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To Mass Produce Food… or Not?

Hundreds of years ago, we grew all of our foods naturally: non-genetically modified, one-hundred-percent organic foods that were farmed locally.

Hundreds of years ago, a lot more people went hungry.

Here in the U.S., we certainly need to improve our dietary habits. More than two-thirds of us struggle with obesity, we have the highest sugar consumption in the world, and we are addicted to salty, fatty, sugary, but convenient processed foods.

Even if we’re on an “all-natural” diet, we’re not safe. Most fruits and veggies (and meat and dairy) in the store have been grown with pesticides and are genetically modified. According to the Mayo Clinic, that means:

• Pesticides leave a residue on food. However, non-organic foods are also waxed so that they keep longer. While that’s safe by government standards, it can’t be good to be constantly putting that in our bodies.

• Pesticides can contribute to air, ground, and water pollution, and can be dangerous to local wildlife.

• Even the most natural foods at the stores probably have some additives, like artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and artificial colorings.

• Genetically modified crops built to withstand herbicides could create a rise in super weeds, disrupting delicate ecosystems.

• We don’t yet know the long-term health risks of genetically modified foods, but they include risk of new allergies, and could have negative effects on the vital organs.

• Animal products are often mass-produced on farms that treat livestock more like machines than animals.

The American food industry is largely defined by mass production, which brings up some serious environmental and health concerns. Some—not all—large farms play a hand in contributing to pollution, treating animals inhumanely, disrupting the ecosystem, and producing potentially unhealthy food just to make as much money as possible. That’s unethical and it needs to change immediately. Other farms produce food responsibly, but they still use pesticides and genetically modified plants. That’s something that we should be conscious of and work to improve gradually through innovation.

But before we get too upset about the mass-produced food on our grocery store shelves, there’s another factor we need to consider: poverty and malnutrition.

About 13.5 percent of the world’s population is undernourished. Five percent of individuals living within the United States are undernourished. While it’s great news that the United States is so far below the average, it’s still unacceptable that individuals in our country can’t get the food they need to thrive.

That’s where the benefits of mass-produced food come in. Processed foods don’t spoil as easily as natural foods, so they are easy to pack, store, and transport—making them very affordable. Pesticides prevent crop decimation by diseases and insects, making us less dependent on the whims of nature for our food. Genetically modified foods are larger, easier to grow, and resistant to disease, making them far more accessible than their all-natural cousins. In contrast, organic, non-modified foods need to be grown and transported with care—and they usually don’t keep as long as their enhanced versions.

Don’t get me wrong. It is improper that some Americans can’t choose the healthiest options for themselves—that some don’t have access to all-natural, organic foods.

But before we condemn the food industry for its lack of foresight in innovation, before we protest the evils of pesticides and GMOs, we have to realize that if it weren’t for these things, some people wouldn’t have access to food at all. While it’s great to look into more natural, responsible, and sustainable ways of farming, we want to do so carefully in a way that continues to make good food more accessible to everyone.

In my next post, I’ll be looking at a few trends in food production that promise to do just that.

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