Sunday, November 30, 2008

Americans Eat Too Much Meat!

It should be obvious that our hamburger and hot dog culture, based on fast food, has lead to an overweight, unhealthy population with clogged arteries, high levels of stroke and heart disease not to mention diabetes. But think about it.

40 percent of our grain production goes into animal feed. We use 10 calories of energy from non-renewable fuels for each calorie we obtain from meat. With limited agricultural land we have a choice of producing food grains, feed grains or biofuel stock. We have chosen to subsidize the production of biofuels, making wheat, corn and rice more expensive. People in developing nations will no doubt starve because of that choice. We could have chose to produce biofuel instead of feed grains, and would then have improved our health while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.

We support agro-industry that is needed to produce this fast food cheaply, but that is resulting in the depopulation of our rural areas and the excessive degradation of our environment, plus increased dependency of our food supply on foreign suppliers. (Remember that during World War II, 40 percent of fresh produce -- and most produce was fresh before the frozen food revolution and we ate a lot more produce -- was produced in home "victory gardens".) My family participates in a community supported agriculture program and discovered that it produces not only fresher food and supports local farmers, but also puts better food and a better variety on our table.

Why do we do this. As Michael Pollen points out, our food habits are an unintended result in part of the way our society works. Agro-industry is better organized to promote its profits than are consumers to promote their health, so the Congressional Agricultural Committees are dominated by legislators beholden to that industry. As the government promotes small business development in inner cities, the easiest small business to start is a franchise food outlet.

Indeed, our Senate and our presidential electoral college over-represent states with small populations and strong agro-industry and under-represents states with large urban populations. Thus the Republicans representing these red states support agro-industry friendly policies. The Bush administration exemplifies one that has been willing to support policies that contributed to the wealth of agro-industry at the expense of the environment.

Of course people are ultimately responsible for their own actions. There are people who buy and eat food that is good for them and which is produced in ways that are good for the environment and the economy, but most of us do not. As the American public spends too much and saves too little, we eat too much and think to little about the way our food is produced, and we are to blame for both. However, we have supported policies that make unhealthy food cheap and available and cheap, available fast food encourages bad food habits.

I don't have a solution. Good luck to the Obama administration in finding one.

No comments: