part of an ongoing series of columns I’ve written, reprinted from the TU Rambler.

April, 2009.
Because this Saturday (April 11) marks the seasonal return of the Lexington Farmer’s Market (downtown in the park at Cheapside), this week I’m going to talk about food.
You might think that this really only applies to folks who aren’t on the meal-plan, but it’s still good advice for the rest of you to keep in mind.

Some of you might be not even be aware that your food choices have a huge effect on the planet, but believe me, they do.  Right now, our food choices rival transportation as the human activity with the greatest impact on the environment.

So, you ask, what’s causing all the problems?  The short answer is: industrial farming practices…this means meat and pesticides.

Much of the meat we buy at the supermarket is grown in ‘factory farms’, where animals are pumped full of drugs and hormones (cows, pigs, and chickens get 70% of all antimicrobial drugs in the US) and fattened up on an almost-all-corn-or-soybean diet (consider that 95% of the world’s soybean harvest is eaten by animals, not people!).  Animal rights aside (I’ll let the Bambi-lovers at PETA deal with that) this system of farming is very inefficient: it takes about 33% more fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of beef than would a calorie of a potato.  Eating lower on the food chain is much more energy-efficient…that’s what The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is all about.

Growing plants isn’t much better; farmers spray their crops with nasty herbicides (to kill weeds) and pesticides (to kill bugs) that get washed off into the groundwater; it doesn’t help that some of these chemicals are known carcinogens—anyone remember DDT?

Besides the chemicals used, there’s an even bigger side effect of large-scale farming: international food trade and the glut of heavily-processed and packaged foods has distanced most people from what they eat, both geographically and psychologically.  People think that food just magically appears on the supermarket shelf, instead of being driven or flown thousands of miles to get there.

So as an eater, what can you do?  The three biggest changes you can make:

1) Re-evaluate your consumption of meat.

2) Select food produced without agrochemicals.

3) Buy locally grown food.

The latter two can easily be accomplished by walking down to the Farmer’s Market.  You’ll help support the local economy, burn some calories (instead of gasoline), eat healthier, and help farmers get a fair price for their products.

As for myself, I don’t eat meat because I’m a poor college student.  But the next time I get a hankerin’ for some animal protein, I’m going after one of these tame city squirrels.


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