This post is part of the 21 Days to a Manlier Green series
I think a lot about food.
I write a lot about food.
I eat a lot of food.
I regularly ask myself, “where does our food come from and what impact does it have on the environment?” Once upon a time that would have been an easy question, as the vast majority of society was involved in agriculture. Today, it’s not so easy.
Where Does Our Food Come From?
In the United States, 21 million people produce, process and sell food and fiber. This may sound like a lot of people, but farm and ranch families make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population. How many farmers do you know?
Who grew the greens for your salad? Who raised the hens that laid the eggs for your omelet? Who pastured the cow that came to you as a stake?
“Cultivators are the most valuable citizens…they are tied to their country.” – Thomas Jefferson
Most people have no idea who grows our food. There is little more important than food. Food is one of our three basic needs. As civilization and society have progressed, we’ve become disconnected from the land and the bounty that it can produce. Now, I’m not against civilization and modern society – let me be clear on that one. Our disconnect from nature and natural food systems, however, is harming our health and the health of our environment.
What Impact Does Our Food Have?
All agriculture is not the same. The spectrum of food production extends from small-scale local farmers to large-scale industrial agriculture. The U.S. is a world leader in food production and led the green revolution that modernized agriculture. We are now able to feed more people on less land that ever before, but are these modern practices sustainable?
Modern agriculture is built off a backbone of oil and natural gas. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are created from chemical processes that largely start with oil or natural gas. The heavy machinery used to plow seemingly endless acres of crops is fueled by gas. Irrigation systems require energy to run – this energy comes from fossil fuels.
All the energy required to power modern agriculture has a big impact on the environment. Then you can add on the damage caused by fertilizers and pesticides. Or the run-off and erosion from crop land, which pollutes local waterways. Or the overuse of water resources for irrigation. Then there’s loss of habitat for wild animals.
Farmers in the United States seek ways to maximize yield at the lowest cost. That is just basic economic sense. What further exacerbates the problem, however, is you. Maybe not YOU in particular depending on your shopping habits, but the general population. How? Our demand for cheap food.
Yet, farmers are not bad people who want to ruin the environment. Farmers spend their days outside, under the sun and sky. Farmers depend on nature. Farmers serve the consumer.
We are the consumer and the customer is always right. You want cheap food? You’ve got it! But that cheap food is going to come at a cost. A cost to your health. A cost to the environment’s health. A cost to our health as a species. A cost to future generations’ health.
Support Better Farming
Every dollar you spend is an economic signal that says, “I support what you are doing. Keep it up. Give me more.” As consumers, we are the masters of the market. Our needs, desires, and wants are reflected on the store shelves.
Do you want food that harms your body and the environment or do you want food that nurtures your body and the environment?
“But, organic, sustainable, or local food is more expensive. I don’t have money for that!”
Yes, organic food is more expensive. Yet, you pay for what you get. When buying almost anything, what is a decent indicator of quality? Price. Granted, this relationship isn’t always true, but I believe it holds well here. The extra money you pay is for the additional labor and practices required to grow food more sustainably.
Now, as for not having the money for greener food choices, I’d have to ask you to be really serious with yourself. Do you not have the money or would you rather spend it somewhere else? I’m not asking anyone to grow broke eating organic, I’m just asking you to reflect on your priorities.
Americans don’t like spending a lot of money on food. As it stands, we spend less on food than any other country – a trend that has been happening for quite some time.
Food has gotten cheaper, because as consumers we demanded it. Additionally, its my observation that our priorities have shifted. Buying cheaper food frees up money for other things – bigger T.V., bigger car, new clothing every season, the newest technology.
Food is medicine. I mean that. I’m not trying to drawing some analogy or reference Hippocrates. Food really is medicine. It provides you with energy, health, and life.
Find a Farmers’ Market – Know Your Farmer
Ready to start valuing your body and the environment more? Start eating better food. How? Find a farmer.
I love the farmers’ market. The open air environment. The sense of community as people from your town move from stall to stall shopping, talking, smiling.
When else do you get the opportunity to speak directly with the producer of something you’re buying – not a sales person or a representative, but the man or woman who made the very thing you are interested in buying?
You can ask what variety of eggplant they have (yes, there are different types!). You can ask them about their farm. Ask if they are organic. Ask what they feed their animals. Ask where the animals are processed. You can ask them anything.
Don’t know where your closest farmers market is? Check here: U.S. Farmers Markets Directory
Today, make plans to visit a farmers’ market. See when your local farmers’ market opens and what their hours are and go to the very next one!