Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made. ~William Dyer
Have you ever noticed that hippies, yuppies and environmental folk love farmer's markets and sustainably grown, organic food? What's up with that? Is it better for you? And why are people making such a fuss over conventional, industrially grown food? Read on for most of the answers...
If MindfulEats were to draw a bright line in the world of food, the first and most important cut would be between processed and non-processed foods. Eating non-processed food is the best thing you can do for you and those you love. But you already knew that.
The second cut would be within the non-processed food world, between 1) conventional, industrially grown food and 2) locally, sustainably grown food.
Conventional, industrially grown food is quickly becoming the villain in movies and popular press. But like processed food, the reason it came into being wasn't to be evil - the idea was to make farming more efficient to provide more and cheaper food for everyone. Not a bad idea. It's the actual production and execution that is the problem.
To understand the issue, let's take a look at the way food has traditionally been grown. Food (plant and animal) is grown on land. Like you, land gets tired and less productive when it is worked hard and without rest (which is what farming does). Different plants take different nutrients from the soil, and leave different types of waste. The traditional farmer had to be smart about raising multiple types of crops so he didn't strip the soil of all nutrients, and leave himself with dead fields in a few years. He also had to rest plots of land so the soil could enrich itself.
Likewise, he had to grow different animals to be efficient. Cows would graze on grass and poop in the fields. Chickens would peck through the poop for food, scattering the manure for more efficient fertilizer as they pecked. Pigs ate leftovers and rooted through fields, helping to aerate the soil and creating more poop for chickens to peck through. Farms were an ecosystem of their own, growing food for the farmer and a few others, and being carefully managed so the farm would exist for generations.
Industrialization came along and decided traditional farms were inefficient. Like factories, industrialists thought they could increase production. Instead of planting different kinds of crops, they thought they'd just plant one type (corn, for example) on a large tract and be super efficient about it. They added chemical fertilizers to make the crops grow faster, and herbicides/insecticides to reduce pests. The problem is, the chemicals and just the one crop stripped the soil of its nutrients, so even more chemicals had to be added to make the same land grow as much. This creates a huge environmental problem with all the chemicals, and lots of people don't want to eat those chemicals. It's gross. Enter the growing demand for organic, unchemically grown food.
Meat production went through the same process. Industrial farmers figured they could produce more meat if they raised mass amounts of one type of animal. So each farm focuses on one type - beef, pork, chicken, etc. To grow more meat, they jam as many animals as possible on a plot of land. This means the animals don't have room to exercise, stand around in lots of poop, and are prone to getting sick (that's what happens with poor quality food and lack of exercise). Since they are so close to each other, disease sweeps through quickly. Hello antibiotics. To counteract potential disease, 70% of the antibiotics produced in the U.S. is fed to animals, as stated by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in her statement to the Agriculture Subcommittee. So when you eat industrial meat, you are eating sickly animals that are filled with artificial hormones and antibiotics so they will grow more quickly and not get diseased. All those drugs and waste leach into the environment and water supply, which causes a big environmental issue that will have to get cleaned up some day.
Sure, cooking helps kill the additives, but that animal you're eating is pretty sickly and unhappy. Yuck. It's bad karma. Pigs are smarter than dogs, and those industrially grown pigs get so depressed they put antidepressants in their feed along with antibiotics. If you took two kids, and raised one so that he played outdoors and ate healthy food, he'd have a good shot at being happy and hale. If you forced the other kid to spend all his time in a closet eating nothing but cereal, you'd have a kid with lots of issues. That's industrial farming.
So the theory behind industrial farming isn't a bad one, but the practice of it is terrible in terms of:
- the environment - a massive amount of chemicals and waste is being offloaded into the environment, without any kind of replenishing
- your health - you and your family get lots more chemicals into your food, and you eat sickly depressed animals. It hasn't been proven to be harmful yet, but do you really want to wait for that proof?
That's why people like farmer's markets - it provides a direct connection to food grown the traditional, sustainable way, as do responsible retailers and grocery stores.
What to do - Eat Sustainably
- Eat less processed food.
- Buy organic and locally produced food if you have the means. You're getting a bigger bang for your buck than you are when you spend your moolah on designer clothes.
- Ask your restaurants about their food, and patronize the ones that buy responsibly.
- Share your philosophy with others.
Want to learn more?
- Watch the movie Food, Inc.
- Read Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma
- Read Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's Statement On Agriculture Subcommittee Hearing on Animal Health, Antibiotics
For articles on SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) food, go to Food Renegade.
What I ate: macadamia nuts, large latte, 3 clementines, 1 banana, dried mangos, cheese, baby carrots, babaganoush, whole wheat spaghetti, roasted eggplant + portobello mushrooms + zucchini + yellow squash + grape tomatoes, 2 cups hot chocolate, water
Exercise: 90 min. vinyassa yoga, 30 min. lifting