The New Yorker asks if the world’s food system is collapsing, and looks at how modern agriculture has defied the predictions of Thomas Malthus in his book “Essay on the Principle of Population” written in 1798.
The picture is not pretty:
American consumers demand huge amounts of cheese and meat. One consequence is the giant “poop lagoons” of Northern California. In traditional forms of mixed agriculture, animal manure is not a waste product but a valuable fertilizer. By contrast, the mainstream food economy is now dominated by monocultures in which crops and animals are kept apart. This system of farming has little use for poop, despite churning it out in ever-increasing volumes. The San Joaquin Valley has air quality as poor as Los Angeles, the result of twenty-seven million tons of manure produced every year by California’s cows. “And cows are relatively benign crappers,” Roberts points out; hogs — mass-produced to meet the demand for bacon on everything — are more prolific. On June 21, 1995, Roberts tells us, a hog lagoon burst into a river in North Carolina, destroying aquatic life for seventeen miles…
…much of the apparent abundance of choice available to the affluent Western consumer is an illusion. You may spend hours in the supermarket, keenly scrutinizing the labels, but, when it comes down to it, most of what you eat is derived from the high-yield, low-maintenance crops that the food industry prefers to grow, and sells to you in myriad foodish forms.
The article is appeal to push back on the industrial food producers who provide us with flabby mass-produced chicken (the average American eats 87 pounds of chicken a year – twice the figure for the 1980’s) and convenience meals packed with soya extract, and eat food which comes from lower down the food chain – more vegetables, rather than meat; more sardines and herring, rather than salmon; less produce from the large mono-culture food factories. We’d be healthier, and there would be less people in the third world starving.