Our food system is broken. It’s true. I read it on the Internet.
In fact, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of “experts” on the Internet more than happy to inform you that in this modern age of iPhones and iPads, eating is just too dangerous. Further, you should be aware that the food you’re eating is not just killing you and your family it’s killing the planet, too.
If you were hoping that 2013 might bring some sanity into the discussion about the safety and sustainability of the food American farmers provide, New York Times columnist - and self-proclaimed foodie - Mark Bittman dispelled such notions with his first column of the New Year.
“Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year – nearly half of all deaths – and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases,” Bittman wrote. “And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.”
Wow. That part about agriculture using “10 times as much energy as it produces” without any attribution stopped me dead in my tracks. I guess folks are just supposed to swallow that whopper whole, but Bittman doesn’t stop with the criticism.
He says our food system has “been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals…I could go on.”
There you have it – agriculture is the root of our nation’s health and environmental problems. If we believe half of what Bittman claims, those of us who have ever driven a tractor or bucked a bale of hay should feel guilty about contributing to diabetes, heart disease and the melting polar ice caps.
Bittman, however, cares not a whit about whether you or I feel guilty. His objective is to use half-truths, twisted logic and emotionally charged rhetoric to convince gullible Americans that our only source of salvation is to build an organic garden on the balcony of every high-rise in Manhattan, and start eating beef from 5-year-old steers that have been read a bedtime story every night.
Livestock production is one of Bittman’s primary targets, as he calls on Americans to “un-invent this food system.” Specifically, he calls for a movement to improve the living conditions of livestock.
“Well-cared-for animals will necessarily be more expensive, which means we’ll eat fewer of them; that’s a win-win,” he wrote. “They’ll use fewer antibiotics, they’ll be produced by more farmers in more places, and they’ll eat less commodity grain, which will both reduce environmental damage and allow for more land to be used for high-quality human food like fruits and vegetables.”
Taking Bittman’s words at face-value – and many readers will – is so much easier than questioning them. The problem in debunking such emotionally charged prose is that the truth can’t be boiled down into a sound-bite. With just two sentences Bittman throws a blanket over animal welfare, rising food costs, antibiotics, grain production, environmental issues and the changing structure of agriculture in rural America.
Where do we start? How do we combat this charlatan’s blatant misinformation that is routinely fed to folks who sleep with a cat? And how do we hope to compete with a media Goliath such as The Times that seemingly has no interest in discovering the facts about modern agriculture?
Drovers/CattleNetwork has published many articles about the specific topics Bittman questions. In the coming weeks, however, we’ll examine these issues again in an attempt to provide you with useful information about the success of agriculture, why it offers hope for people and the planet, and how we must work to counter the propaganda distributed by our critics.
For clarity, we do not oppose alternative food systems such as local, natural, organic, grass-fed, etc. However, we acknowledge that such production systems are more expensive and that significant trade-offs result for both producer and consumer.
But we don’t have to abandon the science and technology that helps us provide safe, abundant and affordable food to folks from every walk of life.