Guest Opinion by Miley Stuart
Carbondale Middle School

Oxford Languages defines “food” as: “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” 

Humans rely on food, but we never give that much thought to it aside from buying and eating it. So, how is our food made? It may surprise you, but the food we have come to rely on isn’t as good as we’ve been led to believe. It harms not only our bodies but also the Earth and the nonhuman animals involved.

The most relied upon source of food for most Americans comes from the industrial food system. The industrial food system is a collection of businesses and corporations that produce a large portion of our food. They do everything from raising animals and crops to processing the food and selling it. They grow the vegetables you find in the grocery store and raise the meat of your hamburger from the fast food restaurant, and everything in between. This system has made food cheap and affordable for many Americans, but at what cost? 

Michael Pollan wrote in the young readers’ edition of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “When food is abundant and cheap, people will eat more of it.” The extra calories found in our food have led to “three of every five Americans [being] overweight; one of every five is obese.” Children also face obesity because they are raised in a time where food is plentiful and the amount of physical activity is limited.

And that’s not all. The production of our food releases more than 25% of the gasses that cause global warming and is also the leading cause of water pollution. Pollan estimated his family’s meal from McDonald’s burned 1.3 gallons of oil during production. 

Do you know why agribusinesses started using fertilizers? After World War II, the government had a surplus of weapons and decided to spread them over crops because they were high in ammonium nitrate which boosts plant growth. Similarly, the use of pesticides began because of the poison gasses leftover from war. 

These chemicals eventually wash into the water where they cause more harm. They can promote algae growth that takes the air out of the water and suffocates fish and makes the water unlivable. While the impacts of fertilizers and chemicals indirectly harm nature, the treatment of animals on industrial farms is inhumane and hard to imagine. Cows are fed things such as “chicken manure, cow manure, chocolate, stale pastry, cement dust, molasses, candy, urea, hooves, feathers, meat scraps, fish meal, pasta, peanut skins, brewery wastes, cardboard, corn silage, pesticides” and corn, according to Pollan. Cows are herbivores which means they evolved to eat plants and not meat, so when they’re fed the scraps of animals they get sick. Corn is also bad for cows because it causes them to bloat. Nevertheless, they are fed corn because it’s cheap and makes them grow faster. As a result, cows bloat to the point a hose has to be pushed down their throat to release that gas in their rumen (the stomach of the cow), or else they will choke and die. 

The treatment of laying hens is equally if not more terrible. Pollan wrote, “At a factory egg farm, the laying hen spends her brief life jammed into a wire cage with six other hens.” Even worse, “When [companies] egg production begins to drop, the hens will be ‘force-molted’ — starved of food, water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final spurt of egg laying before their life’s work is done.” As this evidence proves, animals on industrial farms suffer the majority of their lives to provide food for us humans.

So, if this food system is so bad for us, what can we do? Buy organic food instead? The industrial organic food system runs practically the same way as the industrial food system, minus chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics. The energy to produce food is equal, cows are still forced to eat corn, but it’s organic, and the animals are raised almost identically. 

Fortunately, there is a solution. Most local farmers don’t use as many chemicals, and if they do it’s not even close to the same scale. This makes the food better for both you and the environment. Organic food may seem more expensive, but, as a local sustainable farmer in Virginia, Joel Salatin, claims: 

“Whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy … Then I explain that with our food, all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water — all the hidden costs of the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap.”

In addition, the food doesn’t travel as far. On Salatin’s farm, the furthest his food traveled was 150 miles instead of across the country or even the world, which means fewer fossil fuels were burned to get food. And most importantly, it’s more natural. Salatin’s animals aren’t kept in cages or pens but are allowed to roam and graze in addition to not having to take antibiotics because they don’t get sick from their diet. They get to take their time and live their lives on grass instead of being rushed to the finish line like industrial animals.

And lastly, there is one more food chain Micheal Pollan discusses in his book: the hunted, gathered and gardened meal. In this food chain, you find your own food. It’s probably the least realistic food chain for many, but it is also considered the shortest because the food goes directly from living to being your meal. There is no business between you and your food and you are aware of exactly where your food comes from.

By finding alternatives for the industrial food chain, we can find and consume food that is healthier for us, the environment and nonhumans. So, what do you think? Is food just something we get from the store to eat when we are hungry or is it something more? Is food something that we need to educate ourselves about so we can make healthy choices for ourselves and the future of our earth? At first, it may seem a hassle to be so concerned about the impact of what you eat. But, in the end, it will make a difference in the overall health of humans, nonhuman animals and the Earth.