A couple of weeks ago I read this article from Time and got to thinking about the issues of sustainability that are inherent in every decision we make when purchasing food. Read the article. Please. If you have to choose between reading my post and reading the Time article, go with Time. It seems like Americans are slowly becoming aware that the lifestyle we’ve enjoyed for the last few decades can’t continue in the same form that it has been. That consciousness has primarily shown itself in the recent popularity of CFL lightbulbs and hybrid cars. Which is good.
What worries me are some of the statistics in the Time article–specifically, that “our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.” I really don’t want to preach, but this is just amazing. Why don’t more people know about this? Why has so-called “carbon-consciousness” focused on changing out lightbulbs instead of alerting people to the extreme toll that their meals are taking everyday not only on their bodily health (I won’t even get close to that can of worms) but also on the welfare of the entire planet??
It seems like many Americans are willing to embrace the carbon-cutting needs of the planet, as sales of hybrid cars and CFLs are through the roof. Cars cost tens of thousands of dollars and are a relatively long-term investment; it’s not like anyone is going to the dealership every week and purchasing a new one, thereby indicating with dollars that they care about mileage and decreasing our fossil fuel consumption. But we do go to the grocery store every week, and while there we have a choice. We can choose to buy the cheap tomatoes and processed cheese product, or we can choose to buy the more expensive organic option. It’s like a choice between the Hummer and the Prius, but the difference between the two isn’t as clear as it is at the dealership. It’s not easy to justify spending the extra money on organic, non-processed foods, but that Time article will help you justify it.
Just as a disclaimer, I’m certainly not claiming that I only purchase organic, non-processed, local foods. Far from it. But I am trying to be more responsible with my spending, and awareness of how the money I spend on food is used is the first step.
Which brings me to my motivation for this post: my initial trip to the “food” store Aldi last night. I refuse to call this a grocery store, because I’m not sure what Aldi is selling is actually food–it’s more like processed food product. I bought a small bag full of “food” and spent less than six dollars. !!!! Nothing I bought cost more than one dollar. If I hadn’t read that Time article two weeks ago, how could I not be excited about those kind of savings? How can we possibly make the switch to sustainable agriculture and farming when there are Aldis out there selling mac and cheese for 35 cents??! After I left I had this huge sense of guilt, like I had just thrown a tub of poison in the lake or something.
This is the kind of food that relies so heavily on fertilizer, pesticides, and other awful chemicals that I don’t know the names of that is just devastating the environmental landscape. In the US alone, we use nearly 23 million tons of pesticides and fertilizer each year. “When runoff from the fields of the Midwest reaches the Gulf of Mexico, it contributes to what’s known as a dead zone, a seasonal, approximately 6,000-sq.-mi. area that has almost no oxygen and therefore almost no sea life.”
At this point I run out of words to describe my frustration and anger with this situation. I can only resort to pleas that you read the Time article (here’s the link again) and erratic hand motions. Eat less meat–you really don’t need it everyday. Go to the farmer’s market and buy organic produce and meat, when you do eat it. Vegetables are delicious! Don’t buy those mangos and bananas (interesting side article on the potential extinction of bananas) if they’re coming from halfway around the world, where they were probably coated in chemicals before arriving in your produce department. And that’s all I can manage.