Globalization has changed the face of the planet — both in terms of how we communicate, what types of political and social issues we face, and even the choices we make in basic human needs like food. After viewing the movie Urban Roots, I was struck with the issues of sustainability, organic foods, mega-farming, and the issues of urban renewal and community as well. One commentator (the director of Moulin Rouge, in fact), noted that America is in the midst of another war — a food war. The idea of urban farming and people taking personal responsibility for growing food and understanding that there are consequences to eating really changes the way one looks at the products at the local grocery store — what goes into getting them to us, what happens to people and the environment because of our taste for x, y or z, and the overall global consequences to simply eating (Urban Roots).
Once I started researching the process of agriculture, I found that for most of human history, agriculture was indeed organic by nature. I was really not until after World War II and the large farming process that synthetic chemicals were introduced into the food chain. This use of artificial chemicals for production is called “conventional,” while organic greatly restricts or prohibits all non-organic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. However, contrary to popular belief, certain non-organic fertilizers are still used. If livestock are involved, they must be raised without regular use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones, and generally fed a more healthy diet (Stokstad, 2002). In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology, genetic manipulation, and irradiation to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food (Shepherd, M., et al.).
Organic food, though, even though the urban growers are not 100% committed to this philosophy, is heavily regulated. The urban growers minimize harmful products, though, and concentrate whenever possible on mulches, etc. But because many Americans are now realizing that what they put into their bodies is very important, they are more likely to shop organic if possible. Most certifications allow some chemicals and pesticides to be used, so consumers should be aware of the standards for qualifying as “organic” in their respective locales. Historically organic operations have been relatively small and family oriented, which is why organic food was once only available in small stores or seasonal markets. However, since the early 1990s organic food production has had growth rates of around 20% a year, far ahead of the rest of the food industry, in both developed and developing nations (Local Harvest).
What is most interesting is that in 2008, organic food accounted for only about 2% of food sales globally. In the United States, organic foods grew from $1 billion in 1990 to over $30 billion in 2008. Organic food sales are anticipated to increase an average of 18% each year from 2007 to 2010. Total U.S. organic sales, including food and non-food products, were $17.7 billion in 2006, up 21% from 2005. They are estimated to have reached $21.2 billion in 2007, and are projected to surpass $25 billion in 2008. Mass market grocery stores represent the largest single distribution channel, accounting for 38% of organic food sales in 2006. This is up from a 35% share of total sales in 2005. The natural food channel is still strong. The sales of larger grocery natural food stores combined with smaller independent natural food stores and chains accounts for 44% of organic food and beverage sales. Mass merchandisers and club stores, food service, internet/mail order and farmers’ markets represent 8%, 4%, 2.2%, and 2% of organic food sales, respectively (Organic Trade Association).
However, there is more to the issue of food than simply better production and the ability to find organic produce that is not overburdened with chemicals. While we debate how clean our tomatoes are, or whether we can have fresh strawberries year round, over a billion people go hungry each day globally. We have come so far in our technological abilities in the 20th and 21st century, but we still have so many people that go to bed each night hungry. Not only that, our methodology is not always sustainable, and, in fact, there are places in the world where people not only do not get enough to eat, they do not even have enough water to sustain life, let alone agriculture (Holt-Gimenez & Patel). Much of this is someone concerning considering that at almost every level of our daily lives we are literally bombarded with nutritional advice, diet plans, and food information — and certainly not all of it correct. Then we see the tremendous waste of perfectly good food — vegetables that might be a bit bruised, breads that are a day-old, or even meats that have simply run a bit past the expiration date being dumped when so many are hungry. Instead, research shows us that the food industry influences our very choices, values, and even nutritional content, through advertisement and lobbying. I was aghast finding that America consumes enough calories to meet every citizen’s caloric and nutritional needs 2.5 times — and we are swayed to eat more instead of less, causing an unprecedented increase in childhood diabetes, heart and kidney issues, endemic obesity, and certainly and economic crisis in the moral and fair distribution of food (Nestle, 2007).
Then, of course, we are faced with the issue of sustainability. It seems to me that modern society has the technology to change behaviors, but perhaps lacks the political will to do so. Change cannot happen with only one country, nor can it happen immediately. Instead, globalism must move beyond the tax and trade mentality and to the cooperative nature of saving the environment for all humans. The moral action in the contemporary world is to continue to work diligently to increase awareness of global climate change, to empower young people who will be the decision makers and inventors of the future, and to continue to fight the slow political battles surrounding the issue of sustainability. Not doing anything to help mitigate the situation between food production and distribution, for instance, is not just unwise; it may actually be a precursor to a global crisis. . Individuals should not feel powerless in this situation — individuals can be a powerful catalyst for change. The idea, for instance, of thinking global, acting local; voting with your dollars; and purposing sustainable products along with disposal patterns and conversation can, and will, make the difference between success and failure.
When it comes to food management, we must realize that food is a basic necessity for every human on earth. For humans, sustainability is managing the human impact upon the environment in a way that is long-term, less invasive, and ensures the survival of the human population, the environment, and the social and cultural systems we have developed. Healthy ecosystems and environments provide vital chemicals for our atmosphere, resources for our technological needs, and assist us in agriculture. Into the 21st century, we are out of balanced. We overfish, overuse the land, killing the forests and polluting the environment. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services. The first is environmental management; this approach is based largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science, and conservation biology. The second approach is management of human consumption of resources, which is based largely on information gained from economics and the willingness to move past looking at just the needs of the few, and involving the needs of the many. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails working on a global level in almost every field, and tying those fields together with our individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism.
The idea of using local, more sustainable agriculture can have a major effect upon any number of aspects of human health. Because the urban and working poor often do not have access to adequate foods, we must rethink our way of distributing goods (Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability). Certainly, urban gardens are one approach; finding ways to increase the farmer’s market for inexpensive and healthy organic foods for all citizens are another. But more than anything, we need to understand that sustainable local production will help the environment by reducing pollution from factory farming and long-range delivery; providing greater health benefits to all, thus reducing medical care, helping to prevent obesity and type-II diabetes; and changing the way we look at our food needs and the distribution of those needs globally.
In addition to food, I was frankly amazed that on a planet that has more water than most others in the universe; there are places on earth with flooding so bad that they cannot participate in agriculture, and places so dry there is not enough water to even survive. In fact, looking into this in more detail, I found that the World Health Organization indicates that 1/6th of the world lacks access to potable water, and at any given time, 50% of all humans have one of the six main diseases associated with water issues. Ironically, only 1% of the world’s fresh water is readily accessible for direct human use. Translated into something we can understand readily: one American taking a 5-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country slum uses in an entire day — and most Americans take far longer than 5-minute showers. This is a crisis that must be addressed, if it is not, over the next two decades the average supply of water per person will drop by over 30%, condemning millions of people and animals to death (Atlas of a Thirsty Planet).
This assignment opened my eyes to a new way of looking at food — I will be unable to go into a grocery store and look at rows and rows of perfect fruits and vegetables; knowing that half are thrown out while people starve. In the same manner, knowing that each American eats on average 2.5 times more calories than necessary, while many children go to bed hungry. Perhaps not only is it important that we read and research, but that we also vote with our pocketbooks; say no to egregious portions (Supersizing and places that service way too much food). We need to demand local produce, demand higher quality foods, and vote for political parties that understand we live in a global environment, and that the good of the many will also enhance our own country and population.
“Atlas of a Thirsty Planet.” July 2002. Nature.com. May 2012. .
Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability. Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2011. Print.
Holt-Gimenez, E. And R. Patel, Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice. Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2009. Print.
Local Harvest. “Family Farms.” March 2009. Localharvest.org. May 2012. .
Nestle, M. FOod Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutirition and Health. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. Print.
Organic Trade Association. “Industry Statistics and Projected Growth.” June 2008. OTA.com. May 2012. .
Shepherd, M., et al. “An Assessment of the Environmental Impacts of Organic Farming.” November 2003. DEFRA Products. May 2012. .
Stokstad, E. “Organic Farms Reap Many Benefits.” 30 May 2002. Science Now. May 2012. .
“Urban Roots.” March 2011. UrbanRootsamerica.com. Web. May 2012. .
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