Zac Goldsmith: the hidden cost of our food

Ecologist Guide to Food - Complete Cover

Extract from The Ecologist Guide to Food, published February 10th 2014

The Ecologist has been setting the environmental agenda for over 40 years – bringing the critical issues of our time into the mainstream through cutting-edge reporting, as well as pioneering original thinking and inspiring action. Whether its challenging vast corporations, exposing corruption or shining a light on unquestioned orthodoxies, The Ecologist has remained true to its (radical) roots and remains to this day the world’s leading environmental affairs title.

As the environmental debate has evolved and increasingly moved into the mainstream (and become something that everyone can participate in) however, The Ecologist has placed more emphasis on promoting ethical consumerism. This has included the publication of regular practical ‘green living’ advice, as well as (often groundbreaking) reportage around the issues concerning our day to day products and ‘lifestyle’ choices.

Perhaps most well known is the critically-acclaimed Behind The Label (BTL) series, in which well-known health commentator and ex-Ecologist editor Pat Thomas de-constructed the ingredients of some of our most popular and seemingly innocent products: from unearthing the chemical nasties in your body cream to revealing what’s really in your bottle of tomato ketchup, the column has been scrutinising the contents of the nation’s shopping baskets for more than 8 years.

Along with health concerns, environmental issues surrounding these products are widespread: tuna, for instance, not only contains mercury – a toxin affecting the central nervous system – but the purse seine method most commonly used to catch it leaves death and devastation in its wake. Dolphins, sharks, rays and even turtles have fallen victim to our appetite for this fish; making a mockery of supermarket claims that their product is ‘dolphin friendly’.

More recently, the series evolved into Behind The Brand (BTB), which saw Peter Salisbury take readers on a whistle-stop tour to the heart of some of the world’s largest corporations. From Bernard Matthews to IKEA, Salisbury’s BTB columns examined the claims made against the companies in question, as well as scrutinised the ‘greenwash’.

Elsewhere, The Ecologist has repeatedly exposed the ‘hidden costs’ of many consumer goods – often way ahead of the mainstream media. From palm oil to petrol, tinned tomatoes to timber, bananas to beef, its unique investigations, some of them undercover and carried out at great personal risk, have taken readers on a unique journey to some of the world’s environmental frontlines to bring back the often-unpalatable truths about many of the consumer goods we take for granted. In recent years the intrepid Ecologist Film Unit has trod where few others have dared to go and shone a much needed spotlight on some of the world’s most unreported environmental issues.

Building on all this, The Ecologist is producing much anticipated Ecologist Guides. Drawing from the magazines’ unique archive, and containing new material, the series will be written by leading experts and will cover everything from food, fashion, health, family, home and self reliance. The guides will be essential reading for anyone interested in making ethical choices and living more sustainable lives.

By Zac Goldsmith MP, campaigner and former editor of The Ecologist

This is an edited version of the foreword to The Ecologist guide to food, published February 10th 2014 by Leaping Hare

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