Michael Pollan says that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Unfortunately, our food system has less and less to do with the natural world than ever before.
So what do I mean by the term “food system?” The food system is everything required to produce, process, move, sell and consume food. The things used to grow food include land, fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and water – and our current industrial food growing system has resulted in pollution and animal waste. In addition, excessive amounts of energy and fossil fuels are used to process, package, advertise and transport this food.
The average food item travels more than 1500 miles to get to your plate. In 2004, agriculture was responsible for 13.5% of greenhouse gas emissions – more than transportation! So next time you want to buy those grapes from Chile or blueberries in December think about the true cost of how it got to you.
agriculture accounts for two-thirds of water use worldwide
Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of water use worldwide – far above industrial or municipal use. It also accounts for 8% of river and stream pollution and 41% of lake pollution due to current farming practices. Case in point: Forty percent of the Chesapeake Bay was declared a dead zone for part of the summer of 2003. Dead zones, where there is insufficient oxygen for living things to…..well live….are caused by too many nutrients reaching the water. These “nutrients” include fertilizers and animal waste. They feed algae which decompose, and in the process use up the oxygen all the other critters need to live.
How did this current system evolve? In the 1940s, crop yields increased dramatically due to application of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides and the development of mechanized farm equipment and automation. In fact, we became so efficient that fewer and fewer people are needed. In 1920, agricultural work made up 27% of the U.S. labor force. Today, only 2% of Americans work in agriculture. In our “efficiency,” we have made our food system unsustainable and in the process, we have also harmed our environment, health and communities.
we have to ask ourselves what’s the true price of the food on our plate?
We have to ask ourselves what’s the true price of the food on our plate? And the answer is depletion of fossil fuels and healthy top soil, loss of biodiversity, polluted air and water, increased health care costs (obesity and new inflammatory diseases) – and we haven’t even begun to discuss the economic and social costs to communities (unemployment, reduced land value to name just a few).
But in my opinion, maybe the biggest loss from the rise of “Big Ag,” is the loss of our nations’ farms and farmers. In 1952, 47 cents of every dollar went to a farmer; in 2006, only 10 cents did. I have a baseball hat that says “No Farms, No Food.” Maybe I’ll see you wearing that same hat soon.