Oxfam’s GROW Method Engages Individuals in Building a Better Food System

By Carol Dreibelbis

Oxfam International’s GROW campaign launched the GROW Method in July 2012 to encourage individual action toward a more just and sustainable food system.

The GROW Method’s fourth principle encourages individuals to support small-scale farmers through their buying habits. (Photo Credit: Oxfam)

The  campaign envisions a global food system that contributes to human well-being and ensures food security for all as the world grows to accommodate a projected 2 billion more people by 2050. As described in a previous blog post, GROW focuses on three major shifts: protecting and investing in small-scale farmers, ensuring a fair and safe food system that produces enough for all, and protecting the environment.

The GROW Method offers individuals “a brand new way of thinking about food—and the way we buy, prepare, and it eat,” according to Oxfam. The Method centers around five principles that can be incorporated into everyday life:

  1. “Save Food.” According to Oxfam, wealthy nations throw away almost as much food as sub-Saharan African nations produce each year. To combat food waste and the large expenditure of resources that accompanies it, the GROW Method encourages individuals to create shopping lists, to bring food home from restaurants, to label leftovers with “eat by” stickers, and to reuse leftovers in creative ways.
  2. “Shop Seasonal.” Oxfam encourages individuals to plant a garden or buy seasonal produce from local farms. Rather than simply promoting local foods, the GROW Method’s focus on seasonality can help reduce energy and resource losses. According to researchers at the University of Texas, “Eating locally is not always the greenest option if it means a food item is grown out of season…. For example, lamb grown in New Zealand with native rainfed grasses and shipped to the United Kingdom is less energy intensive than lamb locally raised in the United Kingdom on feed produced by use of energy-intensive irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides.” To find out which foods are in season across the United States, use this map.
  3. “Less Meat.” According to the FAO, livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and according to Oxfam, urban households in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Brazil could reduce emissions equivalent to taking 3.7 million cars off the road by swapping beans for beef once each week for a year. The GROW Method recommends replacing meat and dairy products with vegetables or legumes once a week.
  4. “Support Farmers.” This principle helps to ensure that small-scale farmers are paid fairly for the food they produce. Oxfam points out that many small-scale farmers in developing nations spend more money buying food for their families than they earn from selling their harvests. But, if Americans in urban areas bought Fair Trade chocolate bars twice each month, 30,000 small-scale cocoa farmers would reap the benefits. In addition to buying Fair Trade products, the GROW Method suggests buying produce from farmers markets.
  5. “Cook Smart.” This principle is aimed at saving water and energy when storing and preparing food. Oxfam points out that taking the following three steps when cooking vegetables on the stove could reduce energy use by up to 70 percent: using just enough water to cover the vegetables, using a flat-bottomed pan with a lid, and reducing the cooking heat once the pot begins to boil. The GROW Method also recommends preparing more cold foods and turning off appliances when able.

Oxfam’s report on the GROW Method indicates that household decision makers are receptive to changing their everyday habits. The report surveyed more than 5,000 women with families in six countries—Brazil, India, the Philippines, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States—on their willingness to implement elements of the GROW Method. The majority of respondents in all countries (except the United Kingdom) were concerned with how and where their food is produced. Likewise, the vast majority of respondents in all countries wanted to know how to make a difference in the food system through their food choices.

At a time when nearly 1 billion people are hungry every day, 50 percent of the population in more than half of industrialized countries is overweight, and the food system both contributes to and is vulnerable due to climate change, the GROW Method seeks to “show how households, acting together, can make a difference.”

To get involved in Oxfam’s GROW campaign, visit the Facebook app or Pinterest for resources, videos, and recipes. Or, sign up to host an Oxfam World Food Day dinner on October 16 to foster conversation about where food comes from, who cultivates it, and how personal actions can make the food system more just and sustainable.

What other strategies do you use to promote a more just and sustainable food system in your everyday life? Please share with us in the comments below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program. 

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