Food and Environment
The same diet that protects human health also protects planet health.
A Short History of America’s Food Landscape
Imagine what it was like to eat in the early 19th century, when your grandparents or great grandparents were growing up. Back then, families ate together every day; most of the food was whole and cooked from scratch. Grocery stores were owned by mom and pops and most of the food was coming directly from the farm or a local or regional cannery. In fact, at the turn of the last century 70% of all Americans were farmers.
Prior to World War Two (WW2), most American farms were small in comparison to today’s farms and grew a diverse mix of crops and farm animals.
Animals were raised in a humane way with room to graze and roam. Seeds were saved for the next year. Farmers depended on rain to produce crops. Energy use was very low. But all of that started changing dramatically right after WW2.
In 1939, DDT was developed and used by the military during the war to control lice, fleas, and malaria carrying mosquitos. Soldiers were told to sprinkle it in their sleeping bags. Soon after, pesticide invention and production for use on farms escalated. Mechanization and irrigation technology advanced. The use of artificial fertilizer, invented in 1915, surged. And thus began the birth of the modern farm. Today most of the food America consumes is produced on farms using these new inventions. Often referred to as “conventional or industrial farming”, today’s modern farm, is starkly in contrast to what we saw in Grandma’s day.
Instead of a diverse mix of crops we now have 10,000 acre corn farms.
Genetically modified (GM) corn and soy now make up half of all U.S. farm acres. Since GM crops do not produce viable seeds farmers cannot save their seeds anymore. Instead of being raised on pasture, most of the animals that America produce for food are now raised factory style where antibiotics are typically used because disease is passed easily in close confinement. Hormones are used in livestock to speed the growth process and milk development. Inhumane conditions have been reported to be widespread in animal factories.The advance in technology that was created to help win WW2 also spurred the processed food and fast food industry. The 1950’s and 60’s brought high fructose corn syrup, the aluminum can, plastic milk containers, hamburger helper, fast foods, and the advertising industry.
And though, it can be said that technology vastly increased food production per acre and enabled the world’s population to surge and also increased recreational time (less work to grow and cook food)—there has been a large cost to both the environment and our health.
The Cost to America’s Health
Instead of families eating together, cooking whole foods from diverse, local farms we have now have thousands of low-cost, high-calorie processed foods filling the grocery store shelf and abundantly eaten fast foods. Soft drink companies spend 1 billion dollars a year marketing directly to kids. Research shows that the average American family shares less than 5 meals together per week. Studies have shown that the western diet that most Americans eat is related to 4 of the 6 leading cause of death—stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. America’s diet causes obesity which is in epidemic proportions in this country; 67% of all Americans are overweight and 34% are obese. America has also seen a dramatic rise in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in kids. Pediatrician’s rarely saw one case of diabetes in the 70s-80s and now they are seeing pediatric cases on a daily basis.
The Worldwide Environmental Costs of Poor Diet
Content will be covered in the sustainable diets blog.