In the wake of the E. coli spinach scare, New York Times author Michael Pollan writes about the problems surrounding the industrialization of the food supply, and the reasons to support local food economies.
Currently, vegetable growers and packers are all but unregulated.
This is because, until recently, food safety on vegetable farms has not been particularly worrisome. But the industrialization and centralization of food processing has rendered it more vulnerable and endangered our health.
For example, the strain of E. coli responsible for the latest outbreak was unknown before 1982, and is believed to have evolved inside the guts of feedlot cattle; it cannot survive long in the different internal chemistry of cattle that graze on grass. The food supply sickens 76 million Americans every year.
Spinach from a great many fields gets mixed together in the water at the Natural Selection Foods plant, thought to be where the E. coli infection spread. The vast amount of plants mixed together gives a single microbial infection a chance to contaminate a large amount of food. The plant washes 26 million servings of salad each week.
One of the great advantages of a decentralized, locally-based food system is that when things go wrong, fewer people are affected and the problem can be easily tracked to its source.
While the recent E. coli scare is sure to prompt calls for increased regulations and inspections for farms, Pollan points out that this lack of policing wasn't an oversight, it was never necessary until huge food corporations started to interfere with the natural order of agriculture.
Where animals once fed on pasture, and their waste helped that pasture grow, we now have animals feeding on feedlots, and problems with fertilizer (which are now chemicals) and what to do with all the waste.
Meanwhile, rather than returning to a more simple solution, modern-day agriculture turns to technological fixes, like chemical fertilizers rather than natural ones, and irradiating meat rather than cleaning up the farms.
Today well over 50 percent of the food we eat is produced by factory-farming methods. Small, organic, local farms are quickly disappearing here in America. Did you know that a few years ago the number of people in prisons in the United States actually surpassed the number of farmers?
Sad but true, multi-national corporations are forcing small farmers out of business.
A diet based on local, organic foods does not have to be cost-prohibitive for the average family or single consumer. One way to keep costs down is to visit farmers' markets and use Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.
Here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment: