Foods contain combinations of nutrients and other healthy substances. No single food can supply all the nutrients we need. For example, the vitamin C that oranges provide cannot be found in cheese. Similarly, the vitamin B12 that cheese provides cannot be found in oranges. This variety we have is essential to our growing bodies. Many of our crops have been altered in order to produce more rapidly-growing, efficient, and pest-free foods. The process of natural selection has been replaced with artificial selection, where people try to replicate individuals that have desirable traits. For example, vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage come from the wild mustard plant.
Corn, which is present in a massive amount of the foods we consume, is also the result of artificial selection. Corn originates from teosinte (furthest left).
For many years now, we have turned to industrial agriculture in order to increase production rates so that our growing population can be fed at a cheaper cost. Industrial agriculture is a type of modern farming that involves the industrialized production of livestock, poultry, fish, and crops. General features of this practice include monoculture, genetically engineered crops, large scale irrigation, and high mechanization. However, industrial agriculture has been heavily criticized for reduced quality of soil and crops, loss of biodiversity, pollution, unhealthy livestock and food toxicity due to the use of chemicals. Animals are often injected with hormones in order to quicken growth rates. The main goal here is to produce large amounts in a short period of time.
Sustainable agricultural, on the other hand, places an emphasis on permanence, quality, animal welfare, and biodiversity. With sustainable agriculture, foods are produced without excessive use of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, which lessens the likelihood of certain diseases. Natural resources are preserved and pollution is reduced, saving the billions that environmental damages from industrial agriculture would have cost. This practice produces healthy, nutritious food and an environment that will last for future generations. So why has sustainable agriculture become our second choice?
The belief that sustainable agriculture cannot feed our growing population is an assumption, not a fact. We have to think about the long run, and how industrial agriculture will affect us; as the methods that may seem beneficial now, are going to cause harm in the future. All creatures are interconnected. The extinction of one species will lead to the extinction of several others, so the risks of industrial agriculture outweigh the benefits. Our goal is to feed a growing population while simultaneously conserving our biodiversity. Why are we made to choose one or the other? With the incredible accomplishments that humans have achieved, why does sustainable agriculture at a global level seem so unattainable?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S.A. (2011). Eat a variety of foods. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga95/variety.htm
GRACE. (2007). What is sustainable agriculture?. Retrieved from http://www.sustainabletable.org/intro/whatis/
Annenberg Foundation. (2011). Artificial selection at work. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/essential/life/session5/closer1.html
Chappell, M.J. (2007, October 4). Shattering myths: can sustainable agriculture feed the world?. Retrieved from http://www.foodfirst.org/node/1778
HMMI, (2007). Evolution of Corn [Web]. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K6ja_ZJkKk
Cohen, B. (2009, May 12). Industrial agriculture v. sustainable agriculture. Retrieved from http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair/2009/05/industrial_agriculture_v_susta.php
Uganda Wildlife Society, . (2008, November). Conserving biodiversity on farmland: a guide to agriculture extension work. Retrieved from http://www.ecoagriculture.org/documents/files/doc_156.pdf