Health and nutrition are major issues for the population of western Sydney, where 60 per cent of the population is classified as overweight or obese, and incidences of diabetes are reaching 7.4% of the population (Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute). Diet and lifestyle-related illnesses in western Sydney are above the national average and rising. The accessibility of fresh and nutritious food seems to be a key problem for western Sydney, emphasising the importance of protecting and sustaining fresh food production in peri-urban Sydney.
Many of the foods that we know to be most nutritious – in particular, fresh vegetables and eggs – should ideally travel only limited distance to markets, due to their needing to be freshly harvested and unspoilt when they are consumed. These foods are also most easily produced close to urban areas – unlike most livestock and grains, which generally require large-scale farms in order to be commercially viable. Thus, there is an important argument for retaining local food systems, as they can provide a specialised function in our food supply chain by providing the freshest and most nutritious food for our urban populations.
Locally-produced food, due to its proximity to markets, is less likely to be tainted with chemical additives, as it arrives into supermarkets and homes rapidly after being harvested. Transporting food over long distances often requires the use of chemical enhancers to ensure that the food stays (or looks) fresh when it arrives at its destination. This often involves the use of chemical colours and preservatives, ripening gases and other additives, many of which have an unknown impact on our health.
Locally-produced food, due to its proximity to markets, is less likely to be tainted with chemical additives, as it arrives into supermarkets and homes rapidly after being harvested.
Switching diets, supporting local food systems
We cannot produce grains and meat in peri-urban areas to feed a city of millions. We can – and do – however, produce fruit and vegetables for many millions on the edges of our city. Switching to a diet that is plant-based and less reliant on meat can help to support our local food systems, and can help ensure that our city is more food secure by allowing us to source a higher proportion of our diet from within close proximity to the city.