It used to be easy to answer that question but the more we learn about food’s impact on our health and environment, this decision has become more and more complicated. The pesticides, herbicides and industrial systems that produce our foods are polluting our world and threatening our health, particularly those we count on to grow our food.
Our desire to eat a more natural diet of free-range, humanly raised, no hormone and pesticide-free foods can be curtailed when the cost for organic foods is 30% more for fruits and vegetables and double for meats. Sometimes, it’s hard to rationalize this additional expenditure when there are so many other demands on our budgets.
Even at that, only 3% of food is organic and only about 75% of stores carry some pesticide-free produce and dairy. So why allocate the additional funds for purchasing premium organic products when other foods are cheaper and more available?
Modern agriculture is where the problem starts. The way food is raised today resembles practices more likely found in a factory. Agribusiness views the mass production of food as the most efficient means to meet the demands of the planet’s ever increasing population, despite the environmental impact on people and the planet:
Leaching of agricultural chemicals and animal wastes into ground and surface water causes ecosystems to receive 100-400% more nitrogen than natural systems experience.
Fattening of 50,000 cattle (the number that reside in a U.S. feedlot at any given time) per year requires over 200 million acres of land to produce grains, pasture and hay, cultivated with 181 million pounds of pesticides, 22 billion pounds of fertilizer and 17 trillion gallons of irrigation water, polluting our air, water and soil and depleting natural aquifers.
Poisoning our farm workers with pesticides at the rate of 300,000 per year.
Increasing the risk of birth defects in unborn babies for pregnant women who live within 9 miles of farms where pesticides are sprayed.
Unfortunately we can’t turn to fish as an alternative, as the EPA has cautioned us, especially pregnant women and children, to avoid eating tuna as it is contaminated with mercury from industrial smokestacks. And since we are over-fishing over one third of the world’s oceans and seas, fish such as cod, haddock, sea bass, red snapper and grouper are simply becoming scarcer.
The good news is that our options for safer, healthier foods are increasing thanks almost entirely to consumer demand. The more we shift our budget to organic and sustainably raised foods, the more choices we’ll have and the cheaper they will become. Here are four ways to help shift the market:
Eat less meat – You can save 1.4 tons of greenhouse gases every year by substituting half as much meat with choices such as tofu and veggie burgers. Although USDA certified organic meat products eliminates concerns such as antibiotics, hormones and artificial preservatives, the raising of these animals still contributes to deforestation, global warming and the production of 100,000 metric tons of manure per minute.
Choose sustainable seafood – Think Cedar Key clams.
Buy certified organic – These 3rd party inspected, USDA standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides which in this regard is as good for our planet as it is for our bodies
Buy local – Most farmers who participate in local farmer’s markets are smaller operations and are more in-tuned to farming practices that will promote healthier products and take better care of our soil and water.
We are what we eat, so we have every reason to select the safest, most nutritious and delicious foods that are available for the benefit of a healthier body and planet. So what is for dinner?
References: “Big Green Purse” by Diane MacEachern, “Six Arguments for a Greener Diet” by Dr. Michael Jacobson, www.epa.gov.
--Submitted by Eileen Bowers
This column is a project of Cedar Key’s Energy Advisory Panel, which welcomes first-person accounts of how individuals are conserving (or, even, aspiring to conserve) our community's natural resources. Your submission may be made via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and your phone number.