Thinking About Food Final Draft

Thinking About Food Final Draft

Industrial vs Natural Food Systems

The industrial food production system uses “efficiency” to defend large industrial farms. It is the large economies that can be achieved by the use of “new technology and standardization” (Pollan 214). This kind of “efficiency” has brought many critiques upon the industrial food system. Some of these critiques include the use of too much oil for shipping and the bad health effects that come from industrially produced foods. But how are we to start addressing these critiques? In “The Animals: Practicing Complexity,” Michael Pollan presents Polyface Farms. This farm relies on the system of nature to do a lot of the work, making this farm very self-sufficient to a certain extent. It also is not industrialized like most farms are these days, which can combat the many issues that may arise when industrially farming. Pollan goes in depth about all the different ways that Polyface Farms is an answer to many of the critiques of the industrial food production system. So rather than relying on the simplification of agriculture using machines and technology to be efficient, the efficiency of a natural system is defined by Polyface Farms’ founder, Joel Salatin, as the “coevolutionary relationships and reciprocal loops” (214). By utilizing things such as a natural system when raising livestock, Polyface Farms is able to address many of the issues that the industrial food system presents to the world.


One of the many problems with the industrial food production system can be seen even after the product has left the property: using too much oil. Oil is used in many different ways during food production. The use of too much oil is one of Barbara Kingsolver’s many critiques of the industrial food production system. As she writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, each American 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 oil and natural gas… [and] in their manufacturing… [To get] the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food. (5)

The actual distribution of each crop takes up the most amount of oil. Using too much oil can create major impacts on not only us, but the planet as a whole. An article written by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel for the National Geographic warns people about the impacts that oil has on Earth. From the start of extracting it from the ground, local ecosystems are easily destroyed by the large machines drilling and damaging organisms’ homes (np). Industrial farms ship their products all over the country, sometimes even all across the world. This means that there is a lot of air pollution happening from the use of oil in those vehicles. In the same article, the National Geographic writes how vehicles are America’s largest contributor to air pollution, producing one-third of the air pollution. Not only do the toxins from vehicular emissions affect the air, but in turn it affects humans and animals as well because we breathe these toxins into our lungs (n.p.). But the oil that is being used to ship products to different locations is not the only thing that has a bad effect on our bodies.

The food industry nowadays are pretty much known for adding things into their products that are not the best for our bodies, let alone natural. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver found that 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 (14). 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. Especially in America, processed foods from industrially produced food systems 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. Products used to be in smaller quantities, such as how bottles of Coke used to be 8 ounces but are now 20 (14). At the same time, Kingsolver explains how “humans have a built-in weakness for fats and sugar” (15) and the industries take advantage of this. Before we only ate lean foods and it was part of survival was to indulge in high calorie 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 using our biology. But it is not like we asked to have added calories and sugars to our foods. In fact, the food industry pays over $10 a year just for branding towards children (15). Mark Bittman talks about this during his TED Talk “What’s Wrong With the Way We Eat?”; he explains how these foods that all of these additives are in cause diseases (02:20). But what is the point of doing all of this? The industrial farms profit easily this way, it’s a cheap way to make more money from more people buying their products. Though to some it would make sense as to why the industrial food production system does things such as using a lot of oil and adding unnecessary additives, to others these problems are motivators to do better for their own.

This is where Polyface Farms comes in. While the industrial food production system relies on a more simplified and mechanical “efficiency”, Polyface Farms relies on animals to behave in the way that nature intended them to. 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 in a larger picture. For example, Pollan describes how normally at farms if rabbits are left inside and their pee is not taken care of, then the ammonia can damage their lungs and cause infections. Polyface uses a natural system to combat this problem instead of adding unnecessary antibiotics to the rabbits’ diets. They pair chickens with the land that the rabbits pee on so that when the chickens scratch at the land carbon is released which creates a compost for the earthworms to be coaxed up to in order to feed the chickens. This is what the founder of Polyface Farms calls a holon, it is what the farm is essentially based upon. Instead of adding unnecessary chemicals, pesticides, or antibiotics, the farm relies on the natural system. Each part of this kind of system holds up another part, and everything happens naturally. But the word “natural” tends to not be part of the industrial food production systems’ vocabulary. 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.

In Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, she explains how she and her family had to move from Tucson onto a farm because the town was not plentiful 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 food that does not have unnecessary additives in it you know how fresh it is and exactly what is put into each thing. 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 on 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.

To help combat the overuse of oil like industrial food production systems, Polyface Farms sticks to only selling their products locally. In fact, according to their website under their principles, they will only sell to people who are within a four hour drive, they will not sell any further than this. They will not even distribute to people through the mail either. With this farm taking an action such as this, it uses so much less oil than the average industrial farm when it comes to shipping and processing. If more farms sold locally, the use of oil for the whole farming process in America would drastically decrease, causing a positive impact on the planet. But if more farms only sell locally, what would happen to places like Tucson, where Barbara Kingsolver had to move from due to the lack of fresh produce?

If everyone were to make changes to their farms to become more like Polyface Farms, 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 30% of Earth’s land being used for agriculture and raising animals for food, can we really afford to make such a change to our farms (Bittman 15:56)? Is there a better solution?

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 due to animals welfare, another critique of the industrial food production system. This would mean that when they spread out, they may have to give up some animals resulting in a smaller meat production. With less meat on the market, what would the chances be that hunting would rise as a primary source of meat? 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 would be a lot more physical labor to be done, along with gaining a lot more revenue. This physical labor results from the constant moving of animals that Polyface relies on. Many people who have industrial farming jobs rely on their machines to do most of the work, and as a result many people might second guess going into a job that requires so much physical labor. 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.

But with any ethical concern comes ethical decision making. What really guides us to make these decisions? What made the founder of Polyface Farms, Joel Salatin, decide to run the farm the way he does? In Ethics and the New Genetics, the Dalai Lama introduces a concept called the “moral compass”. This compass depends on people “bearing in mind our fundamental human values”, it is guided by compassion for others and the future of our planet. Essentially, in layman’s terms, the moral compass guides us on what is right and wrong, ensuring that every decision we make is guided with compassion (199). With how the industrial food production system is run, it can be seen that it is not run using a moral compass.

Another concept of this sort is the “troubled middle” as introduced by Hal Herzog in his article “Animals like us”. This is where you are “on the fence” about a certain ethical problem. You do not swing one way or the other. This is very different from the Dalai Lama’s view to approaching ethical concerns by using a moral compass. This is because in “Animals Like Us” Herzog himself defines the troubled middle as “those of us in the troubled middle love in a complex moral universe” (6). This means that you do not necessarily fall on one side of the fence, you are on it. You may sway from one side to the other but currently, you are perched atop of it. With the troubled middle defined as such, it is easy to see that the Dalai Lama’s “moral compass” does not follow these lines. In fact, it is happily sitting on one side of the fence, wondering why there are people on the other side of it. Though it does not align with the troubled middle, I feel as though there are some strengths that Herzog could talk about. For instance, the moral compass has people take many things into consideration.  Herzog says that one of the perks of being a “middler” is that you are able to “see the world in shades of gray rather than in clear blacks and whites” (6). This is the same when making ethical decisions “using” the moral compass. You should not just see things in one, biased way. Instead, all things should be considered in the near and distant future. Though it is great to be able to think about the vast possibilities of outcomes from your actions, using the moral compass is almost in itself slightly biased. It only allows you to motivate your thoughts and actions using compassion. Though this is a valid point to see, there could be certain situations where you should not let this happen. Some examples could include sending a sexual predator to jail, attacking in self-defense during a robbery, or even trying to destroy Hitler. In situations like these, these people could have a bad effect on either yourself or someone else if you show compassion. If the judge showed the predator compassion because they were exploring their sexual needs, they could traumatize someone else. If the assailant was shown compassion for just trying to “get by” by stealing from others, then they will just keep robbing other people. And well, it’s obvious what could have happened if we showed Hitler compassion.

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 I have been cutting more and more things that contain dairy out of my diet. This has been pretty hard and not the most successful change for me. There are so many different things that contain dairy, especially meals from the dining hall, which makes it hard to avoid. I am not always successful cutting it out, and when I am not successful I just end up regretting it anyways.

Along with dairy I used to rely on sodas and coffee. But I have only been drinking water. This is not only a benefit for myself and the health of my body, but it means that there is also one less consumer relying on these products. 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.

A huge motivator for making these changes to my diet has not necessarily been because of things such as the treatment of animals or because I do not support an industrial food system. It has really been for my own health. My whole life I have never been the skinniest kid out there, especially with the larger and larger role my thyroid has been having in my life these past few years. Hashimoto’s thyroid disease runs in my mom’s side of the family. This basically is where antibodies see the tissue in your thyroid as a foreign body so it tries to attack it. This causes weight gain amongst many other bad symptoms and can make it much harder for one to be able to lose the weight that has been gained. Since I have always been on the heavier side, I wanted to be able to have some control in my life seeing as I cannot control what my thyroid does. If I am going to gain weight, might as well try to make it harder for my body to retain it by eating healthier than before.

Work Cited

Bittman, Mark. “What’s Wrong with the Way We Eat?” TED talk. Recorded December 2007

at EG 2007

Gyatso, Tenzin. Universe in a Single Atom : The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

Broadway Books, 2005.

Herzog, Hal. “Animals Like Us.” UTNE Reader, July-August 2011, pp. 1-7, Accessed 30 Mar. 2018.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York: Harper

Perennial, 2007.

Buying Guide – Car Environmental Impact | National Geographic’s Green Guide, 28 Oct.


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Penguin

Press, 2006.