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Farming into the Future
Meet Bob. Bob is an average American consumer who enjoys the ease that modern life in the United States affords him. He is a great appreciator of the American love for convenience, and he has no reservations about taking the quick and easy route in any situation, as long as he doesn’t have to know about or clean up the mess which that philosophy generally creates. Herein lies the problem, however. That decadent mentality has led to the creation of technologies and practices which, while supplying the demands of a populace which craves convenience, do more damage than they do good. Among these practices is a method of farming referred to as “factory farming”, which is, essentially, the practice of turning a plot of land into a production facility for animals and/or plants, with little regard for things like the safety of the animals involved or the long-term ecological effects, but perhaps an excess of regard for concepts such as output and market value. In reality, this means of production is causing great harm to the very things the American people hold dear: their fellow man and their home. Factory farming is an unsustainable ecological practice, and for the American people to save themselves and their environment from further damage, they have to alter not only their methods of food production, but their mentality towards life in general.
What is your take on the farming situation?
The first concept which should be considered by anyone interested in educating themselves on the topic should be the health of the people that food will feed. There’s very little point to producing food if no one will eat it because it is ridden with diseases. The spreads of swine flu, mad cow disease and avian flu have all been associated with the practice of factory farming (“Human Health” n.d.). It is self-defeating, in a sense, to produce food to feed the masses if your methods of producing that food are unhealthy or otherwise undesirable for those involved. Neighbors of production facilities often have to deal with polluted air, water and soil conditions, and a generally decreased quality of life (“Human Health”, n.d.). The polluting of soil and water are often associated with the spread of diseases such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. This is due to the conditions the animals are kept in. To explain, if an animal were infected with E. coli and the ground water is not properly treated, it will become polluted with waste from the animal, which can present a health hazard in the form of ground water that is used for many things, from bathing to drinking. This problem is only made worse in factory farms, as “high speed processing of livestock can result in meat contaminated as a result of contact with fecal matter and any associated pathogens from the animals’ intestines.” (“Human Health”, n.d., p. “Pathogens”: para. 1). This “high speed processing” is indicative of the root problem which lies at the core of the situation as a whole, which is the American need for ease – the craving for convenience. It is this acceptance of anything that makes life easier which lies at the heart of the issue, and this lifestyle has been associated with American tragedy in the past. During WWII, the Americans and the Japanese were involved in what might be called skirmishes in the Pacific prior to the attack at Pearl Harbor. These minor battles might have been the summit of the military actions in the Pacific theater had it not been for the Japanese impression of their American adversaries. The Japanese viewed the Americans as a decadent people, weak and unfit for battle. The United States proved Japan incorrect in their assumptions, of course, but the atrocities associated with that part of the war might never have taken place if the American love for ease were not so prevalent.
Just as Japan assumed that they could proceed however they wished seemingly without regard for those they share the world with, Americans go about the business of living the life they have built for themselves without much thought for the other forms of life with which they share their home. The fact that they do not recognize the aforementioned problems precludes that they cannot realize that these same factors are as damaging to their environment as they are to the people. However, before exploring that, one must understand that the “environment” includes the animals, as well as the land and plants, in any given area. The other animals sharing our planet, as well as those directly involved with the farming process, must be taken into consideration. Without other animals, the human race does not survive, yet we constantly look past the harm we do to them and their environment. Michael Pollan (2006) writes of how parts of the US have become a “monotonous landscape, vast plowed fields relieved only by a dwindling number of farmsteads…” (p. 39). People generally attribute this condition to farming things like corn or wheat, yet it is this very same farm land that used to serve as pastures for all sorts of domesticated animals, and homes for an arrangement of wild species. What exists now is neither prairie nor desert – it is something in between. The argument could even be made that a desert is better off, as those inhabitants have had thousands of years to adapt to their environment. The American people have transformed this land in a fraction of the time. Pollan (2006) writes, “… the winds blow more fiercely in Iowa today than they once did.” (p. 39) In these ominous words, he effectively illustrates the powerful influence people have over their environment - many times, of a negative variety.
In that power, however, they will find the first step in solving the factory farming problem, and that is to change their perspective. Most Americans would rather push a button than turn a crank, drive a car than ride a bike, and have their food made for them than cook it themselves. Many Americans are simply in love with the concept of “fast food”; they can pull up to the side of a building, shout out an order and drive away with a piping-hot meal in less than 10 minutes (ideally). The food tastes good, is not prohibitively expensive, and it entertains the kids. What they do not know is where that food comes from. Sure, a burger from Burger King is probably safe, if one considers a 1,200 calorie meal consisting of mainly greasy meat and cheese (Bernstein, 2011) to be “safe”. However, rarely do they ask themselves, “What is the opportunity cost of this burger?” Or, put another way, “What am I giving up by buying this?” The answer is not immediately obvious, but one might say that they would be giving up the future for convenience now. Rather than going to the supermarket and buying a prime cut of meat to cook at home, they take the easy route and order prepared foods or buy frozen dinners, which are, when examined properly, not very different from one another. This has to change. The need for convenience and ease has grown out of control. They look to technology to make their lives easier, but they do not consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They do not think about what will happen when the topsoil in America’s Midwest is no longer surpassingly fertile. They give little consideration to the possible genetic abnormalities which will undoubtedly occur in cattle due to their treatment in cattle processing facilities. The very act of shipping them from place to place can kill them (Welfare, 2006). Assuming Darwin is correct, this mistreatment could have unforeseen and potentially disastrous consequences on future generations of cattle. However, none of this potentially disastrous activity is considered. All that is considered by the masses is how long they have to wait in line. This manner of thinking must change. To change one’s perspective is not extraordinarily difficult, but to change the behavior of the masses is a daunting concept, indeed – but it must be done. Accomplishing this goal is no easy task, but the process is actually quite straightforward. It is in the individual that the difference must be made. Each person must decide for themselves that the road down which American society and/or culture is traveling is the wrong one, and resolve themselves to living a life less selfish. Simply giving to one’s fellow man is not enough – they must want less for themselves, and in that sense, it could be equated to sacrificing a night of eating out to feed a hungry family, except instead of feeding a physical person which exists today, they would be extending the period of time in which our society will be able to feed itself.
After this change has taken place, and people become more concerned with their environment and less concerned with convenience, a decrease in demand for the types of products supplied by factory farms should decrease; specifically, low-grade meat should see a vast decrease in demand. The land previously used for the factory farming of cattle, pigs and such could then be used for more traditional farms. The output seen, however, might not be enough. To resolve this dilemma, a new technology must be employed, one which would allow crops to be grown on far less land, allowing traditional farms to replace many farms which produce plants, as well. The technology in question is the vertical farm. The benefits of a vertical farm over a modern, say, corn farm are legion. For starters, it eliminates run-off with recycling; there is year-round crop production, so one acre outputs the same as roughly thirty “normal” acres; no weather-related failure, since the crops are indoors; it reduces transmission of infectious diseases and is grown without herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers; and it actually produces energy by composting organic materials and producing methane. Making use of this one technology could radically change the face of the United States, literally.
If this technology is employed, both urban and rural areas will change radically. In cities, massive greenhouse-type buildings would dot the exterior, giving the skylines a distinctively organic look. Besides being aesthetically pleasing and the aforementioned benefits, many jobs would be produced by keeping such structures around, requiring everything from farmers to maintenance crews. In rural settings, the land which is now essentially barren (save the selected crops) could be reconverted into traditional farmland, allowing production of meat to remain high amid a market which will, no doubt, not see a major decline any time soon. These rural farms promote natural ecological growth, as the habitats they maintain are closer to the natural conditions of the area. That is to say, grasslands separated by hedge/tree-rows is a better promoter of wildlife than acres of dirt parted only by barbed wire fences.
Bob finds himself in a rather precarious position. He likes the life that he has grown accustomed to. He enjoys the convenience that modern technology affords him. What he does not appreciate are the ramifications of these concepts. Damaging the environment and marring the landscape are not what he had in mind. With the knowledge and technology he has, however, he can exact a change upon the situation and see that the future his children will live through is a bright one. All he has to do is alter his perspective.
Bernstein, S. (2011, February 2). ‘Eat less,’ U.S. says as fast-food chains super-size their offerings. LA Times.Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/ 2011/feb/02/business/la-fi-fast-food-calorie-20110202
Despommier, D. (n.d.). The Vertical Farm: Reducing the impact of agriculture on ecosystem functions and services. Retrieved from http://www.verticalfarm.com/ more?essay1
Human health. (n.d.). Beyond Factory Farming. Retrieved from http://beyondfactoryfarming.org/get-informed/health/human-health
Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: A natural history of four meals. New York, NY: The Penguin Press
The welfare of cattle in beef production. (2006, April). Farm Sanctuary. Retrieved from http://www.farmsanctuary.org/mediacenter/beef_report.html