Reform our food system, save the world?
April 3, 2009
Filed under Archives
The notion that reforming our food system and the multi-faceted means by which we grow and acquire the foods that we eat will save the world, or at the very least, improve this country’s health, economy, and environmental soundness may sound over-simplified, idealistic, and far-fetched. But it’s not. A couple of months ago, shortly before President Obama was elected to office, environmental journalist Michael Pollan wrote a letter to our nation’s next “Farmer in Chief.” In his letter Pollan identified the most prevalent factors that currently plague our food system and threaten the stabilization of agro-economies and food security both in, and outside, of the United States.
The most integral problem that is enigmatic to the sustainability of our food system can be boiled down to two words: fossil fuels.
Petroleum is a main ingredient that enables corporate agribusinesses and mile-wide mono-cropped farms to function at the hyper-productive levels that they do.
In order for a large corporately owned farm in Iowa to produce hundreds of thousands of bushels of corn each week, countless gallons of petroleum-based nitrogen fertilizers must be applied to each acre.
For that petroleum-infused corn to be packaged and/or processed into syrups and starches, (some) machines running on fossil fuels must be used. Finally, for those packaged and processed ingredients to reach either the next processing plant, restaurant, gas station, or grocery store (which may or may not even be in this country) trucks and planes running on fossil fuels must transport them hundreds and hundreds of miles.
Fossil fuels are not inherently evil. However, the fact that there is a dwindling supply of oil on this planet, coupled with the fact that we are in an international economic crisis with skyrocketing fuel prices (which subsequently lead to skyrocketing food prices and people rioting for food in third world countries), is a clear and pressing indication that we must kick our oil habit.
People oftentimes falsely assume that kicking our fossil fuel addiction simply means driving less. This is not the case. The facets comprising large scale agribusiness consumes more fossil fuels than our transportation industry does.
So, now that we’ve acknowledged the clear and present danger pertaining to fossil fuels and how our dependence on them is plaguing our food system, what should we do? Well, there’s a whole lot that we should do, but what can we do?
According to Michael Pollan, one of the first things that we can do is work to regionalize our food systems.
Regionalizing our food systems means more than buying locally and strolling over to the farmer’s market when we feel like being environmentally and socially responsible.
Pollan says that regionalizing our food systems means redirecting government subsidies which currently encourage large, environmentally unsustainable mono-cropping operations to overproduce things like corn and soy, and instead awarding smaller and more medium sized sustainable farms with these subsidies so that they can invest in non-fossil fuel based technology to enhance their productivity, and in turn, sell more crops to their local communities and grocery stores.
Those who would like to see this regionalization of our food systems take place should both write their congressman about the issue, and do their best to eat foods free of mass-produced corn and soy-based by products.
Regionalizing our food systems means that community members would have access to fresher, healthier, and more guilt-free foods that are not soaked with the notions of environmental degradation, social injustice, and international violence that are intrinsic to the obtaining of, and the production, of fossil fuels.
Knowing what we know now, one can only hope that President Obama and Secreatary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack begin to take some of the steps that Pollan has recommended.
The over-stuffed people of this nation are tired of eating oil for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and the under-fed citizens of the third world are tired of suffering at our large-scale agribusiness’ expense.