Sustainable Foods Day at the University of Georgia
Tuesday I headed back to my alma mater, the University of Georgia to speak at a “No Waste Dinner” put on by the UGA Students for Environmental Action with help from the UGA Office of Sustainability. Because it was “Sustainable Foods Day” a part of the school’s Earth Week, I talked about overall sustainability in your diet and how that relates to your overall health.
Living holistically healthy and reducing your carbon footprint in terms of your diet really go hand and hand. It’s no secret that the most sustainable diet is a plant-based diet that’s as close to vegan as possible. Sometimes we feel like we have no control over our impact on the planet but our diets are different. Everyday, three times a day, we make a decision about our personal footprint just in the foods we choose to eat.
Here are some of the issues I spoke about facing our food system:
In the past 100 years we’ve moved from locally driven agriculture to factory farmed agriculture. If you drive across Iowa today what was once a host of family farms is a few huge factories. While this reduces the cost of our food, it’s much harder on the planet. Today farmers use five times as many pesticides on their crops as they did even 10 years ago.
Introduction of Genetically Modified Agriculture
A huge reason for the overuse of pesticides is the introduction of genetically modified agriculture. It’s only been since the mid-1990′s that we saw the first approvals for large-scale commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops. But the change happened frighteningly fast and today, 94 percent of soybeans and 72 percent of corn is grown this way.
The vast majority of GMO crops are what’s called Roundup Ready crops, which means that they are genetically modified so that they are resistant to the pesticide Roundup. As a result, farmers dump more Roundup on their crops than ever before which kills all life around the agriculture and seeps into our ground water.
GMO crops are for the most part monoculture, which means that it’s a single kind of seed for miles and miles. This means if our climate changes and these crops don’t grow, we’re out of luck. This also means that generations of knowledge that farmers have learned about how to farm is going to down the drain and being replaced by a dependence on a few dangerous crops.
These seeds are also patented meaning that against all nature, they cannot be replanted, so each year farmers must pay to replant their own seeds and once the soil is dead as a result pouring so many pesticides into the ground, they are forced to abide.
Factory Farming is Another Relatively New Phenomenon
The meat in this country is incredibly cheap but it’s also for the most part, low quality as a result of factory farmed livestock. By 2005, factory farming accounted for 40 percent of the global meat supply. Its growth has meant the gross suffering of animals but it’s also resulted in a health disaster. Roughly 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to farm animals in order to promote growth and prevent rampant disease from striking animals that are kept in filthy, stressful environments.
Low doses of antibiotics allow for surviving bacteria to form a resistance and while we’re not sure about the connection between resistance in animals and in humans, we do know that 99,000 deaths each year are a result of superbugs acquired in hospitals.
What You Can Do To Have a Huge Impact
1. Choose local, organic whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and eggs and find out where you can find them on Localharvest.org. Seventy percent of processed foods include GMO modified ingredients.
2. Look for labels that read The NON GMO Project, which scientifically tests all of the individual ingredients that make up a product using a third party testing facility. But this is a non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration and it’s not government funded. Today many GMO-free foods carry its label.
3. Eat a plant-based diet with only local and organic meat, fish, and dairy in smaller quantities if you choose to eat it at all.
4. Become involved in organizations that support the causes you believe in. Some of my favorites are The Environmental Working Group and Farm Sanctuary.
Like this? Follow my Twitter feed.
Follow me on Facebook.