Man-made Manipulations and Sustainability
Food, Friend or Foe?
For most of our species history, food production was a simple affair. People raised and farmed livestock and produce on small farms, orchards, and market gardens. Food was almost exclusively cooked at home, utilizing health the benefits of everything they had, as many did not have much. Once the world industrialized, in the 20th century, and it became possible to mass produce food at much cheaper costs using much poorer material, there was a large shift to processed and manufactured foods. Foods that, although cost effective and easily mass produced are incredibly unhealthy, and largely responsible for obesity and many other health problems. Manufacturers are also able to control the outcome of their crops and produce higher yields by genetically modifying the organisms (GMO). There is lot of debate currently over whether GMO’s are helpful, or harmful as long term effects have not been accounted for yet. Another problem associated with mass production is sustainability, how long can we continue producing and consuming at this rate until we run out of resources?
Processed Food Origin
Processed food by definition: is the action of performing a series of mechanical or chemical operations on food in order to change or preserve it.
Processed food became available in the early 20th century. Women were growing weary of preparing foods from scratch, and ready-to-cook processed foods were an easy alternative. Industrialization innovated new methods of food processing, including canned and frozen foods. Gas stoves, refrigerators and other kitchen tools and appliances became standard in most homes, so more types of food could be purchased and stored. Processed foods were ideal for lower income families that had to get by with less, be thrifty and stretch meals, as processed foods tend to reduce protein, adding more vegetables, starches and beans, effectively lowering its cost. As farming to sustain for oneself became less and less popular by mid-century farmers were encouraged to use chemical fertilization and irrigation to increase crop yields, subsequently decreasing the vitamins and minerals in those plants. Government subsidies for corn and soy led to a food industry incentive to flood the market with a variety of trans-fats used to produce processed and highly unhealthy foods. Society is now just learning how serious the repercussions of a processed diet are. We are learning how food affects mental and physical health. The only problem is, in a world so industrialized, do you honestly have much choice in the harvesting and production methods now?
GMO Natural vs. Bio-engineered Bias
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is the result of a chemical process where genes from the DNA of one species are forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. Farmers have started using GMO’s because it ensures a larger, stronger crop retention. The long term effects on humans consuming these new combinations of proteins produced are unknown and have not been studied long term. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine published that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.”With surprising results like these, one must wonder why we keep producing and consuming modified organisms and why there are no definitive results regarding the use of GMO’s. It may come down to the same manufacturing biotech companies who have been found guilty of hiding the toxic effects of their chemical products are also in charge of determining whether their GM foods are safe. One has to wonder if those determined results are unbiased by profit.
Another issue we face with the industrialization of mass production and intensive farming methods is running out of resources and tainting the ones we already possess. Not only are we being poisoned with toxins and chemicals in our processed food, we are poisoning the environment in the process. Many intensive farming methods use chemicals that seep into the water table, altering surrounding areas and ecosystems. Over production of animals create a reaction of greenhouse gas essentially, warming the planet. Kenneth Cassman, from the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at the University of Nebraska, concludes that “A doubling in global food demand projected for the next 50 years poses huge challenges for the sustainability both of food production and of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the services they provide to society. New incentives and policies for ensuring the sustainability of agriculture and ecosystem services will be crucial if we are to meet the demands of improving yields without compromising environmental integrity or public health.”We cannot meet society’s needs without detriment to the environment, and we cannot meet those needs with a ruined environment.
The Next Step
As society that is always evolving and striving for efficiency, we must start innovating new simplistic and natural methods of sustainability, even if it means more work. If nothing worth doing is easy, then why would we feel our nourishment and long term sustainability is any less important?