Now this is a LOADED question! It seems with nutrition, there is always varying information, opinions and "facts" popping up almost daily. Many people will tell you the meat production industry is causing a massive impact on our environment and another group will tell you that we couldn't support a significant increase in agriculture production. The truth is that industrial farming (meat or agriculture) is what is harming the environment. No question. Below are some reasons why and also some tips on what you can do to lessen your footprint.
The impact of industrial farming and mass production on the soil, ground water supply and farmland for future generations might be the scariest realization of all. With mass production the goal is speed and product yield with very little to no thought about the consequences these practices have on the land. Heavy machinery, excessive water usage and chemicals all contribute to erosion, depletion of top soil nutrients and salinization (salt in the soil). Destruction of the soil has long term effects and will eventually make the land unusable. Top soil is where the nutrients are held and as that layer is destroyed so is the nutritional value of the foods produces. Shopping from and supporting local family farms, choosing organic and limiting produce not in season are ways you can make a difference. There is A LOT more to this topic and much more than I could write in this small article, I recommend the book "The End of Food" by Thomas F. Pawlick for more insightful information on how industrial farming is harming our food sources.
2. Biodiversity and crop rotation
Farming for crops is a very specific and delicate operation. Crops are planted based on their location, soil conditions, environmental conditions, resiliency and the needs of the farm. Crops provide more than product, they fed the animals and produce mulch for the fields. The issue is that mass production does not leave room for natural biodiversity and instead has a main goal of maximum yield. This means the crops are depleted each season, uniformity is preferred for ease of harvesting and new seeds need to be purchased each planting season to ensure the crop is ideal. Therefore, some species of grain, wheat, etc. are lost forever in favour of hybrid, manufactured seeds. Farmers also become dependent on the corporations for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and seeds for their fields and organic, nutrient dense options are diminished even further. Another aspect to this issue is the lack of crop rotation. With maximum yield, fields are now continuously planted with the same crop, again and again. This practice depletes the soil even more. Crop rotation is the ideal way to ensure the land is farmed correctly, nutrients aren't lost and the top soil isn't depleted. Biodiversity, crop rotation and ethical farming practices are the best ways to ensure the land and soil are available for generations to come.
3. Big Business
Industrial, factory-farming is what is the most destructive to agriculture today. Not only does it inhibit the business of small family farmers, who cannot compete with the prices set by mass production, but it also depletes the nutritional quality and the actually taste of the food we consume. Filling the foods with poisons, chemicals, pesticides, hormones and tortures living animals. This goes beyond regular farming. I once fed the baby cattle on my Grandmother's farm in rural Alberta, that would eventually be used for meat, not that I knew that at my young age. But industrial farming is different, it is animals that never see daylight, roam the fields or breathe fresh air and are confined 24/7 in horrendous conditions. Whether you support the consumption of meat or not, you can't justify the factory-farming industry. The only people who benefit are the corporations at the top making the money. Ideally any food you put in your body should be as natural as possible, lessening your exposure to toxic substances and industrial farming is not the way, period.
This is another loaded topic. My biggest concern with GMO products is their inevitable destruction on all crops. This goes back to the lack of biodiversity. GMO seeds (from my understanding) are not renewable, they constantly need to be replanted each season. They also effect nearby crops as winds blow the seeds and cross-contaminates the fields. This makes the integrity of the crop of the neighbouring farms questionable, impacts their soil and the yield of their harvest. Again, this is a very simplistic description of the issues with GMO products. There is a lot of research and theories about the effects these products have on our health, environment and the lasting impact on our planet. Many countries have band the use of GMO products and the simplest way you can help is by choosing non-GMO whenever possible!
5. Waste One study shows Canadians waste an average of 140 kg of food per household per year! We live in a world where food is extremely accessible and available 24/7 whenever and wherever we want it. We get meal delivered, groceries delivered, we eat out, we Pinterest our favourite recipes to try and have access to ingredients from all over the world. We also consume too much. We buy more than we need, we waste food, we let things expire and we purchase more without seeing what we already have. We also purchase lots of packaging that holds all this food, contributing to more waste. This impact we are all aware of, we read about it and see documentaries on how it is harming our planet. Choosing foods without packaging or limiting your limiting the amount of packaging you purchase is one way to reduce your footprint. Bringing reusable bags (purchase my tote bags here) to the store and finding alternative to wasteful items (like dryer sheets and plastic sandwich bags) are other ways you can make a difference. One thing I am working on is donating items I no longer use and taking stock of the items I do have. This includes things like spices (I found two packets of garlic powder in my cupboard and nearly just bought a second peppercorn packet) and giving my family things I might not like (extra spicy sauce curry sauce I accidentally bought). Small, thoughtful, deliberate changes have the greatest impact on your footprint and your wallet!
Take away tips:
Shop local, organic, small family farmers, know where your food is coming from, lessen food waste, understand the impact, educate and inform yourself.