Written by: Mike Ritter
The old cowboys were notorious for having a strong relationship with their environment. The cowboy was a rancher who could live off the land and he kept himself alive by keeping the land alive. There was a mutual benefit. Now a majority of the food system is run by people in suits and ties. It’s a highly centralized, commoditized and technology driven machine. The relationship between us and our food is wilting down to minuscule. One must wonder two things:
Is our lack of contact with our food source to blame for our health problems, environmental problems and can we do anything about it?
And, where have all the cowboys gone?
Nature- the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.
The natural plots of earth in our rain forests are exploding with life and perfect ecology. Plants feed the animals, animals fertilize the soil, the soil and sunlight feed the plants and the cycle revolves. All life on planet earth gets its energy either directly or indirectly from the sun. Sunlight is converted by plants into usable energy through photosynthesis. Insects will chew the leaves of the plants to sustain their own lives. Bees fascinatingly use pollen produced by flowers to convert into their own energy. Birds eat insects. Other wildlife like bobcats eat the birds. Larger animals will eat the bobcat and so on. Humans consuming food at the top of this food chain not only consume the energy of the large animal, but also the bird, the insect, the plant, the microorganisms in the soil and the sunlight. Removal or degradation of quality in any of these components affects the entire chain.
This is for everyone who’s turned off every light before you leave the room. For anyone who’s turned the water off when you shave, conserved irrigation water, changed your toilet and shower head out for a flow efficient model, purchased a hybrid car or donated to a non-profit environmentalist organization, thank you. But everything you’ve done up to this point pales in comparison to the effect you can have on the global environment and economy by purchasing & eating holistically produced food. It’s a single act with great power.
Want to feed the world? Buy food from sustainable sources
Want to save the planet? Buy food from sustainable sources
Into human rights? Buy local from sustainable sources
Want to become incredibly healthy? Buy food from sustainable sources.
Food production is not magic. That red potato or chicken breast on your plate comes from somewhere. It is very difficult to feed an exploding population and treat mother earth fairly at the same time. In an attempt to do that we formed a system called industrial agriculture. To many people, the word ‘industrialized’ has taken on a mythical evil after Monsanto’s history of cloudy legal matters, cover-ups and supposed bullying of their opposition. The truth is the Agrarian way (the beginning of farms 5-6,000 years ago) of the communal farm has gone from a means of survival to an empirical industry shrouded in secrecy and heavy public backlash. When Lincoln created the USDA in 1860, roughly half the U.S. population lived on farms and nearly everyone had the ability to visit or communicate with the growers of their food. Currently 2% of all U.S. citizens live on farms and most of those other 98% are so far removed from the natural act of growing food that they are suddenly shocked when they see the process for themselves. For a lack of a better term, we are so far removed from our food sources that we have become agriculturally illiterate. Even if you are a flag toting nutrition aficionado, the reality is you still are eating domestic livestock and crop that has lost anywhere between 30-80% of its nutrient density over the last 150 years. Whether you look at this current system from a financial, environmental or a legal standpoint, the darkness seems to grow nearer by the day. Do we need to adopt a mob mentality and overthrow the current model? No, absolutely not. Let’s appreciate it for what it is – a way to supply food to a lot of people. The real concerns lie in the sustainability of the current model and there are many signals that the earth cannot continue to hold up if we keep driving the nail of industrial yields and centralized policy.
Industrialized food can be defined by a few key points:
- Farms who grow food under federal regulation
- Farms who are beneficiary of federal ag subsidies
- Farms who produce food as a mono-culture aka farms which intensively grow one single crop in large quantity
Although lobbyists, mommy bloggers, and university trained dietitians will argue that we are feeding the world and we would no longer sustain the growing population with a traditional organic system, many farmers, concerned scientists, environmentalists and food consumers have growing concerns. Precautionaries of global warming began wearing their tin foil hats late in the 1900’s and most people dismissed them like old socks. It turns out, they may have been on to something. Rising by over 1.5 degree F, the earth’s temperature has contributed to destructive floods, droughts, storms and is expected to rise anywhere between .5 and 8.6 degrees F at this current pace. Why is this important? Although many environmentalists recommend changing your shower heads, turning off lights when you leave the room and driving electric cars, the largest contributor to rising levels of CO2 in the air causing climate change is agriculture, particularly livestock. In reality, over 50% of our crop system is dedicated to harvesting feed for these animals which takes large amounts of petroleum, water and land resources. In probably what is humanity’s greatest conundrum, our food system is greatly impacting climate change and these climate shifts directly disrupt our food systems’ ability to sustain itself. You may agree or disagree on the benefits or dangers of centralized food production but there is one certainty, nature is changing because of it.
The COP21- Report was released at the World Climate Summit in December of 2015. These were some of the main points:
- The impact of climate change on crop and livestock productivity is projected to be larger for tropical and subtropical regions, such as Africa and South Asia, although there will be regional variations. Wealthy populations and temperate regions are less at risk, and some high-latitude regions may temporarily experience productivity increases, in part because of warmer temperatures and increased precipitation. However, if society continues to emit more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause climate change, those regions will face damaging outcomes during the second half of this century.
- Climate change has important implications for food producers and consumers in the United States. The nation is likely to experience changes in the types and cost of food available for import. It can also expect to face increased demand for agricultural exports from regions coping with production difficulties.
- Climate change risks extend beyond agricultural production to critical elements of global food systems, including processing, storage, transportation, and consumption. For example, warmer temperatures can have a negative impact on food storage and increase food safety risks; higher sea levels and changes to lake and river levels can impede transportation.
- Risks to food security will increase with a higher magnitude and faster rate of climate change. In a worst-case scenario based on high greenhouse gas concentrations, high population growth, and low economic growth, the number of people at risk of undernourishment would increase by as much as 175 million by 2080 over today’s level of about 805 million. This would reverse recent gains, as the number of people at risk of undernourishment has dropped from about 1 billion since the early 1990s.
- Society can take steps to reduce the food system’s vulnerability to climate change, ranging from more advanced growing methods to cold storage, improvements in transportation infrastructure, and other strategies. Such adaptations, however, may be difficult to implement in some regions due to availability of water, soil nutrients, infrastructure, funding, or other factors.
The Real Food System
Off The Chain
“Rapid population growth and technological innovation, combined with our lack of understanding about how the natural systems of which we are a part work, have created a mess. –David Suzuki”
The world population doubled from 1959 to 1999, from an estimated 3 billion to 6 billion people. In 2015 we have an estimated 7.5 billion with no signs of slowing. It seems that prior to the industrial revolution, humans increased in population at a natural curve of 3%. Thanks to rapid technological advancements in, well… everything, the earth’s population has exploded. It seems that world was not ready for us, yet here we are. Human kind is multiplying and we need to be fed. We also have world governments scrambling to try and figure out what to do about it.
We are dealing with a bursting population, fed by a centralized food production system which relies on massive amounts of exportation, supported by decreasingly effective chemical and mechanical technologies on less available land. More people are using more resources and as a consequence, the earth is slowly heating up. Although you may not feel the changes on your skin, our crops are severely sensitive to minor changes. Just a 1 to 2 degree Celcius rise in temperature is enough to shrink grain harvest in all of the major grain producing areas like the North China Plain, the Gangetic Plain of India, or the Continental U.S. Ruining the harvest of a major export can have a trickle effect on the global economy for years to come.
The concerned few have traded their gas powered cars for electric to reduce fossil fuel emissions, switched their light bulbs for better energy efficiency, and installed flow efficient showerheads in an attempt to save water. Recognizing this as a potential disaster in the making, our government offers incentives for you and me to make wiser and “greener” decisions. But climate change continues to be a concern and many are wondering if the initiatives are enough.
To help the rising concern of global warming, the U.S. government offers up tax breaks for people and businesses that ‘go green.’
As of 2015 the federal government offers these green incentives:
Tax breaks for energy efficiency in homes or business equals 30% of cost of item up to $300.
But are fossil fuels and inefficient shower-heads the real problem?
What if I told you our agricultural system was responsible for more destruction to the environment than
So What To Do?
The average American works an average of 50hrs a week and is typically under a lot of stress. The cost of living is still rising and every advertiser is begging for your next dollar. The struggle is real. It’s exhausting for most people to be hounded to join a food buying club or go visit your local farmer for a pep talk. But, there is something everyone must understand on a deep level: every single bite of food you eat pulls a string in nature and the aftermath is felt everywhere. And every penny you spend on boxed food, lettuce from mega-farms or farmers who holistically manage their crop & livestock will also make your grocery bill either cheaper or more expensive. Of course, there is a catch.
The current system supports those in power. There is no intended relation between those in power and evil, but it’s just a matter of fact. Throughout the formation of U.S. Agriculture, the few companies who made an impact on fuel, time, feed, and land efficiency rose to prominence. John Deere, Tyson, Monsanto, General Mills and others own much of the market share in their respective parts of the food system which has provided a country with once abundant land, an efficient flow of retail friendly food for over a century and they are not likely to give up their successes easily. Those who intend to change the system are likely to meet resistance both socially and legally.
Depending on the state you live in, it’s possible you may be surprised to find yourself in a legal pinch for purchasing your food from the wrong local grower. That’s right, purchasing from the wrong local grower, regardless of their quality, can leave you fighting the law. Farmers who choose to leave the industrial system at times are mocked, debated, and harassed socially and legally everywhere in America. But they are showing incredible resilience and finally, some solid proof, that what they do is working and is capable of working for a long time.
Check out Part 2