Thursday, May 15, 2014

Selected Readings on Food, Agriculture and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Food, Agriculture and the Environment. 

Against the Grain: Hog Heaven
Human beings have a need for agriculture, or at least for its byproduct food, however agriculture hasn’t a need for human beings in the sense that it evolves regardless of the needs of humanity.  For thousands of years people had a deep connection with the food that they consumed, but with the appearance of the industrialism on the scene food became seen less as a link to nature and more as a detriment to human advancement.  This change in thinking required for our food to become more processed in order for it to no longer appear natural.  The beginning of this process was with the fad diets of the mid 1800s which had the goal of bettered bowel movements through the consumption of the necessary processed foods, many coming solely from grain.  Grain made the perfect crop for this process, for in its natural state it is not able to be consumed.  Wheat requires, at a minimum, hulling, grinding, and cooking.  This is distinctly more complex than the simple consumption of most vegetables and fruits, of which man had been accustomed to for millennia.  Grains have as a primary ingredient starch, which is a complex carbohydrate.  Starch can be processed into sugar, and from this idea was born the entire industry of processed foods and the conversion of crop foods into commodities.  From this eventually came corn syrup and in the 60s high fructose corn syrup, which is a key ingredient in nearly every packaged food to this day.  These foods gave people a convenience and appearance of status never before afforded to the lower classes of society.  These ideals still permeate our culture to this day in the wealth of fast food available throughout every town and city of America.  The mass marketing and processing of grains as commodities has provided people with “cheap” and “easy” calories, though at the great cost of our own health.

Against the Grain: A Counteragriculture
We did not create agriculture, nor did we domesticate its plants: we were, ourselves, the ones having been domesticated.  The policies and practices which permeate agriculture today, while created with good intentions, almost all have ended up more detrimental to humanity than planned.  The problem that arises is that we depend on the political system to fix these issues, however the political system is itself a creation of agriculture.  It is the wealth and security created by agriculture that allowed for the rise of government.  Yet there is still hope, for there exist a subculture of our agriculture:  the organic farmers and the people who buy these organically grown foods.  They represent a better future for agriculture.  These people, especially the organic growers, see their crops as food and not solely as a commodity en route to money and profit, though this system by itself will not be enough.  A self sufficient agriculture is required for the needs which we have.  The growth and cultivation of varieties of plants together, just as once existed in nature, will benefit humanity and the world all the same. 
Rethinking the Meat Guzzler
Oil and meat share many similarities, most of which are not good:  both are subsidized by the government, both are purchased more by the wealthier nations, and both are consumed in amounts that are in bad judgment.  The reduced cost of meat, caused by the increased industrialization and the use of confined animal feeding operations and the reduced cost of grains due to subsidies, has caused for a much increased rate of consumption of meat.  The massive consumption of meat, and from that its greatened demand, has created many negative things: polluted water supplies, the output of greenhouse gases, increased consumption of grains, and the destruction of previously natural or untouched lands for the use of directly and indirectly related meat operations.  The human consumption of meat is very inefficient as far as energy is concerned; were a person to eat the grain that was destined for a cows digestive system, he would in fact receive as much as five times the amount of calories than that same amount of grain received indirectly through the consumption of meat fed by grain.  The increase in meat consumption and production increases demand for the staple grain crops such as wheat and corn and therefore sends the prices of those crops up, making it more difficult for the poorer people of the world to feed themselves on these least expensive of crops.  Not only is the great increase in meat consumption bad for the environment and for those indirectly affected by it, but our own health is at risk by the massive intake of fats and proteins.  In fact the average American is consuming twice as much protein as recommended and even that recommendation is perhaps inflated.
Kraft Shakes up Dairy Market
In January 2008 Kraft Foods decided to begin production of a cheese line free of the rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin, hormone.  BST is a hormone naturally produced by cattle in order to produce milk.  The rBST hormone therefore increases the production of milk in cattle.  Some consumer groups follow certain studies which state that the hormone can cause cancer, though U.S. food regulators disagree and add that food derived from cattle given the production boosting hormone is safe for human consumption.  In recent years the public has begun to be much more aware of what it is eating.  The movement against rBST byproducts is proof of this fact.  Many large restaurants and food producers have begun either the completely banning of rBST derived foods or offering alternative rBST free foods.  According to a 2007 government survey around seventeen percent of U.S. dairy cows receive rBST.  Its opponents say that rBST increases infections in cows and stimulates the production of another hormone that has been linked to cancer in humans.  Kraft is not changing its stance on the use of rBST in its products but merely attempting to keep with the status quo of offering “safer” foods.  It will continue to offer rBST products, however the rBST free products will fetch a higher price which is common for products deemed safe or natural.  Many top researchers see this as merely a circumstance of smoke and mirrors in that rBST produced milk is chemically the same as non rBST milk.  Many in the industry are firmly against the labeling of products as rBST free as it will likely reduce sales and create a disturbance where there may not be a problem.

Readings May Originate from the Following:
Cynthia Barstow.   The Eco-Foods Guide.
Christopher Cook.  Diet for a Dead Planet.
Richard Manning.  Against the Grain.
Vandana Shiva.     Stolen Harvest.
Smith, Jeffery.       Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically  Modified Foods.

This article originally written February 11th, 2009 for OU IPE 3913 - Food, Agriculture and the Environment. 

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