“The same diet that protects human health also protects planet health”Teri Underwood, founder Sustainable Diets
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 small local businesses and most of the food was coming directly from a local or regional farm or cannery. In fact, at the turn of the last century 70% of all Americans were farmers.
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 near the turn of the century.
Industrial, large-scale farming which relies on artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and large farm equipment improved crop yields and lifted millions out of starvation and poverty. But the environmental cost to soil, biodiversity, water quality, and human health have been disastrous.
Instead of a diverse mix of crops we now have 10,000-acre corn farms.
In the 1990s, genetically modified crops (GM) were released. Easier to grow, higher yields, and increased profits led to expansion. GM corn and soy now make up half of all U.S. farm acres. Although GM crops have some benefits, farming practices associated with GM crops damages ecosystems, soil, and biodiversity and threatens sustainability.
There are also human health and environmental problems with large-scale production of meat, poultry, and dairy foods. Instead of being raised on pasture, today most food animals in America are raised factory-style. 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 Cost to America’s Health – Obesity, Heart Disease, Chronic Disease
In addition to the rise of industrial farming, new technology 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. Instead of families eating together, cooking whole foods from diverse, local farms, today we have fast foods and thousands of low-cost processed foods filling the grocery store shelf. The new American diet (called the western diet) is filled with processed food, sugar, meat, saturated fats, and fast foods.
The cost to human health has been staggering. Studies show that the western diet that most Americans eat is related to 4 of the 6 leading causes 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 daily.