Day 12: Sustainable Farming #GIG2017

Being as environmentally conscious as possible can seem quite complicated, especially if we see how our current practices are working just fine. But we deserve more than “just fine.” We need to appreciate our own health and the health of the planet.

What a narrow subject for today’s time of gratitude. I myself am not overly knowledgeable about the inner workings of what makes agriculture sustainable.

I am, however, grateful for the growing number of options widely accessible to choose more consciously smart options when grocery shopping, and the greater awareness we have about our habits and how to make necessary tasks more sustainable.

We can look up the many documentaries and information out there about how corrupt mass production of foods and textiles can be, the immense damage it causes to our environment. From the waste left over to the health of nearby soils and water sources, there are plenty of ways to go wrong.

Again, I’m not a farmer, nor do I have any agricultural background to discuss these topics from. I’m grateful for some of my friends who do know more about this industry and are open and welcome to discuss them. We might have different views, but it’s beautiful when seemingly opposing opinions can still come together and have engaging conversation.

Anyways, the golden question here is, what is sustainable farming? The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Every person involved in the food system—growers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste managers—can play a role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural system.

Since the second World War, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in what agriculture looks like. Rather than a plethora of family farms, many of which produce and take care of the individual family running it and/or the local community, agricultural activity has soared and has become the industrial-sized practice we see today. This is all thanks to new technology, mechanization, increased chemical use, and a push for capitalistic ideals in all areas of life.

Despite the increased production, the land and people have suffered from this swift transition. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.

The process to change our current ways and go back to a philosophy that values every single thing involved in agriculture doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t just flip a switch and expect a whole new mindset that everyone agrees with. In fact, we need a interdisciplinary approach that incorporates everyone, from farmers, researchers, consumers, and politicians to refocus our attention not on how much and how quickly we can streamline farming, but how to make farming beneficial for every single factor at play.

Common practices involved to tote yourself as sustainable agriculture include the following: rotating crops to promote biodiversity specific to your geography; planting “cover crops” during off-seasons to ensure the soil doesn’t stay bare and vulnerable to the elements; using integrated pest management that totes mechanical and biological controls to keep pests away without relying heavily upon pesticides; and utilizing more eco-friendly ways in the farming process that conserve water, avoid excess pollution, and use renewable energy sources.

We cannot see the land as something created strictly for our business mentalities. Economically, it makes sense why we should only grow the highest selling products, devoting large chunks of land to a single crop, and using the easiest and cheapest ways to grow and reap the most benefits as possible. But the environment is not here for our economic gains. We’re here to cherish the beauty and gifts surrounding us. We’re here to converse what we have so more people, plants and animals can all enjoy these gifts, too.

I’m grateful that we see growing abundance of organic options in supermarkets across the country, as well as greater promotion of local farmers and farmers markets. I’m grateful for the locally grown produce straight from family farmers who take great pride and care of their land. I’m grateful for the innovators out there who continue seeking out better, more sustainable ways we can be even more conscious of how we treat the land and what is healthiest for not only us, but every living thing.

I’m grateful for my hope in humanity, that we can do our best for nature, soak in the information we can about what is right and wrong when approaching agriculture. It’s necessary for the food in our kitchens and clothes on our backs, but if we support the large-scale companies exploiting the planet, what gratitude is that showing? What kind of people do we want to truly support?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Heart Against Palm

This photo from The Guardian is one of many depicting the harsh reality that is the palm oil industry.

You eat a healthy diet. You pay attention to what ingredients are in packaged products. But do you know where some of this ingredients come from? Even those that, on the surface, don’t look too harmful?

Maybe an ingredient isn’t too bad for your personal health, but to the health of the planet and every living organism, it could be very detrimental. And that’s where the debate over palm oil comes in.

First off, what is palm oil? As the name implies, it’s a type of edible vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit, grown on the African oil palm tree. Oil palms are originally from Western Africa but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. Today, palm oil is grown throughout Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, with 85% of all palm oil globally produced and exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.

This gives an overview of where we can find and harvest palm oil, but that doesn’t give the full picture. Not only is palm oil bad for the areas where it’s produced, it’s also one of the leading causes of global warming. The fastest and the worst deforestation rate in the history of humankind is taking place in the tropical forests of Indonesia, where, as mentioned earlier, is the main exporter of palm oil. The clearing and burning of forests for more and more palm oil facilities releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

The environment is further affected by the waste produced in this industry. A palm oil mill generates 2.5 metric tons of effluent for every metric ton of palm oil it produces. Direct release of this effluent can cause freshwater pollution, which affects downstream biodiversity and people. Also, burning is a common method for clearing vegetation in natural forests as well as within oil palm plantations. The burning of forests releases smoke and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, polluting the air and contributing to climate change. Fires in peat areas are particularly difficult to put out. The smoke and haze from these blazes have health consequences throughout Southeast Asia.

Not to mention that as much as 80 percent of the land-clearing in Indonesia is also illegal. As a result, shady production facilities are rife with human-rights abuses. Likewise, the diminished habitat hurts orangutans and Sumatran white tigers, both of which are facing extinction. Oil palm production also leads to an increase in human-wildlife conflict as populations of large animals are squeezed into increasingly isolated fragments of natural habitat.

So besides all of this information about the environment, it doesn’t look like anything too crazy. Heck, it’s plant-based! A vegetable oil! So it must be okay, right? Palm oil has become more prominent in packaged foods because it allows companies to market their products as “0 grams trans fat.” Those are the fat molecules that raise your cholesterol. However, in one study, people who were put on a diet rich in palm oil for about five weeks saw their LDL cholesterol rise. This is very similar to what happens on a diet high in partially hydrogenated oils, the ones that actually contain trans fats. There’s basically no benefit of having one type of oil over another. Either way, it spells trouble for your arteries.

We can put some blame on Indonesia and other countries in Asia and South America for contributing to the problem, but Americans are the ones creating the initial demand and business. First off, palm oil offers a far greater yield at a lower cost of production than other vegetable oils, so it makes the demand more sensible through a capitalistic mindset. U.S. imports of palm oil more than doubled between 2005 and 2012. Last year the country imported about 2.7 billion pounds. This is about 380 million gallons, which is is enough to fill more than 500 Olympic swimming pools and is more oil than BP spilled in the Gulf during the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

That was an (oil) spill of information there. (I had to.) What can we do to prevent further damage and stop supporting the palm oil industry? The thing is, the extent of palm oil usage in daily life is astounding. You can find palm oil in everything from foods, to soaps, to cosmetics, and much more. Just from reading ingredient labels, you might not be able to catch every trace of palm oil. When in doubt, do your research. Become a conscious consumer who chooses products not just based on fancy claims or packaging, but by the values the brand and company stands behind. There are many online resources where you can learn what brands don’t use palm oil. And perhaps even more powerful, speak out and teach others about this issue. As much as we discuss climate change and becoming more sustainable, there are still topics we overlook, or we choose to overlook them because there’s so ingrained in a conventional lifestyle. But to truly make a lasting impact supporting the world as we know it, we have to stop digging underground, stop chopping down landscape, and start preserving and protecting the valuable life surrounding us.

How much have you heard about the effects of palm oil? Did I leave anything out in my research? I’m here to continue learning more and hopefully encouraging others to do the same.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Super Sized Awareness

“Super Size Me 2” is the long-anticipated sequel to the original documentary.

I’m probably not too far off to say that every health class in public schools probably showed Super Size Me at some point in the school year. It’s just one of those basic, straightforward documentaries about nutrition and the conventional American diet that doesn’t hold back from the truth.

Not that we weren’t aware already: Fast food is awful for our health. You can’t expect to eat at McDonald’s every day for every meal and expect your well-being to magically improve. The additives, animal products, and empty calories just add up to problems nobody should have to face. Except we still choose to consume the foods we do. Improvements are evident, yes. Soon after the release of the original film, McDonald’s even dropped the super-size option off their menus. But even with our new obsession with natural, organic, and “healthy” foods, we still rely upon convenience and addictive flavors to satisfy our hunger.

So I along with many others are curious to see what the long-awaited Super Size Me 2 will have to say now. The focus of this film, as is pretty obvious with the released photo above, is chicken. Rather than forcing himself to gobble down McDonald’s for a month, Spurlock is going directly into the problem by starting his own fast food restaurant, one quite similar to crowd-favorite Chick-fil-a. Apparently it’s not a pretty industry, as if the greasy industrial kitchens and deep-fried, mass-produced foods weren’t a telling sign already.

Instead of taking on the health impact of fast food, Spurlock is going after the industrial complex that results in consumers getting duped and farmers getting financially hosed to the point of contemplating suicide. Will the revealing truth of the chicken and animal industries in general convince people to stop ordering chicken sandwiches? Who knows.

Spurlock began preparing for filming after looking at how the fast-food landscape has changed in the past 13 years, in no small part because of the original movie. As mentioned earlier, we are starting to become “mindful” of our choices, and the fast-food restaurants have responded accordingly to keep their business sustainable. Super foods like kale and hummus are now making their way to the value menus. Or avoiding using terms like “fried” for preparing foods that are, indeed, fried. Spurlock calls this the “health halo” marketing strategy to make consumers feel better about ordering food that is bad for them.

And, of course, chicken, the most popular food in the world. 9 billion chickens are killed for meat in the U.S. annually, making up a whopping $48 billion industry. Spurlock doesn’t hold back from the gruesome reality that chickens face every day to end up on our sandwiches. Essentially, chickens are specifically bred to get so fat so quickly, their feathers, their legs, and their hearts physically cannot keep up. Over half of chickens are dead even before their “lifespan” is up.

Not to mention how pointless all those fancy terms are that you see on packages of chicken and really any meat product. Chickens can be “cage-free,” even though meat chickens have never been raised in cages, just a windowless little building crammed with other birds. “Hormone-free” is equally empty since it’s already against the law to give poultry hormones — not that that stops anyone from throwing it on a label. If chickens are fed with animal-free feed, people can even tote their birds are “vegan” and “organic” instead of just “100 percent natural” and “minimally processed.” And when you see a label with “free-range”? All it requires to use that one is providing a small horseshoe-shaped pen on the lawn just outside the barn door that the chickens can occasionally wander through at certain times of the day.

Like any other animal-based food industry, it’s big business. It looks beyond the living beings stuck in the middle of the process in order to rake in all the dough possible. And hey, the American people are helping them out. Usually we feel better about eating chicken over other meats like beef or pork, saying that it’s healthier, but really, who is it healthier for? Certainly not the small businesses getting swallowed beneath huge corporations. Certainly not consumers getting fed lies to convince them to keep buying chicken. Certainly not the ridiculous number of chickens that, every day, succumb to the same awful fate.

People might not quick cold-chicken (see what I did there?) eating their favorite protein, but we need this awareness about what the food industry is truly like and how they operate and manipulate the public. We have the choice to support companies and products that cause less harm. It should be a no-brainer to take that option, but it means giving up a portion of our established norm. Are we willing to do that? I sure hope so.

Super Size Me 2 will be released both online through YouTube Red and in theatres next year. Would you be interested in seeing the film? What are your thoughts on food marketing and the animal industry? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie