Factory Food, What's Really for Dinner?

How can we produce food without affecting the environment?
The following are my notes from a forum I attended on November 19, 2009. It was sponsored by the Museum of Science and Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare.
Speaker 1: Timothy Griffin
Professor at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University. (woot, go Tufts!)

Farmers are rare. Most Americans are one or two generations removed from farming. In the Northeast, only 3% of our food supply comes directly from local farmers (and this is above the national average).
America has been industrializing since the 1800s. Post Civil War there's been an increase in scale: farms, machines, processing, and retail. The number of farms was declining until the Great Depression; then big farms started to take over. Griffin prefers the term "industrial farm." This means large inputs and large outputs. The industrial mindset in the US wants to push down the cost of food. This is not a sustainable food system.
One environmental concern is geographic concentration. This occurs when single commodities monopolize one area. For example, California is the #1 dairy state. Iowa is the #1 swine state. The Great Plains is primarily feedlot beef. The Southeast is poultry. The Mississippi Basin is particularly concentrated with over 1 million farms. These farms all drain into the Mississippi River, creating "dead zones" around the river.
There are 2 areas that impact public health: pesticides and antibiotics. Currently the animal system uses 70% of US antibiotics supply.
The process of industrialized food supply, or "factory farms," needs to change.

Speaker 2: Monsoureh Tajik
Assistent Professor, Univ. of Massachusetts Lowell School of Health and Environmental Science
"What are the dangers of living near a big farm?"
She spoke about her studies in North Carolina's swine production. She thinks the American switch from numerous small farms into a few large farms was not accidental. In the American capitalist system, one just follow the money.
One public health concern of large swine farms is "lagoons," or swine manure pits. Farmers collect the manure into a lagoon, and then liquify the contents and spray it over the adjacent fields. Did you know that 1 pig makes 7.3 million pounds of waste per year? Um, gross.
This effects the communities living near the swine farms. Their quality of life is directly related to their proximity to the swine farms.

Speaker 3: John Stowell
Director of Fresh Meats and Sustainable Programs, Dole and Bailey, Inc.
John tells the story of how his meat processing business has answered the call for sustainable meat products. All the beef is pasture raised and grain finished (not 100% grass fed-which is literally impossible in a Massachusetts winter). Northeast Family Farms, link.
Did you know that a 1,250 pound cow will yield only 70 pounds of restaurant quality meat?

So now what?
1. Change consumer demand.
2. Biggest New England concern: Keep the farmland in the northeast as farmland.
Hmm, what do you think?
It seems to me that they talked more about problems, and less about solutions!

Another book in my basket....
Eating Animals
by Jonathan Safran Foer
published 2009
Tonight I stopped by my favorite Brookline Booksmith to welcome any new books on the shelves. Sure enough, I met several lovely hardcovers and quite a few intriguing paperbacks. (I enjoy torturing myself by browsing in bookstores, even though I have no money to spend. I'm holding out until after the holidays!) Among my new acquaintences, I found Eating Animals, which offers another perspective on the factory food issue. It chronicles the discoveries of novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who prepared for the birth of his first child by exploring the American meat industry from a parenting perspective. Interesting...


Meredith (Pursuing Balance) said...

Sounds like a very interesting lecture! Factory farming is definitely a problematic practice.
I also like to browse bookstores but have no money to spend. Instead, I copy the book title into a note on my phone, and then request them online through my library when I get home! :)

Rachel said...

Yes, I love libraries too! Thanks for this tip.

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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