What Did Your Food Really Cost Today?
Over the past few weeks, I've done my fair share of canning: peaches, jam, pickles, salsa and even chili starter. And during those long, hot hours, I've had a bit of time to think about the processing and preserving process. So I was pleasantly surprised, in a way, to see some hullabaloo this morning between your favorite astrophysicist and mine, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and that bald guy, Moby.
Noted scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson apparently peed in Moby's vegan corn flakes with the following tweet a couple weeks ago, "A cow is a biological machine invented by humans to turn grass into steak."
Moby, beyond being a singer/songwriter, producer and musical genius, is a vegan and animal rights advocate. He blasted deGrasse Tyson with a personal attack on Instagram: mobyWhen one of your heroes breaks your heart... @neildegrassetyson really? You can tweet that and make light of the unspeakable suffering experienced by the hundreds of billions of animals killed each year by humans? Or the fact that animal agriculture causes 90% of rainforest deforestation and contributes up to 45% of climate change? Or that according to @who and @harvardmed a diet high in animal products leads to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes? For a smart physicist, @neildegrassetyson you sound like an ignorant sociopath. #neildegrassetyson
Now, I have people I love who are either vegetarians or vegans, and it's absolutely their choice and I support them wholeheartedly in that endeavor. I have zero issue with those who promote this lifestyle choice. PERIOD. What I have an issue with is putting vegetarians/vegans on a higher moral plane, environmentally-speaking, than omnivorous folks.
Guess what? If you eat, you have a foot print. A muddy, ugly foot print. The only difference is which pile of crap you're stepping in.
The very vast majority of Americans are so far removed from farming and food processing and preserving that they simply do not know what the farm-to-table process is for their local farmers market - let alone, mass production. My family was the same way, sure, I grew up with my folk's garden and watching my grandmas can veggies and fruit, but, as a child, I didn't understand what I was seeing first hand. As an adult, I do. And when the opportunity comes up, I feel obligated to share the drop of knowledge I've gleaned on this journey.
It's undeniable that livestock requires vast amounts of water to survive (cows, for example, take between 1-2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of weight, daily). That makes the average water needed to produce a pound of beef sitting right around 440 gallons, according to this UC Davis report.*
But grains and produce are not without their own impact on the environment. Did you know it takes 240 gallons of water to make a loaf of bread?
Tofu requires 219 gallons of water per pound, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The LA Times has a fantastic graphic wherein a reader can pick their protein, grain, beverage, and side dish and it will calculate the water cost per meal. Check it out!
Perhaps more important for this conversation is the cost that soy and other produce puts on the environment, those who farm, and even those who live in the drift path of those fields.
Take our small farm, for example. Currently 3 of 4 adjacent fields to our property are being farmed soy. Whether this is due to crop rotation schedule or current price per bushel of soy vice corn, we are a soy-heavy area this year. Sounds good, right? Soy means tofu, soy milk, additives to hundreds of products in each and every grocery store, baby formula, supplemental powders, etc. But more than 90% of the soy grown in the US is genetically engineered to be herbicide tolerant. Think about that. Nearly 4 BILLION bushels of soy produced in the US annually, and nearly all of that is GMO.
With exception of one farmer who appreciates the fact that we are transitioning our farm to organic, they ALL spray herbicides and pesticides. And they spray heavy with chemicals named Hell-Fire and the all-too-common Round Up. Is there any wonder that small farming communities have cancer funds to cover care for the farmers and community members who absorb these chemicals through their skins and mucus membranes? And that's not even talking what these chemicals do to our ground water or drinking water.
Now let's talk Nitrogen. Soy crops typically do not need supplemental nitrogen. Soy is a nitrogen fixer, and through it's symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria, it obtains nitrogen through the soil. But corn doesn't. Corn is nitrogen-needy. Likewise tomatoes and lettuce. No problem, you say, just add liquid nitrogen! Not so fast, my friend! How much nitrogen? Too little and it's not effective. Too much and you have excess nitrogen which can cause soil microbes to produce excess nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Feeling a little guilty about your dinner yet?
When you know better, you do better. Demand organic and locally grown food. Support small farmers doing it as naturally as they can. Stay as far away from soy, corn and the other 8 approved GMO crops: Squash, Cotton, Papaya, Alfalfa, Sugar beets, Canola, Potato, and be on the look out for GMO apples THIS FALL!
And don't shame people for what they eat, regardless of whether or not you agree with it. Because, in reality, we all have Mother Earth's blood on our hands.
* There are so many variables when calculating the gallon per pound "cost" for livestock: are they pasture-fed, only? How much grain are they given? To what age are they allowed to live before slaughter? Breed? Reading all of these studies will make your brain scramble!