On Why My Food Bill Just Got a Lot Cheaper
Deb wrote "Do Food Miles Matter?" after reading "Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, by James E. McWilliams last month. Shortly thereafter she visited and brought me the book, and as a result . . . my food bill just got a lot cheaper.
Why? Because I am now less convinced of the merits of organic food than I used to be (low-yield, high land requirements, confusion over whether the natural chemicals are any better than the synthetic ones as well as whether or not organic is actually healthier). And if you're talking about organic on a scale that would feed the planet, it's impossible. And regarding local food, though I was buying some in an attempt to support local farmers, I had to rethink the bigger picture and why I was buying local after reading McWilliams. As Deb writes, "food miles are the least important aspect to consider when looking at the most environmentally sustainable foods."
Here's what I like best about this book, and it might seem strange: His arguments don't hinge on animal treatment. His is a practical intention–an examination of how we might find a way to sustainably feed nine billion people (the population by 2050). And because that's his premise, he proceeds to investigate both factory farming and smaller operations that include grazing and allowing the animals to live a relatively natural life (after their unnatural beginning and let's not forget about their unnatural end). And he demonstrates that neither is sustainable. (Unfortunately, because this was a borrowed book I didn't mark it up. Nor did I take notes when I read. So I am unable to provide quotes and for that I apologize.)
In other words, McWilliams makes a fantastic argument for not eating land animals.
Which begs the question: What about sea animals? And herein lies the problem. Though the author does appear to care about the welfare of land animals a bit and takes for granted that factory farming is an odious practice, he doesn't seem to care about animals who do not dwell on land. So much so, in fact, that he calls them "floating protein" and speak of "growing protein." He believes that sea dwellers are a big part of the answer to: How do we feed nine billion people sustainably?
"Just Food" is a must read for information that will help convince environmentalists that eating land animals isn't good for the people or the planet. But if you give the book to an enviro for her birthday, and she agrees with McWilliams' conclusions, you could very well end up having created a pescetarian. I'm just warning you.
I recommend reading "Just Food" for the above discussions as well as the treatment of food subsidies, which I find particularly unjust, and genetically-modified crops, which could be the answer to feeding the developing world. The one conclusion you'll come away with for certain, is that once again, food labels and trends need far more examination, and many are downright misleading. What makes someone in suburban South Florida feel good buying at her local farmer's market, might, when all is taken into consideration, be not so great for workers or the planet, and needs to be reexamined.