We spend a large part of our lives eating. Fortunately with technological advances we don’t spend each and every day, hunting, gathering, and harvesting our crops. But we’ve strayed a little too far towards convenience. A small glance at our food system will leave you stunned at the industrial methods we employ to manufacture our food.
When shopping at the grocery store, how often do you consider where your food is coming from, instead of simply looking for the most picturesque produce on the shelf? On average, each U.S. food item travels around 1,500 miles to get to your dinner plate, and of course food doesn’t travel for free. An enormous amount of fossil fuels are expended for food transport, refrigeration, and processing, a quarter of which goes into synthetic fertilizers.
“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Steven L. Hopp
A small change in your daily lifestyle can go a long way! If we begin working toward consciously shopping for local and organic products we’re not only cutting down on our dependence of petroleum, but also directing our money in the hands of those who deserve it most: the farmers. Corporations generally rely heavily on using industrial farming methods which causes all of the middlemen required (processors, shippers, supermarkets, oil companies, etc.) to profit the most. Not to mention, corporations deeply threaten developing countries’ economies through overproduction of commodity crops, which allows them to sell below market price, putting many local farmers out of business. These farmers are now forced to turn to the corporation for a labor job, usually under poor conditions and making minimal pay. Industrial farming methods also destroy the land in use to the point where the soil loses fertility altogether, in addition to devastating whatever natural beauty or resources that may have once been there. Even though it may seem cheaper to buy a tomato from Mexico, compared to Joe’s at the farmers’ market, first imagine the story behind the tomato and then rethink who you really want your dollar supporting.
Another factor to consider is the ethical standards behind food production, or the lack thereof. Using pesticides to protect crops may seem like a good idea in theory but in reality we end up ingesting these chemicals, 20% of which are listed as carcinogenic in humans by the EPA, when we eat the sprayed produce. Health effects vary depending on the pesticide but could notably cause damage to the nervous system, skin and eye irritation, or affect our hormone system. Over time insects have begun to develop genetic resistance to many of these chemicals causing the farmer to continually increase the poundage of pesticides sprayed each year as a counter (using nearly a billion pounds of pesticides in 2000). Naturally these chemicals are not necessarily healthy for plant life either, given that crop losses continue to increase year after year.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs, or GM food), is also an area of concern. Through using recombinant DNA technology to manipulate an organism’s genes, we can combine the traits of two naturally non-associating species to create an “ideal” seed, with cold tolerance or disease resistance for example. However there are a lot of other detrimental factors involved such as environmental concerns and human health risks (in many areas it is not even required to label GM ingredients). Under the influence industrial-scale agriculture utilizing GMOs, many independent farms have been shut down due to GM drift. Less than a third of U.S. farms are still run by families. Many states have independently tried to stop or reduce certain GM products from being used, yet the U.S. federal government eliminated many of these established laws, supporting many corporations, in 2006 through passing the National Uniformity for Food Act.
Be aware of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)! These huge factory farms aim at mass producing meat and eggs while disregarding the life and environment of the animals themselves. When closely examined, these factories draw many concerns regarding animal treatment, pollution, and health. Imagine a chicken raised in a huge warehouse which never receives sunlight, crammed in a cage without even having room to turn around, living in piles of it’s own excrement, which is naturally being re-consumed by the chicken to some extent. Sound like a breeding ground for disease? Not to worry, CAFOs continually pump antibiotics into the feed in response.
By educating ourselves on all sides of agribusiness we become more conscious shoppers or even inspired to grow our own! Start by going to your local farmers’ market and inquiring about how their food was grown. Look for free-range meat (animals allowed to roam freely), non-GM food, local and organic alternatives whenever shopping at the grocery store.
A huge part of healthy and sustainable living is being conscious of what you eat and where it comes from.
Some good places to start learning about our food system and how to a eat a healthy & balanced diet:
http://www.biotech-info.net/: GE information
www.viacampesina.org : movement for Food sovereignty
http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets : to find your nearest farmers’ market
http://www.localharvest.org/ : to find other local producers
“Food Matters” – A documentary on available on youtube! Good way to begin –
A great comprehensive book to help you to make the decision of what food to eat. It’s a systematic approach and he leaves no angle unconsidered. A MUST READ!
Documentary focusing on food production and food politics. Introduces idea of agro-business. Click image to follow to website with news, links, and more information.