Just How Bad is Industrial Food Production?
The industrial food production system defines “efficiency” as the large economies that can be achieved by the use of new technology and standardization. This is usually used to defend large industrial farms. But efficiency is defined in natural systems as the coevolutionary relationships and reciprocal loops. Some critiques of industrial food production include the use of too much oil for shipping, the use of too much water during production, an unbalanced food culture, too many unnecessary bad calories added, the bad health effects that come from industrially produced foods, and the poor treatment of animals.
Natural systems work so that nothing is wasted, everything is connected and beneficial to different species. As described in the article “The Animals: Practicing Complexity” by Michael Pollan, Polyface Farms is efficient in a more natural way. They allow animals to live in a natural and humane way, such as how the chickens live in nice pens with areas to roam. But while they live in a natural way outside, the animals are each individually a process but are then a larger one in the bigger picture. Just as the rabbit and chicken situation is a holon, it is also very efficient. The pee from the rabbits is used instead of being wasted and is used for the chickens to scratch at to coax earthworms out of the ground for the chickens to then eat.
What good comes out of growing your own food? In Called Home by Barbara Kingsolver, she explains how she and her family had to move from Tucson onto a farm because the town was not bountiful in natural resources. In such environments as the hot deserts of Tucson, it is hard to grow bountiful livestock without having rich and fertile soil. When you grow your own food, you do not get food that is shipped in from a different state miles away by a refrigerated delivery truck. This means that all of your food is fresh. Another advantage is that you know exactly what is put into your food. Recently I watched a documentary called “Rotten”. The first part of the documentary was dedicated to the honey business. During this, I found out that there was a ban for honey that is imported from China due to an added chemical that can be fatal if ingested in certain quantities. The U.S. ended up having to put a ban on this kind of product. A few years later, a shipment of honey came in from a foreign country. As control tests were done on this honey, it was found out that the honey had come from China and contained the fatal chemical that had been banned. Many products like this honey slip through the cracks for years, making their ways to people’s dinner plates. But when you grow your own food, you are able to know exactly what goes into everything and why. Along with this line, especially in America, processed foods contain many additives such as high fructose corn syrup. These kinds of additives are high in bad sugars and fats which cause many health problems in people.
What are some ways that people could fix problems with industrial food production? For animal welfare, animals could be kept in larger spaces, or at least keep fewer animals in such a small space to let them roam. For using too much oil, companies could stick to only selling locally instead of shipping across the country and even across the world. This would make it so that less oil is being used for shipping products. For the bad health effects, companies could consider using natural sweeteners instead of using things such as artificially made sweeteners. People also could become more educated on what is actually going into their foods. If they knew what each ingredient was and what the effect is on their body then maybe more people would veer towards buying more nutritious foods.
Do we really need chemicals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals? Many industrial farmers use these things every day in their farming, but is there really a need for them? Polyface Farms could say otherwise. In “The Animals: Practicing Complexity” Pollan writes about how on Polyface Farms, they do not need to use these chemicals and “additives”. It is argued that the reasoning for this is, contrary to industrial farming, when you use a biological process for raising animals the way that nature intended it to, then there will be no need for such additives. Health is one important sign of efficiency. This system works itself out in a way that dismisses the use of these chemicals. They help to avoid certain illnesses by having their animals be able to roam outside in the field, still confined, but with much more room than animals in tight quarters on industrial farms. But if everyone were to make this change to become more like Polyface, then there would also come drastic changes to the country. For example, since the industrial farms are so tightly packed with bunches of animals they do not take up as much room as Polyface Farms does. This would mean that we would need a lot more space for these farms to exist. But with about 17% (double check number) of land being used for agriculture and raising animals for food, can we really afford to make such a change to our farms? Is there a better solution?
This could lead to many economic problems. Some farms are run in the middle of cities in factory type buildings. If all farms had to adapt Polyface’s ways of farming, then these city farms would not have anywhere to go to continue their business. This could result in a large decline in meat on the market. Low meat production could also stem from farmers not being able to have so many animals in such a small space, which would mean that when they spread out, they may have to give up some animals producing less meat. With less meat on the market, what would the chances be that hunting would rise again? Would people be more willing to hunt for a different game just to satisfy the need for meat that is not being provided in the market?
Many farmers may be upset with this change. This sort of drastic change could result in less revenue and loss of jobs. Though this is a chance, there also is the chance of the creation of more jobs since there is a lot more physical labor to be done, along with gaining a lot more revenue. Along with physical labor comes with mental labor as well. Though many of the animals do a lot of the work in Polyface Farms’ natural system, the farmers do all of the heavy liftings. It can be easily seen that the animals do all of the work for the farmers instead of the other way around. This can be hard for the credit of the farmers. The animals are doing what is natural to them, which in turn helps the whole process. But every day from dawn until dusk the farmers are out on the field moving the cattle, moving the pens, resetting all of the wire baling the hay and stacking it, and so on. Animals keep the process running, while the farmers are the ones who start and finish it. The farmers at Polyface are doing more work than the average industrial farmer who has to just press buttons on machines in a way that does not require any thought process. They are recalling knowledge about agriculture and coming up with ways that can help the farm to prosper in the natural way that is intended. Farmers such as the ones at Polyface know what each and every animal’s needs are and what to do to care for them and make sure that they are living homogeneously and peacefully.
Polyface Farm is so successful because they treat their animals more humanely than the “average” farm that is associated with the food industry today. On page 209 of “The Animals: Practicing Complexity”, Pollan explains how they treat their chickens. They have pens that are ten-by-twelve, two-foot-tall, and have grass areas behind them for the chickens to roam, eat, and fertilize the grass. After 24 hours the pens are moved so that they have fresh feeding ground and don’t have to roam in their own poop. In other slaughterhouses, the chickens are not treated fairly. Their beaks are clipped and they are forced to live in small cages with many other chickens and cannot move because there is not enough room to do so. Since Polyface moves the chicken’s roaming area daily, they are able to bring the nitrogen from their poop to every part of the grounds that need it. On page 211, Pollan writes on page 215 how Polyface Farm is based on recreating how nature works. This can promote a very healthy lifestyle for the animals and the plant life. It has been shown that more naturally raised animals tend to taste better in the end.
Oil is used in many different ways during food production. Each citizen consumes about 400 gallons of oil for agriculture, this is about 17% of the nation’s energy use. synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oils and natural gas along with their manufacturing. To get the seed to crop takes up a fifth of the oil. The actual distribution of each crop takes up the most amount of oil. Any piece of food in the U.S. may travel up to 1,500 miles. The process of harvesting such as producing, packaging, and shipping outweigh the calories that we consume.
According to Kingsolver, Americans no longer have very accurate or usable knowledge about how food is produced. Throughout generations, overall knowledge has just been lost. An example that Kingsolver starts with is how in America school starts around Labor Day and ends around June. Children now have no idea that this was to free up children’s lab0r when it was needed on the farm. Older generations had an intuitive sense for agriculture basics. Some of these could include when certain crops come into season and how to preserve each one, along with what is to be expected with each season. Kingsolver made it a point that most people these days cannot answer questions about agriculture that were once very common knowledge. We also have convinced ourselves that this information is not important because we do not have to worry about it in our everyday lives. Knowing how food grows has promoted people who are “label-readers”. Many people do not like the thought that most of our food is grown in dirt, it can disgust them to know this fact. People just do not know where food comes from or how it is grown (such as how an editor insisted pineapples grow on trees when they really grow from the ground).
Kingsolver explains how our drift from our agricultural roots is a consequence of migration from land to factory. The processes that are used as well as the tools that are used drastically changed so that things are more industrialized. The government had rewritten rules so that funds did not protect farmers, they guaranteed a supply of cheap corn and soybeans. Before, these plants were only used to feed animals and humans but were used in huge bulk to make high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and thousands of other chemicals. Animals used to roam free, but are now locked up in tight spaces with hundreds of other animals. The food that is produced industrially is was more processed than before, with animals and crops that are not raised or treated in the way that nature intended. Farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen, which is two times what we need, as well as 700 more calories a day than what was grown in 1980. As farmers produced more calories for us to eat, the industry figured out ways for us to ingest them when we did not want to. Products used to be in smaller quantities, such as how bottles of Coke used to be 8 ounces but are now 20. Humans have a weakness for fats and sugars, and the industries take advantage of this. While before we only ate lean foods whenever we found them, now we are constantly having fatty and sugary foods advertised to us over many platforms trying to lure us in.
But what about those black and white people of the troubled middle? Herzog describes them as one-sided considering they already have their minds made up. But just how long have they been made up for? It may be a little strong to just assume such one-sidedness. What if the person was once in the troubled middle, highly considering all of the facts and taking them in and recognizing their implications? I feel as though it is tough to just assume, as Herzog does, that the black-and-white-sided people are not as educated on a subject. They may have been in the troubled middle for ages just taking in any information possible to gain more knowledge.
As I grow older, the more I recognize the problems with how I eat. I am becoming more sensitive to certain things as well, making it hard for me to eat many things such as dairy or caffeine. Though it is difficult to deal with that, I am realizing, especially after learning more about the food industry, it is almost making it easier to cut out certain things in my diet. The past few months I have been making changes to my diet as I go. I already know I have a sensitivity to dairy, so that would be a start with cutting things down for myself more. I used to rely on sodas and coffee, but I have only been drinking water. This is not only a benefit for myself and health but for how the industry is and working to be less reliant on it. I have been eating more foods that aren’t processed. I would eat a lot of packaged items, but now I am sticking to grains, vegetables, fruits, and meats. I still have some processed foods, it’s hard to avoid, but the change is there to make a difference. I also recognize how bad beef can be for you. I used to never eat beef until my dad moved in with my mom and I a couple of years ago. But learning more about how much meat we eat compared to what we need, why waste those pounds of meat on unhealthy kinds, when it can be spent on poultry? Though it is still meat, it is much healthier than beef and pork. At home, we use only chicken and turkey products, even in burgers and tacos.
Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with the Way We Eat?” TED talk. Recorded December 2007
at EG 2007
Herzog, Hal. “Animals Like Us.” UTNE Reader, July-August 2011, pp. 1-7,
https://www.utne.com/environment/animals-like-us-human-pet-relationships Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.
Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper
“What the World Eats.” [An Interactive Infographic]. National Geographic Magazine,
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/what-the-world-eats/. Accessed 26 Mar. 2018
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Penguin