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Friday, 25 March 2011

Cyprus and globalisation of food

Food systems worldwide have changed as a result of the increasing industrialisation in agriculture and as a result of consolidation in the food chain with large multi-national companies now owning the production, processing and distribution of most food. Huge advertising budgets and the viral spread of fast foods have caused a shift in diets and food cultures. This development has increased access to foods (especially imported ones) in many parts of the world. But the resulting ecological, socio-economic and cultural changes are at a cost to human health and communities.  Along with the internationalisation of food systems, has been the rapid demise of environmentally-sound small-scale agriculture, family farm enterprises, traditional food cultures and diets. This trend has had a severe impact on community welfare and on the sustainability of food systems. Many features of those traditional systems of food production, distribution and consumption are now recognized as key for the promotion of healthy, sustainable communities. 

Cyprus, is a small country and for much of it's history it's people were self sufficient. Primarily an agrarian society made up of mostly small villages which had strong family and community ties. My grandparents generation lived off the land growing and rearing their own food, spinning their own clothes and using their produce to barter for goods and services needed. Their diet was based heavily on olive oil, olives, vegetables, fruit, unrefined cereals and foraged wild food. Consumption of meat and dairy products was minimal and food was seasonal. This Cypriot Mediterranean diet resulted in good health and longevity and scientific studies have shown that this traditional diet was nutritionally very balanced and met the bodies needs. 

The changes in recent decades has undermined this healthy diet and health problems, associated with a diet high in saturated fats, sugars and low in fruit and vegetables, are on the increase. The globalisation of food has undermined Cypriot agricultural traditions. Farms were historically small and farming methods largely organic and sustainable. Small fields supported very old olive groves, grape vines and carob trees which created an environment for wildlife. Changes towards industrialisation of farming methods and the widespread use of pesticides and other chemicals has displaced wildlife and has led to a widely reported demise in the bird population.

Speak to the older generation in any village and they will tell you that although food is now plentiful and easier to obtain that they feel the loss of a traditional way of life and the community connections linked to food production, preparation and sharing. 

Industrialisation of farming methods, globalisation of food production and distribution were only possible with cheap oil. With depleting oil stocks and ever increasing costs I wonder whether we will see a gradual return to traditional and healthier farming methods. 

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