For something that is so intensely important to our continued existence, it alarms me how much misinformation abounds about the foods we eat. I find it more alarming how easily much of that misinformation is accepted uncritically.
Food is so essential, you eat all day, every day – if you are fortunate enough to live in an area of the world that has stable and plentiful food systems. Unfortunately many people don’t, way too many people – but that is not what I want to write about. Perhaps because food has such significance to our daily lives and we increasingly know very little about its production, it is easy to fear monger and to promote falsehoods. The Organic food industry has certainly promulgated an image of organic farming that isn’t particularly true but certainly boosts their sales. Many of the key and primary reasons people buy organic foods is because they are presumed to be healthier (and tastier), better for the environment, and safer because they do not use pesticides. None of these reasons holds up under scrutiny though, despite how common the claims are.
For an excellent and referenced breakdown of some of the major myths about organic farming, check out this article from Scientific American blogger Christie Wilcox.
This article echos many of the thoughts and discussions I have had over the past couple months about agriculture and food systems.
For one, I have been researching, thinking and talking about genetically modified organisms. In the spring I presented a seminar on the science behind genetically modified foods and biotechnology, particularly how it applied to health and environmental safety. Despite the popular reputations and messages out there about the dangers and unknowns about GMO’s, their safety and beneficial impacts have been well documented in the academic and scientific literature. If you are interested, have a look at Academics Review, where food scientists thoroughly break down a popular anti-GMO alarmist’s claims about the evils of biotechnology. Also, check out GMO Pundit’s blog, which is a great source for articles about and responses to what is happening world of agriculture and biotechnology.
For another, I have been contemplating food systems and sustainability. Perhaps it is purely because I have recently become more interested in food systems and am therefore more exposed to burgeoning and changing ideologies and practices towards food, but it seems that agriculture and food systems have become a very popular topic of late. The problem with popular movements – such as organic foods, or local food diets – is that they almost invariably gloss over the complexity of an issue and promote a dichotomy that likely doesn’t exist. Like the article about some of the myths about organic farming that I linked above mentions – the polarization between conventional farming and organic farming is actually detrimental in the long run. Neither on its own is sustainable or “perfect”. Future food security depends on taking what works from both systems and moving forward. Food systems are complex, and no simple dogma is going to mean that your diet is healthier, safer, more environmental sound, or financially beneficial. I dislike how movements with simple solutions are pushed forward as being the solution to all food issues. If you genuinely want to have a diet that is the least environmental detrimental, the most socially responsible, and the best for local and global economics, it requires a nuanced approach – and a lot of research. It is probably impractical. Though maybe if I ever go to grad school, my research and thesis will be about determining what is a genuinely environmentally and economically sustainable diet.
What I would love to see is more people giving due consideration to the food they eat – because we eat a lot of food, and the impact agriculture has on the natural systems of the globe is immense. Something so monumentally large and important should be carefully considered. One thing that I do love about the local food movement is that it reconnects people with their food systems – where their food is grown, how it is grown and who is growing it.
Anyway, I am stepping down from my soapbox now and will be posting some more photos soon.