In the field of international relations, the sphere of influence is defined as a spatial or conceptual region over which a governing body has cultural, economic, legal, military or political control. In geographical terms, it is the area surrounding a settlement directly affected by the activities of that settlement, or the population utilizing the products and services of a business or corporation. Depending on the demand for a given product or service, the sphere of influence of a business or corporation may be large or small. In terms of environmental impact, our sphere of influence is the spatial region extending beyond the boundaries of the physical self, where we source the products and services we need to survive and to create our lives, including the environmental impact of our lifestyles.
We must think of ourselves as self-governing entities with a small sphere of influence, where we aim to make as little environmental impact on the Earth as possible. This does not mean we should make our hearts, our minds and our souls small. We can still be free to express who we are, but we would not be bound by the need to consume and accumulate unnecessary things.
An important part of the Environmental Warrior ethos is treading lightly on the Earth, living simply, and sourcing the products and services we need to survive and live well, from locations as close to our respective geographical locations as possible (the closer the better). I have always stressed how important it is for most of our diet to consist of fresh, organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sourced locally (not from another country). We can then build on this basic diet of fruits and vegetables with high quality proteins, fats, carbohydrates, herbs, spices and filtered (not bottled) water.
The concept of food miles measures the distance food products have traveled between the point of production and the point of purchase/consumption. The greater the distance a food travels, the greater the environmental impact it makes – more resources are required and more greenhouse gases are produced.
Sourcing our food from as close to our respective geographical locations (and as close to nature) as possible is better for our health, our communities and our environment. Whole, unprocessed food is nutritionally superior to heavily fragmented, processed food. Food that has to be refrigerated and transported long distances uses more fossil fuels than fresh food grown locally, which translates to more greenhouse gases being produced and absorbed by the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally provide higher employment for local people, results in reduced transport times for goods and supports local economies and communities.
It’s important to not only consider where a product is made, but also where the individual ingredients come from. A product may be made in our geographical location, but its ingredients may be sourced from a location much further away. It’s easy to do this with whole foods – simply don’t buy fruits and vegetables from another country – and purchase other whole foods from as close to your geographical location as possible. Pay particular attention to the ingredients used in processed food. Read labels – it will tell you whether the product is made from local and/or imported ingredients.
We could also apply this concept to our personal care products, or to our clothing items. It would be wonderful if we could obtain everything we need from local sources, but I know it’s not always possible to do this with everything we use. Even if we opt for ‘Made in (insert location here)’, the ingredients or materials may have been sourced from further afield. As always, we do what we can. It’s easier to apply this concept to food choices. The closer our food is to its whole, natural state, the easier it is to source our food locally.
Calculating food miles
This exercise will focus on food products only. I will provide four examples of food products I use regularly, the geographical locations where I source these products, alternative locations further away from where I live where I could source these products, and the approximate distances (food miles) in kilometres, from where I live (Melbourne, Australia). This exercise shows how important it is for us to be aware of where our food comes from, and this awareness will help us to make better choices so that we can reduce the environmental and ethical impact of our food preferences.
Food #1 – Chocolate
Company & Product: Loving Earth raw organic chocolate
Source Location: Satipo, Amazon Rainforest, Peru (food miles = 13,170km)
Alternative Location: Ivory Coast, West Africa (food miles = 15,519km)
Difference in Food Miles: 2,349km
Loving Earth work with small communities of local farmers in the production of their sustainable, ethical raw cacao, whereas the West African cocoa producing countries have been heavily criticized for their use of child slave labour to produce raw cacao for Western chocolate corporations.
Food #2 – Coconut Oil
Company & Product: Niugini Organics coconut oil
Source Location: Keravat, Emirau Island, Papua New Guinea (food miles = 3,787km)
Alternative Locations: Philippines (food miles = 6,130km) OR Thailand (food miles = 7,525km)
Difference in Food Miles: Philippines (2,343km) OR Thailand (3,738km)
By purchasing coconut oil from Niugini Organics, I am helping indigenous communities secure employment and regular incomes from wild-harvesting of organic coconuts on their land.
Food #3 – Olive Oil
Company & Product: Cobram Estate organic olive oil
Source Location: Murray River Valley, Victoria, Australia (food miles = 250km)
Alternative Locations: Spain (food miles = 17,000km) OR Italy (16,000km)
Difference in Food Miles: Spain (16,750km) OR Italy (15,750km)
Many olive oils sourced from Europe are known to be adulterated with inferior, refined oils, whereas Australian olive oil is subject to strict quality control and hygiene standards.
Food #4 – Chia Seeds
Company & Product: The Chia Co. organic chia seeds
Source Location: The Kimberley Region, Western Australia, Australia (food miles = 3000km)
Alternative Location: Andes Mountains, Peru (food miles = 13,000km)
Difference in Food Miles: 10,000km
Chia seeds are traditionally a South American crop, and must be grown within 15° of the Equator. The chia seed farms located in Western Australia are managed sustainably, and I am purchasing Australian-grown chia seeds and contributing to the Australian economy.
Mapping our sphere of influence
Our next task is to create a visual representation of our sphere of influence, so we can see exactly the size of the region within which our food products are sourced. I have mapped the sphere of influence for my four chosen food products (see below). The black diamond represents my geographical location (Melbourne, Australia). The green diamonds represent the preferred locations where I source my four food products (chocolate, coconut oil, olive oil and chia seeds). The red diamonds represent the alternative locations where I could have sourced the same food products, if I wasn’t concerned with how far my food had travelled, and ignored the environmental impact of transporting food over long distances.
World Map Template – Source: http://www.wp-online.net/wp/country-borders-and-wallpaper
The 100 Mile diet
You may have heard of a concept called the 100 Mile Diet. There is some debate over who first came up with the idea, but it essentially involves only eating food sourced within one hundred miles of our geographical location. If we were to be strict about this, most of us would never be able to drink coffee or tea, or eat chocolate, or use coconut oil. In Soil Not Oil, environmentalist Vandana Shiva advocates local eating, but suggests nations could trade in certain products like spices, and build a thriving, ethical, sustainable world economy.
Aligning with the Environmental Warrior path, if most of our food (approximately three-quarters) is sourced within 100 miles of our respective locations, our diets would consist mainly of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables, supplemented by proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and we could then have the occasional indulgence (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), which would make up the remaining quarter of our food, sourced as close as possible from our geographical location.
One hundred miles is approximately 161km. If I was to draw a circle on my map representing my sphere of influence, it would extend 13,170km out from Melbourne, Australia. This is quite a large sphere of influence, but these kinds of foods represent only a small portion of my diet. The majority of my diet consists of fresh, local, organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sourced within 161km of my geographical location.