The number 8 reason why we need to overhaul our agricultural system is its reliance on non-renewable resources.  Did you think this one should go higher on the list?  Number one maybe?  Some would argue yes, but I’m the eternal optimist, so the way I see it is, in 50 years this won’t be an issue.  I have considerable faith that someone will figure something out before the compost actually reaches the fan.

Folks really are starting to take action in their personal and professional lives, and how could we not?  I mean let’s look at the issue as it stands today.  Our cognitive dissonance is becoming increasingly palpable when it comes to our food supply.  You THINK you’re eating cheap food, but you’re actually eating food that is very expensive , in part because it’s so expensive to transport.

Our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy. “The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment and us,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. According to CUESA (The Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture):

  • This long-distance, large-scale transportation of food consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. It is estimated that we currently put almost 10 kcal of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every 1 kcal of energy we get as food.
  • Transporting food over long distances also generates great quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. Some forms of transport are more polluting than others. Airfreight generates 50 times more CO2 than sea shipping. But sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster - and more polluting — means.
  • In order to transport food long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport, or it is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale. Scientists are experimenting with genetic modification to produce longer-lasting, less perishable produce.

I’m not saying there haven’t been some necessary and miraculous developments in industrial agriculture, of course there have been plenty, but in some cases we are using our technology and progress in the wrong direction.  Is genetically modified salmon really the place where we should be putting our food research dollars and technical expertise?

We should be looking to the past or more traditional cultures to see how they simply solved certain issues: Rainwater harvesting, growing and processing food, even heating and cooling our homes.  The old wisdom and new technologies together will make certain challenges from the past virtually non-existent today.

Get more info:

The Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture

NYT Article sited above

Union of Concerned Scientists