Oxfam’s GROW Method Offers Food for Thought

By Susan Sedlazek — February 06, 2013

Nearly one billion people on the planet suffer from hunger. To help people appreciate their connection to the world food system and examine their own food choices, Oxfam has suggested several discussion questions based on the principles outlined in its GROW Method.


1. What are some ways to waste less food?

Food production uses about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water supply and 38 percent of its land, though only two-thirds of its yield is actually consumed; the other one-third is lost or wasted. That’s about 1.3 billion tons of food each year down the drain, or more likely, into a landfill. In medium-to-high income countries, the most significant opportunities for waste reduction occur at the consumer end of the food chain. People buy more than they need and end up tossing it away, often before it has gone bad. Poor planning, confusion over “best before” dates, and the relative affordability of food all contribute to a throw-away mentality. In the U.S., where an estimated 40 percent of edible food goes uneaten, food waste has surpassed paper as the number one component in the landfills.

Oxfam wants people to consider their own habits around food waste and identify strategies to reduce it, such as planning their meals, using leftovers, and saying no to supersizing. Tackling the issue of food waste is becoming a more prominent theme in the environmental movement, with campaigns such as Love Food Hate Waste gaining in popularity.

2. How can your diet support small-scale farmers?

More than half of the people suffering from hunger in the world are the same individuals growing our food. Distribution of resources, soaring food prices, unfair trade policies, inefficient farming methods, and land grabs that often displace local farmers, all contribute to an ironic scenario in which people who make a living growing food cannot afford to feed their own families. Female farm workers are particularly marginalized. While women produce half of our food, studies indicate that they receive lower wages and are more likely to work part-time than their male counterparts; they also represent 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty.

On World Food Day, Oxfam is asking people to think about where their food comes from. Buying food labeled “fair trade” is one way to ensure that those growing the food are adequately compensated for their work.

3. What if we could save energy when cooking?

Agriculture currently accounts for 70 percent of water use. By 2050, the demand for food is expected to increase by 70 percent, leading scientists to predict that we will not have enough water to feed the projected nine billion people occupying the planet by mid-century. Likewise, global energy demand is expected to rise 60 percent over the next 30 years.

While cooking methods vary greatly across the planet, water and

energy used to prepare food and clean up after meals can add up quickly. To help people reflect on their own cooking practices and their impact on water and energy consumption, Oxfam is asking them to ponder questions such as, “If you had to walk five miles for just three to four gallons of water, how would your habits change?”

Suggestions for cooking smarter include cooking with as little water as possible, using a flat-bottomed pan, covering your pan with a lid, and reducing the heat as soon as the water starts to boil. Oxfam also offers daily recipe ideas on its online cookbook.

4. Does buying seasonally-grown food make a difference?

Eating food that is native and in-season saves energy and benefits the environment. Food miles associated with shipping non-seasonal foods to our local grocery store contribute to greenhouse gases. Likewise, food grown out of season in energy-intensive greenhouses can have a large carbon footprint. Oxfam’s website sums it up this way: “We waste a lot of energy trying to grow food in the wrong place, at the wrong time of year.”

To help people determine what food is in season and where they can purchase it, the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council has released an app called Eat Local. Some of the best bets for finding seasonal food include local farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements, where farmers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production.

5. Have you ever tried eating more vegetables and less meat?

Currently, one-third of the world’s arable land is devoted to animal agriculture. Production of animal protein also uses five to 10 times the amount water that is required for a vegetarian diet. Additionally, animal agriculture generates almost one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, including methane, which is 23 percent more powerful than carbon dioxide.

While people in the U.S. are eating less meat, overall demand for animal-based protein is rising across the globe, particularly in developing countries where the Western diet is gaining popularity. Calls to reduce consumption of animal products by environmentalists, health care providers and other social activists have prompted campaigns such as Meatless Monday, which encourages people to cut meat from their diets at least one day a week.


Photos courtesy of Oxfam America

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