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H.E.L.P. Keep Food Local: Health, Economy, Land, and Politics

Updated: 5 days ago


Madison Coker 

Mrs. Becky Doran 

Senior Class of Classical Conversations

04/11/23 

 

The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is truer than most realize. When you eat foods filled with toxic chemicals, your body absorbs those chemicals which then eat away at your health and mind.


"Researchers examined National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 8,721 people in the United States between 2009 and 2016 to determine how many adults are at low versus high risk for chronic disease. Data revealed that only 12.2 percent of American adults are metabolically healthy" -© Medical Xpress 2011 - 2024 powered by Science X Network


For people who are metabolically unhealthy, their body can no longer respond to food in a beneficial way. This increases their risk of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 


History 

Since the Industrial Revolution, our food has been declining. We have transitioned from most of our food being locally sourced, and most of our population growing at least one small herb or kitchen garden out of necessity, to farming as a hobby. With the increase of local grocery stores and food export, the need for home gardens has decreased exponentially. We have gone from 90% of our population growing their own food in 1960, to less than 32% in 2019. With the hit of the corona virus in 2020, that percentage went up to between 45 and 55% of people who have at least started a garden. 


Transporting food was not easy before the early 1800’s. It had to be freighted by wagon trains drawn by horses. It could take up to a week to transport goods to a neighboring town only 50 miles away. When the railroad was built, farmers could transport their crops over long distances quickly and the need for local farmers diminished. 


With this transport, people could get a variety of foods they were not privy to before. Farmers were finding that by being able to export goods all over the nation, they could go bigger. More land, more cattle, more crops. The small herds that were enough to supply the local commerce turned into massive herds raised then shipped across the states. Monocrops are crops grown on large acreage of the same species of plant continually grown, harvested, and repeated. Depleting the soil of nutrients. This is destroying soil diversity and increasing the need for chemicals and fertilizers. These monocrops, typically soy and corn, now account for 53% of all U.S. farmland.


The same goes for farm animals. Instead of a few small herds of cows and other livestock living together in harmony, farms lost their diversity by raising only cattle or goats or sheep. These herds are often put on a rotational grazing system, moving them from one pasture to another to allow the grass to grow back. While that is better than the monocrops non-rotational system, better is not best. Animals were designed to complement each other, and farm animals are no exception. Naturally, these animals will choose to eat different parts of the plant. It has been proven that diverse grazing strengthens plants. Cattle prefer mainly to eat grass, sheep will eat the youngest of leaves on a plant, and goats go after the woody shrubs that pop up.


These large herds and monocrops threaten our food security. The diversity of animals and plants we raise has decreased until our diets now rely on 12 plant varieties and 5 animal species. Now, 30% of livestock breeds face extinction and 6 breeds become extinct each month. 60% of our food consists of wheat, corn, and rice. This is because of corporations such as Monsanto (now Bayer) who control most of the seeds in the world including 60% of the vegetable seeds. These Big Ag monopolies sell only Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds and burden farmers with less choice and higher prices, making them dependent on their seeds and chemicals. 



Most farmers no longer grow local, resilient, genetically diverse and nutrient-dense varieties. Like your own body, complexity and variety keep the earth healthy. Think of monocrops compared to a rainforest. One plant or animal dies in a rainforest, no problem. One plant or animal dies on a monocrop and the disease will spread.


Background 

When I was 2-and-a-half years old my parents first noticed that I was irrational in most situations. I was always trying to push buttons and if I got in trouble there would be no reasoning with me. Temper tantrums were a regular occurrence. Push came to shove when I was 3 years old at a valentine's day party. I was wearing a red shirt and was eating lots of red food. At one point, I had a cookie that a little boy came up and took from me. My response was to punch him in the face. Later, we went grocery shopping, and I did not want to sit in the cart. I was screaming and kicking and hitting my mom. She had no idea what to do with me. When we got home, she told my uncle what was going on. He told her about how his son was allergic to artificial food dyes and had the same problems as me. So, my mom cut out the fruit cheerios I had every day for breakfast and the macaroni and cheese for dinner because they both had artificial dyes in them.


It was a night and day difference. I was able to manage my actions, but all that time consuming these chemicals came with a price. My mind had been trained on how to respond to stimulus and it took years of effort to correct my behavior. When faced with punishment I would still scream and throw fits, the only difference was that I could be reasoned with. In 7th grade I introduced artificial food dye back into my diet think that had grown out of my reactions. That year was my worst year of schooling. I fought having to do any kind of homework or chores. This continued for the next 5 years. I no longer monitored what I ate and my relationship with my sister was only fight after fight. 

11th grade I realized that all this time, I had not grown out of my allergy I had just grown up. I knew how I should respond and with effort could manage my reactions. Now I still struggle with habits created over most of my life, but I have a better relationship with my sister, I can better manage my school and chores, and even my social interactions have improved. Because of all that, I have become cautious of what I eat and done some research into factory produced foods which led to this thesis. 


Problems 

Some current problems at play with keeping most of our food locally grown is our diminishing farmland because of apartments and land development and the trade agreements we have with other countries.


Everyone agrees that food is a necessary part of life for our health and our economy, but few realize the impact on our land and even within our politics. The disagreement is where food sources should stem from. While many will argue that the food status quo is fine as it is, if people understood the importance of people keeping most of their food locally grown, they would realize things need to change.


There are many reasons to support the thesis that people should keep most of their food locally grown. The effect on our Health; physically, mentally, and chemically. The impact on our Economy, which includes the cost of food, the connections within our communities, and the effects on our farmers. The ramifications on the Land; the pollution and depletion of nutrients in our soil and water. The hidden repercussions in our Politics within the food system, corporate competition, greed, and dietary deconstruction, deconstructing dietary norms that have been widely accepted for years.


Health 

Most importantly is our health. Our health is important for daily function as individuals and a nation. Every year, eleven million people die because of an inadequate and nutrient deficient diet and the number one factor is a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. This seems like an easy fix; people should eat more fruit and vegetables, but this is more complicated than that. Only 2% of our farmland is used to grow our fruits and vegetables. Nearly all of the fresh produce you see in the grocery store comes from other countries. These imported foods are treated with chemicals to keep them “fresh” during transport. Chemicals which are harmful to your health. 


When people think of how food affects your health, how it affects your mental capacity rarely crosses your mind, yet numerous studies have proven that your food does, in fact, affect your mind. People who eat healthy foods and a well-balanced diet have clearer thoughts, are more alert, have a higher attention span, and have better coordination. 


Physically, your body requires a well-balanced diet to function the way it was designed. With proper nutrients, vitamins, and protein and no added preservatives and chemicals, you will have better sleeping patterns, higher energy levels, and your chances of heart disease and diabetes drastically decrease. There have been studies that prove consuming even 10% of processed food in your diet, increases your risk of death by 14%. 


While most of the chemicals in our food come from the pesticides and fertilizers used during the growing process, many more come from preservatives, artificial dyes, GMO, high fructose corn syrup, and fake sugar additives to name a few. Artificial food dye has been proven to cause an imbalance to the chemicals in your brain causing ADHD, dyslexic, and autistic like behaviors. These food dyes are not directly linked to be the cause of those disabilities, but are linked to similar symptoms, plus allergic reactions such as rashes, skin irritation, and migraines. The problem is that this is not a diagnosis that most doctors will acknowledge if their symptom is not physical. The real number of kids who truly have ADHD, dyslexia, or autism is unknown, because there are so many cases of kids with this ‘diagnosis’ whose parents try cutting out artificial dyes and the problem resolves itself. 


"[My child] becomes very disoriented, confused and frustrated after consuming foods with artificial food coloring. He is unable to focus and prone to extremely angry outbursts resulting in a complete loss of control - violently striking out and screaming uncontrollably. He has been diagnosed[with] ADHD; however, all of his symptoms are almost non-existent when he does not consume dyes. He has also shown a sensitivity to preservatives used in hot dogs and cold cuts." 

-N.M., New Jersey 

Center for Science in the Public Interest 


These chemicals and food additives are added to our food for preservation of the product during the many hours of transportation and enhancement of flavor and color to attract customers. Our minds have been trained that our food must look perfect and be without blemish to taste good. A bruised or slightly discolored tomato should be tossed because it has gone bad. There are always exceptions to the rule, but as a society, this is how we have been conditioned. 


Economy 

Food sources also affect our economy. Compared to the 1900s, more food is produced by fewer farmers. Increasing productivity leads to falling prices. Falling prices mean that farmers must produce more to make ends meet, creating a self-perpetuating cycle the result is that the United States produces more cheap grain and meat than ever despite using substantially less labor and paying farmers less. We are sacrificing quality for quantity. 


Healthy food isn’t cheap, homegrown or not, but the cost between the two is not so vast as people think. In fact, local food is cheaper in some ways. Local farmers will offer deals or discounts if you buy one thing with another, they don’t have hundreds of workers to pay, when different produce is in season and they get a bumper crop, a larger than normal supply, they will sell more for less, and they are often passionate about homegrown foods and want to share it with their community, not make millions at the expense of others. Plus, you are supporting a family, not a corporation.


Growing your own food can be more expensive than buying locally, but that depends on your setup. A few inexpensive pots or repurposed material is a cost-effective way to grow your own food to supplement your diet. Some people will choose to spend more on a larger or fancier set up, but a garden can be adjusted to fit your budget. Sady though, local farmers are a dying breed. While 20% of the American population lives in rural areas, less than 2% live on a farm. In the 1860’s, 90% of our population lived on a farm. Instead, farms are turning into factories.


Buying local food also supports your community. Instead of giving your money to large food distributors that are nationwide, your hard-earned money can be put towards building your community. When you shop local, you build connections. Local farmers will recognize repeat customers and treat them as friends. This can branch out and support you in other parts of your life. The more you are a part of your community, the more often the phrase ‘I know a guy’ will pop up when you need something done or are looking for someone who specializes in a certain field. Even with so much communication being online, word of mouth still travels. People are more likely to trust the word of someone in person than reading reviews online.


Land 

Our food sources affect the land we live on. Many pesticides and herbicides farmers use on their crops are illegal in other countries because they are neurotoxins, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors. Harmful chemicals that don’t stay in just the areas they were sprayed but spread into the lands around. These chemicals disrupt natural ecosystems, deplete the diversity of life in the soil, threaten the loss of most of the plant and animal species we have consumed for millennia, and severely affect pollinators like bees and butterflies we depend on for agriculture crops.


“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, men would only have four years left to live” -Albert Einstein 


Experts say we have globally lost 50 to 70% of our topsoil soil, this degradation is caused primarily by 

  • Livestock overgrazing 

  • Industrialized agriculture 

  • Deforestation 

  • Urban industrialization 

  • Monocrop agriculture 

  • Bad crop rotation

In other words, industrial agriculture has stripped our rich organic soil by removing natural nutrients and the only way they are replaced is by adding chemicals that then kill off the beneficial organisms leading to the need to replace them with more chemicals. 


Confined animal feeding operations (CAFO's) are industrial farms where thousands of animals are crowded in the massive barns and fed cheap grains and soy. The manure and urine from these barns are stored in nearby lakes that can leak into waterways and aquifers and create air pollution for people who live nearby. The massive corn and soy operations that supply feed for CAFO's, ethanol, and plant oils deplete our water reserves through irrigation and pollute our water supplies.

 

Politics 

 Article after article has been produced claiming one health fact after another, and over the years they seem to conflict. The truth is a good majority of these articles and health studies are just political propaganda. Nearly every article you read that promotes vegan and vegetarian diets is backed by companies and people who have a substantial amount of money invested in vegan or vegetarian businesses. Articles supporting the consumption of meat are backed by the meat industry. Everyone has a bias, but big food companies use their bias to build their business regardless of the health of nations. This leads to what is called dietary deconstruction. Big corporations attempt to mask how harmful their products are to our health. These chemicals are cheaper than natural and organic methods creating a higher profit margin. If healthy food were cheaper, we would not be having as much of a problem with our diets.


By eating foods grown and produced by local farmers, you keep your money out of the hands of greedy politicians whose only concern is for profit at your cost.


Refutation 

There are plenty of people who will disagree saying that people should not keep a majority of their food locally grown. They claim that we will lose the variety of foods, such as having certain fruits and vegetables year-round or plants that do not grow in your area. This is not valid. If you want to keep all your food locally grown, go for it, but I am not saying all, just most. If you don’t have a local wheat farmer and mill, you can still buy flour from the store, but if you do, why not support them? In Florida, tomato plants can grow well in a greenhouse, yet how many grocery stores can you find ever have local tomatoes, let alone tomatoes from the United States. 


People will also argue that it is easier to go to a grocery store and get what you need there. This is true, but good meal planning leads to a healthier diet and many people do the majority of their shopping once a week or every other week. Farmer’s markets are either once a week, or if they have artisans, every other week. This fits within the average person's shopping schedule. For those who cannot make it to a farmer’s market, there are many well-established fruit stands selling what you need. You can still hop over to a grocery store for those last-minute things you need, and who knows, if more people prioritize locally soured foods, maybe grocery stores will contract with local farmers. 


Every system has its own flaws and regardless of where you source your food, you will come across problems. So, you must decide. Are the chemicals that determine your health, the effect on your local farmers, the degradation of our lands, and supporting greedy politicians worth the ease and variety of shopping at your local grocery store? Just because your grocery store is local, does not mean that the food they carry is. Buy what you can locally. Nationally distributed foods should be a supplement, not a diet. 

According to ‘Farmers Market Coalition’ there are more than 8,600 markets registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory. There are even more that are not filed. So, find a local market. In the chance there is not one near you, perhaps you can start one. Talk to your local small businesses. A farmer’s market helps promote their business and build your community. This is why people should keep the majority of their food locally grown. 


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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