we can help begin to fill the plates of others without cutting down the forests.

This week's challenge: Shift your diet for a week toward more socially conscious choices -- buy more local produce, fair-trade for far-away foods, and try one or two meat-free meals. Tell your story at We365.com.

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded the international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in 13 cities across North America and the United Kingdom, inspiring more than 180,000 attendees and millions more online. For more information, visit www.weday.com

Food Security in Africa