A Case for Sustainable Eating

Greetings from Stephanie Hamborsky, the UT Micro Farm Development Assistant! I’ve been volunteering (and now working) with the Micro Farm for nearly two years. My interest in the intersectionality of socioeconomic disparities, industrial food production, and sustainability initially motivated me to become involved in agriculture. I WWOOFed for a month in Dale, Texas, and I learned that our society needs to stop romanticizing organic, sustainable farming and instead realize that, in general, farming requires a great deal of physical labor and mental endurance.

Further research into industrial farming (including meat, egg, and dairy operations) and environmental sustainability provided insight into how individual human dietary patterns deeply affect the extent of our environmental degradation. Sustainable eating encompasses the act of acknowledging the source(s) of the food one consumes in order to avoid supporting unethical and highly unsustainable food production, including large-scale monoculture operations and industrial animal farms. I wholeheartedly believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet, or even a significant reduction in meat consumption, will not only prove beneficial for the environment, but it also makes economic sense.

Some notable examples stand out to me. In September 2012, BBC News estimated that 85% of global fish stocks were over-exploited, depleted, fully exploited, or in recovery from exploitation. Global fish consumption averages to be ~37 pounds per person per year. A diet centered on meat consumption simply is not conducive to preserving biodiversity, particularly in light of our overcrowded population. Some have proposed industrial fish farming, but the environmental consequences of manure run-off and disease propagation (among others) reveals that we need to rethink our options. Another shocking example of unsustainable food production is the corn monoculture system in the U.S. Farms are essentially subsidized to grow this crop (among others, including soy), but the only way these farmers can make sufficient profit is to grow vast monoculture fields of corn. Unfortunately, according to a recent Scientific American article, our corn crop is mostly diverted to produce biofuels (40%) and animal feed (36%). The majority of the largest crop in the United States does not feed Americans… This is deeply troubling considering that the U.S. has some of the highest rates of poverty (especially child poverty) and food instability among industrialized nations. A decrease in animal product consumption (which is particularly high in the U.S. and other western countries) would provide more food for direct human consumption.

Are we running out of fish?

Instead of embracing technological fundamentalism, the idea that increasingly complex technology can solve the world’s problems, our society should begin considering serious behavioral changes. Within the past few years, the United Nations suggested a global diversion away from animal product consumption. A report from UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management claimed:

“Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Purchasing animal products from ambiguous sources (i.e. not locally produced) supports industrial farming and the excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Additionally, individuals consuming animal products multiple times per day leave behind a deep carbon footprint. Instead, limiting animal product consumption and purchasing locally produced meats (with verifiable methods of production) can dramatically reduce this carbon footprint and support the local economy. Unfortunately, the production of many non-animal products also leave behind huge carbon footprints, which is why buying locally is always the best option. Many modern organic farmers believe that regional supply (relying mostly on one’s geographic periphery for food) yields vast economic benefits.

Overall, sustainable eating encourages the consumer to verify the sources, methods of production, and types of food products in order to make the best decision about a food purchase. Animal products, highly processed foods, and foods produced in other countries or far from home are highly unsustainable purchases. Consider the benefits of diverting efforts to produce animal feed and animal products on a large scale to producing directly edible, nutritious foods like legumes, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Additionally, a greater diversity of crops (with diverse nutritional profiles) can be produced. Unfortunately, most commercially available meats are low in nutritional value because these animals are fed with grains and are generally not kept in good condition during their lifespan.

I hope this post gave you all some food for thought. With the problems of biodiversity loss and pollution becoming increasingly severe, we all must begin to evaluate the impacts of our decisions which we might have overlooked in the past.

Make sure to visit the Micro Farm and check out our operation! Understanding the origin of food and the work required to produce nutritious crops leads to a wonderful appreciation and respect for nature and the farmers on this planet who sustain us. Our workdays are: Tuesdays 4-7pm and Saturdays 9am-12pm @ 2204 Leona Street!

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