Food for thought

Food for thought

Yes, unfortunately I love terrible puns.

I've been doing a lot of thinking since I enrolled at Saint Paul College last fall, and considering I moved here from Italy, I’ve been thinking a lot about food :). After being here almost two years, observing the observable, and adopting an entirely new diet, I finally did some research. 

In the US, the same agricultural technology that has allowed us to increase yield and reduce hunger in the past forty years is now being employed to grow a handful of crops—corn, soy and wheat—that are used to sweeten highly processed foods, fatten herbivores and make fuel. The government, in a policy that is renewed every five years, heavily subsidizes these crops.

It’s a win for agribusiness: corn calories, injected into every imaginable food, induce cravings that lead to over-consumption and high demand. However, the lack of nutrients in these products generate a host of health problems—obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease—which is bad news especially for those in the lower stratums of society, generally more dependent on cheap sources of calories.

Saint Paul College is hosting an event Thursday 4/30 on food and justice called “The Soul Food Monologues”, open to students, friends and family. Please let me know if you’d like to go! We should all be able to exercise freedom in the moment we make that crucial decision about what to put in our mouths.

Currently, there’s enormous pressure on those who enter the field of farming to adopt industrial methods—Standardization, Specialization, Efficiency—and become dependent on a few large companies to survive, losing rights as workers and human beings. There is a grassroots documentary that I happened to see in my Environmental Science class at SPC, called “Fresh”. It’s an entertaining, uplifting release, focusing on people who have used their ecological knowledge to switch paths and be highly successful.

In the larger world-view, the roots of famine are social and political, of course. Colonial history has left many countries unable to access, control or keep their resources. Wars and conflict have displaced entire populations from their farms, environmental degradation becoming necessary for immediate survival. These countries’ economies are more vulnerable to natural disasters like droughts, floods and pests. This is something that needs to be addressed by the more developed nations, as everything is balanced by their actions.

Worldwide, the production of food has risen faster than the population—there’s enough for about 2,200 calories a day per person—but there’s an appalling distribution problem. Every year, thirty percent of food production, 1.3 billion tons, is wasted. Every year, six million children, all under the age of five, die from hunger or malnutrition.

Meanwhile, over-eating is a newer global problem. There are more overweight people in the world than underweight people.

So, let’s support sustainable farming and work to change the next farm bill.  (Isn’t that what freedom is? Consumer choice, food security and a healthy, beautiful environment?)

Industrial agriculture, as with many forms of productivity, clashes outstandingly with nature’s clean, waste-free cycle, introducing risks where there were none, resulting in permanent changes like soil depletion and biodiversity loss. It’s reckless. We could never replace the services provided by nature. Without our earth's natural biodiversity, no food could be produced. Countless, seemingly insignificant organisms, living in balance, play crucial roles in ecological systems.

Also, we may be destroying the future of organisms that are the next source of indispensable gene or drug.

As a species, we are at a crossroads. We have stepped out of the wild, we are no longer hunted, but in our excitement we’ve forgotten that another adaptability test lies ahead. We dance, but within a closed system. Each individual action causes a chain of reactions that affects the entire biosphere. Even in our large system we ultimately breathe, drink and eat our waste.

Our intelligence has allowed us an imagination, an ability to perceive the design as a whole, to give it life with language, and it must now provide us with a vision of how best to fit into that design. We must place ourselves accordingly and marry the concepts of progress and sustainability. There is dignity and freedom in that: happiness and health we do not have to borrow from future generations.

Perhaps it can start with going back to the basics. A cow's stomach was never meant to digest anything but grass. A chicken's beak and claws evolved to pluck bugs and larvae—have the chickens follow the cows and they’ll clean the cow-pies. And we shouldn’t cram so many pigs together that they'll nip each other’s tails and develop super-strains of antibiotic-resistant viruses.

In our society, I think we should place more value in the knowledge of the biochemical cycles that permit us to live. As the ecologist Baba Dioum said, "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." The workings of our natural world are breathtaking. Wouldn’t it be incredible to know where each inhale comes from? Where each exhale goes? This type of understanding and awareness should be available to all.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Gary R wrote:
Thank you for your well written work. There is a lot to digest here (pun intended). The huge food and corporate ag world are, of course, rewarded financially for their economies of scale approach - perhaps especially in the US. This also flies under the banner of 'producing food for the world'. Think about ethanol production, food additives and reprocessing of food products, GMOs. Whew, weve been conditioned by political and corporate marketing campaigns since we've were born. I do believe there is a continued movement to raise awareness about what is in the food you are eating.

Wed, April 29, 2015 @ 7:33 AM

2. Jay Proescher wrote:
Your written words here are as beautiful as your sung lyrics. Your message is so important to the health of our planet I have long been a student of human health and I have come to believe in the theses you have so eloquently expressed. Thank you.
I always enjoy your performance on the Praire Home Companion.

Sat, October 17, 2015 @ 6:23 PM

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