Health and Food Ethics: What food means to me and why it should matter to you

By: Lindsay Mensch

Before my junior year of high school, food was often an afterthought. I liked certain meals, and some foods disgusted me. Eating was simply a means of energizing my body to get through each day. Honestly, I didn’t care much about what fuel I was putting into the tank, nor did I consider its effects on the world around me.

Then, I watched the documentary Food Inc. in my AP Environmental Science class. Before this experience, I was blind to the world of food that preceded the finished supermarket product. Food Inc. opened my eyes to this other side of the food industry, behind the appealing packaging and pleasing presentation. The meat industry stood out especially. Animals are kept in inhumane living conditions, and then slaughtered, often cruelly and painfully. Additionally, the carbon footprint of raising these livestock is extraordinarily large, and the amount of raw resources devoted to these animals was beyond belief. There are even more hidden costs with the processing of the animals’ waste and the long-term effects of this waste on agriculture and water systems. The next time I ate a burger, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of these horrible truths and how I was perpetuating them. The documentary spurred me to begin my transition to a vegetarian diet. I started to eat less meat each week; now, I only eat meat on rare occasions.

The production of the plants I now eat as my primary source of life is also a serious concern. The unknown long-term effects of GMOs, the monopolization of the crop-seed industry, and the excess use of fertilizers and pesticides could cause both human and environmental health issues. Although buying cheap, seemingly fresh produce seems like a great way to promote a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle, it can be deceiving. Many produce products are shipped long distances by the burning of fossil fuels, and their low cost carries with it a hidden humanistic and environmental cost. Exploitation of land and people in countries in the lower hemisphere is a grave issue in our world today. The freshness of these transported crops is also drawn into question; many times, they are picked prematurely and treated to give the appearance of ripeness. After sometimes days of transport, fresh-picked fruits and vegetables can lose some of their nutritional value. Even organic produce, which is generally regarded as the best produce for people and the environment, can contribute to the increasing greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

All seems so bleak for our food in the future. It has high human, economic, and environmental costs. But we can change the way we look at food and how our eating choices impact everything around us. One step in the right direction is choosing to purchase local foods. These do not have a large atmospheric carbon contribution, and although they may not be organic, they have a much lesser environmental impact. Additionally, the more money you contribute to the local economy, the more money comes back to you in the end. It is the best way of sustaining more projects and policies that move us in the direction of environmental resilience, a high quality of living, and economic stability.

Think about what’s on your plate. Change your habits. There’s no excuse to wait; these problems are happening now and you can help.

Featured Photo Source: Creative Commons

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