Life is already busy enough so is it really necessary to add one more thing to your list by buying sustainable food? It certainly is easier to just go to the grocery store and maybe you think since you buy organic at your store that you are doing your part already. This isn’t necessarily true though if you consider where even the organic food is coming from and what distance it had to travel to get there. If your grocery store has its organic foods transported over long distances from centralized packaging and distribution centers then there is a lot of energy being used in getting it to you. Part of the whole sustainable food model is buying from local farm sources thus reducing the need for long distance transportaion. Once food is harvested it begins to lose nutrients. Buying food locally decreases the amount of time from harvest to table making it a more nutritious choice. There are other reasons sustainable food is healthier, more nutritious, and good for the planet, its citizens and animals. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons in support of going sustainable.
Sustainable Food: Saving the Planet
This may sound a little over dramatic, but when you consider the use of chemical fertilizers, large use of fossil fuels, diseases and pests that destroy crops by agriculture practices of monocropping, soil erosion, pollution to air, land and water from untreated animal waste, and other large scale farm practices that harm the environment, we really do save Mother Earth from a tremendous amount of stress through sustainable agricultural practices. Growing organically means no pesticides and no chemical fertilizers. Organic farming uses natural fertilization and pest control methods. Soil is protected by rotating crops and building up and replacing soil nutrients with organic and natural materials. Factory farms often store animal excrement in open-air lagoons to be left untreated and pollute land, air and water. The Environmental Protection Agency statistics from the 1990s cite hog, chicken and cattle waste as being responsible for significant pollution of rivers and contaminated groundwater (http://ow.ly/x3ckW). Then there is the consideration of the amount of fossil fuels needed in factory farming for producing and harvesting crops to feed animals, supporting barns for animals, and transportation costs. This depletes our oil resources leaving us dependent on foreign oil and at some point our oil resources will be completely used up. Then we will have no choice but to have an alternative solution for food production. The sustainable food model whether talking about meat or produce promotes buying food locally which decreases the fossil fuel use for transportation long distance and using sustainable farm practices that reduce pollution from animal waste and use less energy in raising crops and animals for food.
Sustainable Food: Protecting Our Health
Factory farm practices grow food through the use of pesticides and chemicals that are then processed with additives and preservatives. This all serves to reduce the nutritional value of those foods. For meat production, animals are stressed by being raised in crowded conditions and fed with feed that is not the best quality. This not only reduces the nutritional value, but also is conducive to meat coming from diseased animals. You’ve probably heard about antibiotic resistant bacteria that has been seen in humans from overuse of antibiotics in raising cattle. In contrast, beef that comes from grass fed cattle has significantly more omega-3 fatty acid than beef that comes from factory farm raised grain fed cattle according to Jo Robinson, New York Time bestselling author (http://ow.ly/x3ckW).
Sustainable Food: Supporting Local Economy
Another reason for supporting sustainable food is to support family farms. It’s not just that supporting local farms means jobs for the area and money being kept and spent locally, but it also means not supporting local farmers often leads to loss of farmland. As more family farms are forced to close because they can’t compete with the large agricultural producers, farm land often is sold for development. Not being able to make a living wage doesn’t attract young people to continue family farms either. Do you realize that today we have around 5 million less farms than we did in the 1930s? As we lose this valuable resource of farmland, we become more dependent on industrial farms which use up our natural resources and imported foods from other countries. Buying sustainable food allows communities to ensure family farms continue to thrive, reduces the transportation problems of food coming from long distances, and provides fresher more nutritious foods to consumers.
Sustainable Food: Supporting the Global Community
While anywhere from 1/3 to ½ of food produced is wasted, there are around one billion people in the world that are malnourished. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, food production needs to see a 70% increase in production to feed the world’s estimated 9 billion people by 2050. (http://ow.ly/x3cXF). We’ve all seen the recent increases in food costs. Paul McMahon, author of Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food and sustainable food expert, believes food prices will continue to increase. He cites extra food demands from Asia, biofuels, and volatile weather as some of the reasons behind this. In many of the poorer countries, people simply cannot afford these high food costs. For the sustainable food model to work, there will need to be world-wide support for creating local farms in developing countries as well as a reduction in food waste by providing better storage and refrigeration in those countries and economic development to increase wages for people to be able to afford food.
Sustainable Food: Supporting Worker and Animal Rights
You are probably familiar with how in tribal times words of appreciation and rituals were performed when taking the life of an animal for food. Compare that to today’s factory farm treatment of animals and you’ll find another reason to support sustainable food. Factory farms often have inhumane practices with overcrowded, unsanitary conditions for animals to live in that do not support natural behaviors of the animals. This not only is a terrible way for any animal to have to live and certainly does not honor the animals in any way, but can also lead to diseased animals being used as food sources for humans. Sustainable practices promote free range animals that have the room to spend their time engaging in natural instinctive behaviors for their species.
Not only do factory farms not support animals’ rights, but very often the rights of their workers are not protected. Workers are often exposed to dangers such as breathing air contaminated with toxic gases. They are also often underpaid and have little say in anything to do with their jobs including safety precautions. Sustainable farming promotes empowering workers with decent working conditions and fair pay.
As you can see there are many reasons to start now considering the switch to buying sustainable food. Not only will you be getting more nutritious food for yourself and your family, you’ll be getting in on the ground floor of agricultural practices for the future. I know change can be hard, but how long do we think the planet can survive current agricultural practices? At some point there will have to be change. You can be ahead of the game by beginning to make a few steps toward buying sustainable food a little at a time. Once you see and taste the difference, you just may be sold on it.