Why Entomophagy Matters

What is entomophagy? 

I get that question a lot (with the implied “why do you (and should I) care?”), and have worked to reduce my spiel down to an elevator pitch. My goal is to not just define the word, but tell why I care about entomophagy – give a convincing, but simple, explanation of why bugs are the best protein source for ethical and environmental reasons.

So I didn’t quite succeed at creating a quick pitch–there are too many important points to make! I’ll keep working on cutting it down into something that closer resembles an elevator pitch, but for now, here’s my… essay, really, with statistics help from Chapul, Exo, Crik Nutrition, Bitty FoodsBig Cricket Farms, the journal Science, Stanford, and the Coursera course from Johns Hopkins on the US Food system I took a couple years ago (see here, here, and here for relevant notes).

Most meat produced in the US is raised on factory farms, where animals are crammed together in cramped and dirty housing–a hardship for both animals and workers–and which pollute water, air, and soil, and drive down neighboring property values. *

Factory farmed animals are pumped full of antibiotics, chemicals, and hormones, and some farms feed industrial waste containing heavy metals to the animals. The sketchy things fed to food animals are later absorbed by human consumers. Remember, “you are what what you eat eats.” (Michael Pollan) Antibiotic misuse on factory farms breeds resistant strains of bacteria, which are transported off the farm via trucks, workers, meat, fertilizer, and even birds, and cause difficult-to-treat infections in humans. **


(credit: wongaboo; license)

Raising animals in industrial systems is extremely water- and land-intensive. ***

As the global need for protein continues to rise, the industrial farming system becomes less and less sustainable. Insects, specifically crickets, can be a nutritionally, ethically, and environmentally superior protein source to conventional meat.

Crickets are an excellent source of protein and nutrients. They are lower in fat, and higher in iron and magnesium than beef, and are a complete protein source: they contain all nine amino acids essential to human and animal diets.

The environmental footprint of a cricket farm is minuscule compared to an industrial farm system. Pound for pound, crickets produce 1% as many greenhouse gases as cows and three times less waste. Crickets need 8% of the feed and water as cows to produce the same amount of protein, and are much more efficient as a protein source than cows: 100 lbs of feed produces 50-60 lbs of edible cricket protein, vs 5 lbs of edible beef. **** A cricket farm requires 2000x less land than a cow farm.

Crickets have a much shorter life span, and can be harvested at 6 weeks, which is much faster than cows at 18 months. North American farms raising crickets for human consumption feed organic diets without hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides (of course). Crickets are harvested humanely by dropping the ambient temperature to put them into a dormant hibernation-like state, and from there they’re deep-frozen. *****

People in poor countries need access to iron- and protein-rich meat sources, and a resilient system for growing it. Cricket farming could help solve that problem. According to the UN, if edible insects become a part of the mainstream global diet, we can reduce greenhouse gases by 18%, and lower the average cost of food globally by 33%. Other cultures all over the world eat bugs, and Americans are already eating bug parts at some levels in processed foods. Insect protein is the future, so you might as well start embracing it now!

fried insects

(credit: shankar slicense)

For easy entry into the world of eating bugs, try cricket energy and meal replacement bars, cricket baked goods, and cricket protein powder from Exo, Chapul, Bitty Foods, and Crik Nutrition. For 10% off Exo bars, use code HAUTEPASTURE at checkout!

I had a lot of trouble limiting myself to a length that would make for a somewhat effective elevator pitch; hence, the asterisks above, for the following elaborations:

* Most people are aware of the terrible conditions for animals on factory farms, but the conditions can be horrible for workers too: exposure to chemicals, waste gases, particulates, hard labor, and illegals with no rights often must endure abusive hiring practices.

** Factory farms pollute water with waste storage failures and illegal dumping directly into waterways; air pollution comes from gases, particulates, and animal dander, and soil is polluted when waste is applied to land as fertilizer. For industrially produced meat products, the ratio of fossil fuel energy input to food energy produced out can be as high as 35:1, with beef produced in feedlots generally having the most unfavorable ratio.

*** 7% of global water is used to grow grain for livestock, and meat production uses 70% of farmland, 30% of Earth’s surface, and 40% grain grown globally. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain, water, and land: it takes 1000 kg water to produce 1 kg of grain. The grain required to produce 100 kg of beef, pork, and poultry is 700 kg, 650 kg, and 260 kg respectively. So, for beef, it takes 7000 kg of water to make 1 kg of beef.

**** Crickets require about one gallon of water per pound, about 2000x less than cows, 800x less than pigs, 500x less than chickens, 350x less than eggs, even 200x less than vegetables.

***** Usually then they’re boiled to clean them and remove wings and legs, and dried and pulverized into powder. Cricket powder alone is not very tasty, so it’s combined with other powders for cricket flour for baking, or protein powder for supplements.

Don’t chuck that shuck!

Did you know oyster shells can, and should be, recycled? I recently learned that the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program is active in Charlottesville. Why is this a thing, you ask? Read on…

The wild Eastern Oyster, or Virginia Oyster, in the Chesapeake Bay is in trouble, due to pollution, over-harvesting, and loss of habitat. The population is estimated to be 2% of the historical peak; that not only hurts the local coastal economies, but impacts the Bay ecosystem.

Why are oysters good for the Bay?

Oysters serve two important functions in the Bay. They are little water filters, straining particulates and nutrients from up to 60 gallons of water a day. Removing particulates, such as suspended sediment and algae, clears cloudy water and aids the growth of aquatic grasses, a habitat of young fish and crabs. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers are washed from farmland into waterways and eventually into the Bay, where they can cause algal blooms or dead zones, blocking sunlight and sucking oxygen out of the water. Secondly, oysters tend to grow in stacks, creating reef habitats for fish, crabs, grasses, and the oysters themselves: young oysters attach to the oyster shell reefs to grow and mature. Offshore reefs help buffer the shore from waves, limiting erosion, and as the shells decompose their calcium carbonate helps to regulate the pH of the water.

oysters cleaning water

image source

How does recycling oyster shells help?

To help revive the oyster population in the Bay, the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) collects shucked oyster shells from participating restaurants around the state, cleans them, seeds them with baby oysters, and returns them to oyster sanctuaries in the Bay to help build up the important reef habitats. The program was started by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Rivers Center in 2013 with the help of several Richmond government and environmental groups and a few local restaurants. It’s now active in Charlottesville, Hampton, and Newport News, and is working to expand into other Virginia cities.

Instead of sending oyster shells to the landfill, restaurants dump shells into VOSRP-provided buckets, which are picked up by volunteers and emptied into a central receptacle, where they await transport east.

oyster shells

buckets of oyster shells

oyster shell container dumpster full of oyster shells

Which restaurants in Charlottesville are recycling oyster shells?

Currently in Charlottesville, Rocksalt, Public Fish and Oyster HouseFossett’s at Keswick Hall, Boar’s Head Inn, and Blue Light Grill are participating in the VSORP. Patronize those restaurants to show your support for oyster shell recycling! And if you visit another local restaurant serving oysters, ask them if they know about the VSORP.

oyster facts

Read more about Bay oysters and the VSORP:







Recent relevantish reads

I enjoyed these articles and think you might too!

cows at Mountain Home Farm

Soon, Your Food May Dine on Insects — which is a much more natural food source for animals than soy:

However, food producers are likely to feel the pinch as the world’s population climbs to nine billion by 2050, while rising incomes in large countries like China and India lead to greater demand for meat-rich diets. So entrepreneurs, researchers, and even the United Nations are looking for an animal feed less expensive than the soybeans and fishmeal typically used today. Insects like mealworms and fly larvae, a natural food for wild birds and fish, could be a near-perfect replacement. With several startups planning industrial-scale operations, it may not be long before some poultry or fish entrées are raised on a regular diet of bugs.

I backed a Kickstarter campaign to help Mountain Home Farm in Vermont become an all-grass dairy farm. Consider skipping your daily latte and throwing them a few bucks! The campaign has less than a day to go!

Scientists sniffing out the Western allergy epidemic: my obsession with gut bacteria continues.

The bacteria that cover our skin, line our mouths and fill our guts not only outnumber our own cells by about 10 to one but may play a vital role in training our immune systems. Changes to our lifestyles are influencing these microorganisms, and allergies are the consequence.

Monsanto, Under Attack for GMOs, Has a New Defender — this is a WSJ article, so the link may not work, sorry. Monsanto has a young, Silicon Valley-type executive trying to persuade people that the company isn’t evil:

Mr. Friedberg, a former Google Inc. executive, now oversees the “precision agriculture” services Monsanto sells to farmers, a major initiative encompassing high-tech planting equipment, soil and seed analysis, and weather modeling.

The lifelong vegetarian has also emerged as an unlikely champion of Monsanto at a time when the company—and the business of genetically engineering crops that it pioneered—face intensifying attacks.

12 Signs You Need to Eat More Protein covers 12 situations, symptoms, and signs that indicate a direct need for more dietary protein, including:

  • You’re getting older
  • You’re always hungry
  • You lift weights or endurance train
  • You primarily get your protein from plants

Any of those sound like you? Just make sure to get your extra protein from HAPPY ANIMALS!

A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat

This isn’t really news as we’ve seen a zillion studies with similar results, but apparently “this is one of the first long-term trials that’s given these diets without calorie restrictions.”

Dr. Mozaffarian said the research suggested that health authorities should pivot away from fat restrictions and encourage people to eat fewer processed foods, particularly those with refined carbohydrates.

Translation: Eat real food! 

 Diet Soda May Alter Our Gut Microbes And Raise The Risk Of Diabetes

Remember that the food you eat is feeding your gut biome. Take care of it!

Diet sodas may alter our gut microbes in a way that increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes — at least in some of us… It’s clear that our gut microbes are not just passive organisms hitching a ride on our bodies, says Kirsten Tillisch, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They’re affecting our health in active and powerful ways.”

Floyd Tiny House Tour

Guest post from the swashbuckling Tiny Twosome. Thanks, Tiny Twosome!

Last month, the Tiny Twosome (formerly known as Butter Boy and Butter Babe) attended the Sustain Floyd Tiny House Tour.  This fun self-guided driving tour of six private tiny homes in and around Floyd, VA, gave us a peek into the homes, and lives, of a few folks who have made the choice to scale back on their material possessions and expand their time and resources for other things.

We left Charlottesville Friday after work and hit the road toward Floyd, stopping in Lexington for a little dinner before finally reaching our destination: the Bent Mountain Lodge Bed and Breakfast.  Even before the Tiny Tour, this place seemed expansive.  We had a good night, though somewhat interrupted by a sound outside that made us think of a barking seal, and after a minimalist breakfast the next morning – slightly supplemented by food from the “family” refrigerator, before Butter Boy noticed the sign on the other fridge that read “Guest Refrigerator,” we headed off bright and early for the first house on our list.

The Twosome’s Favorite Tiny House

316 square ft house

The 316 square foot house, built by Christy and Ricardo, powered by a solar system installed by Ricardo, was our first – and favorite – of the houses.  The couple spent a year building their house – living in a tent for the first six months.  Ricardo said that ten months out of the year they are able to feed power back into the grid and have the electric company send THEM a check. The couple lives mortgage-free, paying for projects and upgrades as they go, without going into debt.  This cute two-story house sits on a on a permanent foundation.  Some of our favorite features were the “big” wrap-around porch, cozy feel, and red metal roof.  Inside, it was small but very livable for two.

The Tiny Farm Cabin

Our next stop was the Riverstone Organic Farm to see the tiny cabin where a farm worker (Kat) lives for the season.  Although it is insulated and has electricity, this cabin has no indoor plumbing and is heated by a small woodstove.  The little cabin has a sitting area, a curtained-off bedroom area, and a loft, and is decorated with Kat’s found treasures from around the farm and beyond.  Kat said she does her cooking and washing-up at the facilities in the nearby barn / farm store.

Riverstone Organic Farm cabin

Also on the property was this yurt they purchased for use as a guesthouse and special events.  We liked the stump steps up to the platform.

Stump stairs

The Tiny Family Home

Amazingly, Hari and Karl’s family of four has lived in this tiny house for the past four years.  They constructed the 168 square foot house themselves on a mobile home frame, and have been living there mortgage-free while constructing a larger home on the adjoining lot.  This tiny home has a sleeping loft at either end, and the downstairs contains a living area, kitchen, and bathroom.

168 square ft house

Their chickens enjoy a well-crafted home of their own.  The extensive chicken compound looked like just the place to raise happy, well-adjusted chickens.  I’m sure “factory farm” isn’t even in their vocabulary.

chicken compound

We drove into town and had a nice lunch break at the Floyd Country Store, where Butter Boy enjoyed chicken pot pie and tomato soup and Butter Babe had a tasty quiche and white bean and kale soup.  We spotted a few of the other Tiny Tourists who apparently had the same idea.

The Tiniest Tiny House

Next stop was Jim’s 120 square foot self-built home – which was also constructed on a mobile home trailer.  Jim, however, used only a small portion of the frame’s length (about 8 feet) for his home and dedicated the rest to an extensive deck and attached shed.  It was by far the Tiniest of the Tiny homes we saw.  With five of us standing inside, there wasn’t room for much more.

tiniest tiny house

The Roomy-ish Tiny House

The small home of Morgan and Amado has a bedroom area to the right of the front door, a sitting area straight ahead, and bathroom and kitchen off to the left. There is a storage loft over the kitchen and bathroom. The very open floor plan felt roomy for such a modest-sized home.

roomy tiny house

After the tour we had to stop by the nearby Chateau Morrisette to taste some wine before dinner.  Butter Boy abstained from the wine tasting – as he was driving.  Butter Babe, however, was not planning to do any driving that day.

Chateau Morrisette

Dinner was at a local Italian restaurant, Mickey G’s Bistro and Pizzeria, where we enjoyed seafood and pasta.  Butter Boy had a giant half-lobster but was given only a tiny nutcracker to get into the slippery, buttery crustacean.  (Sadly, given that we were in the landlocked little town of Floyd, we’re pretty sure that the lobster was not locally sourced…)

The final activity of the Tiny Tour was the showing of the movie “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” at the Floyd Country Store.  The film followed a young man as he took longer than he anticipated to build his own tiny house – with help from his very patient girlfriend.   A question and answer session followed with a panel of tiny homeowners (the homes, not the owners).

More than a tiny bit tired, we returned to the Bent Mountain Lodge – which felt larger than the night before – for one more night before heading home with lots of ideas and things to think about.

A Tiny Haiku:

Simple tiny house

Smaller footprint larger life

Gentler on the Earth

HP in Australia #3: Perth City Farm

At the end of the free Yellow CAT bus line* just outside downtown Perth lies an urban oasis where once a polluted scrap metal yard stood: Perth City Farm. Their motto: “Working together to create greener cities and sustainable landscapes for the future.”

Perth City Farm

Perth City Farm, managed by the non-profit Men of the Trees, not only grows organic food in the city, but also hosts workshops, seminars, art galleries, and group events. Local volunteers and those seeking training or experience tend the gardens and cafe. The founder’s dream was to create “… a place in the city with a nursery, gardens, soup kitchens; a whole educational facility where young people could tend plants, meet each other, learn skills and find respect for themselves.”

perth-city-farm-men-of-the-trees perth-city-farm-inside

The Farm hosts a Saturday morning market featuring food and personal and household products from ethical and sustainable growers and producers, and has a popular onsite cafe serving simple breakfasty fare. I visited the cafe on a Monday afternoon, the first day they were open after a 3-week holiday, to find that they’d closed a bit early due to low traffic. It turned out the farm itself is closed on Mondays so I couldn’t observe the workers bustling around–which actually was nice in that I could stroll through the quiet gardens all alone. So even though I didn’t get to try any of the cafe’s food, the trip definitely was not a bust.

perth-city-farm-inside-seating perth-city-farm-inside-path

The Farm’s Facebook page is updated often with hours, events, and photos.

*CAT buses run four free loops within the city. Best part: most people, when exiting the bus, called out “thank you!” to the driver, who thanked them right back. It’s the little things, people!

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 6: Diet, Food Environments, and Food Access

Here are my notes from Week 6, the final week of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. This week wrapped things up by discussing the final stop on the food production highway: who is eating the food, and what food they are eating. How can we get good food to more people, and use food to improve people’s lives in ways other than nutritionally? Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5. This course was an excellent introduction to food systems and policy, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about those topics.

‘Continue to ask yourself, “where did this food come from?”‘

Lecture: Advocacy for Better Health and a Smaller Footprint: The Meatless Monday Campaign

The Science

  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes–most US deaths caused by those, by far. Sat fat and cholesterol are factors in all 4 of those
  • Meatless Monday: We eat 15% more fat and cholesterol that we should = 1 day a week. Hoover had a Meatless Monday originally, because of insufficient product.
  • Many different reasons to eat less meat:
    • Health, health care crises
      • Studies show shifting protein sources away from red meat reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
    • Environment concerns, climate change
      • Livestock production contributes 18% of all greenhouse gases globally
    • Health and ethical concerns around industrial animal production

The Marketing

  • Monday is natural because it’s the start of a new week, and people tend to live it up over the weekend, so Monday is a day of resolution. Fresh start, reset cycle. Most people in study said a healthy change on Monday would help them sustain healthy habits for the rest of the week
  • Keep it simple, doable, memorable (alliteration), grassroots (not a brand, anyone can use it as they wish)
  • Provide consumers recipes for meatless meals on the website. Make it easy for people to follow, understand
  • Some pushback from consumers, since it’s a campaign to deprive people of something
  • Working to expand reach and visibility, send positive message
  • Allies: veggie burger companies, low-fat companies. Media, promotional dollars create interest
  • Meat industry reaction: not happy! Putting pressure on institutions (school systems) to NOT do Meatless Monday, but their argument is not compelling, but the controversy generates awareness for the MM campaign
  • Celebrities talking about it, chefs including it in weekly menus=huge outreach
  • Next for Meatless Monday: shift focus from individuals to institutions. Provide tools to organizations, get more media coverage. School districts and colleges are important targets, to teach kids and fight childhood obesity. Corporate cafeterias. Sodexo, biggest institutional meal-provider, developing menus and promotional/educational materials. Stores, restaurants too.

Expanding to Healthy Monday

  • Healthy Monday–more than just meatless–fitness, healthy lifestyle program, quit smoking, etc. Get other medical center communities in on it
  • “The day all health breaks loose” slogan
  • Kids Cook Monday: get families to cook and eat together
  • Worksite Wellness pilot programs underway: eating, health screenings, activity. Promote health and wellness, help organizations design programs
  • Campus Wellness programs: at over 20 college campuses
  • Implement Community Wellness programs
  • National Cancer Institute: Smokefree Monday
  • Monday 2000: calorie consumption awareness

Lecture: Moving Toward a Better Food System

A Canadian perspective

Community food systems, business, and the green economy: The role of food policy councils and nonprofits

  • The food movement’s themes are bigger: policy, social enterprise, non-profit sector, public notions of good health
  • Toronto Food Policy: We live in a world of plenty, and our problems stem from not being able to manage abundance.
    • Food charter: based on “backcasting”: Where do we want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Where do we start today to get there?
    • The city is in the food business, and citizens have the right to food
  • Food is the largest:
    • Source of pollution
    • Land user
    • Occupational group
    • Employer of child labor
    • Source of poverty
    • etc in the WORLD
  • Food impacts health, economics, environment–everything. It is a public policy issue, not just a consumer issue.
  • Paid staff is necessary, can’t just be volunteers. Keep staff small, encourage civic activism, work with universities, create work-study options.

Functions of a food policy council

  • Issue management for policy innovation. Take a raw concept and test it out, create a pilot program, see if it’s practical, make a policy change.
  • Find common ground.
    • Food is not a zero-tolerance issue (like drinking and driving, sexual harassment, etc). Can change it a little at a time.
    • Many styles. Don’t force a style suitable to another movement to this one.
  • Serve as a catalyst. Help other groups learn to create their own policies, bringing people together to solve their problems.
  • Advocacy. Get out and promote new ideas.
  • Coordinate. Education, getting groups together
  • Support things. Provide support to make things happen.
  • Innovate. Do something with unused capacity.
  • Take a multicultural approach.
  • Don’t take on implementation–create the policy and pass off the implementation part.

Why the food movement is spreading

  • People want to make a difference. “Yes, we can!”
  • We need a way to make sure important issues don’t fall between the cracks
    • Ex: food and water departments aren’t together in City Hall
  • Connections to everything
    • Public health has many side effects. Need to think bigger than the problem and look at the whole system
    • Food links everything together.
  • Food has multiple entry points
    • Form a community around food
    • Everyone eats, at every age and every income level
  • Solving food problems solves other urban problems
    • Ex: reducing miles driven by people getting to grocery store. Widen, repair roads vs using money to make those trips unnecessary by supporting corner stores, farmers markets.
    • Food is the anchor of main streets. Use food to build streetscapes, required for public transit–to engage people. Create living streets with shops and coffeeshops and street vendors and streetcars. Get people to walk and linger. So food is part of preparing a town for public transit
  • Food helps convert unused space to green space
    • Beautify city with edible landscaping. Plant in vacant space, make urban garden, teach young people, inspire community.
    • Unused urban space used for food: green roofs, urban gardens, goat grazing. Bring nature into city–good for people.
  • Help cities build resilience. Resources are becoming scarce–oil, water. Food issues will be a training ground to help build resilience.
  • Food waste as a tool
    • Food waste makes up much of overall waste. About 50% of food is wasted globally.
    • Food packages can be recycled/reused, food can be composted
    • Plastic bags: charge a little for a bag at a store to motivate people to bring reusable bag from home
    • Coffee cups: charge a little less if you bring your own cup
    • Need to look at waste as resource opportunity, not garbage problem. Get producers, ex soda companies, to figure out what to do with bottles, not cities.
    • Give food scraps to farm animals, or compost, don’t throw it away
  • Promote local and sustainable food
    • Local artisans on main streets; money goes to local economy
    • Local businesses create local jobs
      • Celebrity chefs are role models for jobs in new food economy
      • Job skills for youth
      • Jobs in food production
        • Grow rare, high-quality food
        • Get paid for taking waste food
    • Intercultural food
      • Communities have their own food markets
      • Cook globally, eat locally

Food as part of a new, broader concept of health

  • Ottawa Charter of Health Promotion, 1986
  • New ideas about good health
    • Pool fishing event, to intro people to fishing skills who can’t get out into nature
    • Community ovens, to intro people to real food, cooking skills
    • Taking people out of isolation, giving them a skill, making them feel good about selves and have some fun
  • Producers of health, not consumers of healthcare
  • Food connects us to each other, to nature
    • People need to feel connected to where they belong in the world. Community gardens help with connecting to place
    • Farmers markets help people connect to each other
    • Food is associated with most important life events
    • Food creates simple pleasures: you can be poor, but still have fun, eat well
    • Often involves spirituality: grace, mother nature

Reading: The Pleasures of Eating, by Wendell Berry


“The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who therefore is necessarily passive and uncritical–in short, a victim.”

“The consumer… must be kept from discovering that, in the food industry–as in any other industry–the overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price.”

Eat responsibly.

How can we eat responsibly?

  1. Grow your own food, as much as you can
  2. Prepare your own food
  3. Learn the origins of your food, and buy locally as much as you can
  4. Deal directly with the farmer/grower as much as possible
  5. Learn as much as you can about industrial food production
  6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening
  7. Learn as much as you can about the life history of the food you’re eating

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 5: Alternative Approaches to Food Production

Here are my notes from Week 5, the penultimate week of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. This week we got to the topics of most interest to me, and to this blog: alternatives to industrial animal farming, and the importance of local food systems. If you’ve heard or read Joel Salatin, most of the points below will be familiar. Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.

Lecture: The Sustainable Agriculture Imperative

Michael Heller conducts a sustainable farming practice on Clagett Farm in Maryland, which is owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Clagett Farm is 300 acres, and produces vegetables, grass-fed beef, and native nursery plants.

Avg distance the food on your plate travels: 1600-1800 mi = excessive use of fossil fuels. Buy local!

Ag is the #1 source of pollution hurting the Chesapeake Bay: >40% of the water is a dead zone

Clagett Farm
Need to plan for:

  • Weed control
  • Pest control
  • Fertility

Sustainable practices:

  • Crop rotation: 5 or 7 year cycles, changing crop each year to restore nutrients to the soil, optimizing for available nutrients, keeping pests under control
  • Cover crops: Helps prevent erosion, improve soil, build fertility, control pests. Just as important as food crops. Fields should never be left bare.
  • Mulching: Weed control, coverage when cover crops can’t be used–cover crops compete with food crops for moisture. Straw provides nutrients to soil, controls weeds by shading sun, controls pests that don’t like to walk across it.

Grass-fed beef

  • Soil rebuilding, naturally: Soils rebuilt by grass and cattle on steep land, or soil “mined” by corn and soy
  • Disease control without antibiotics: Keep cows happy and comfortable -> low stress -> low disease. Closed herd: all cows were raised on farm, except a bull who is quarantined before being introduced to herd. So no antibiotics needed, few health problems.
  • Grass management through rotational grazing: Put cows on a plot, let them eat grass all the way down, then move them to fresh grass. Short grass allows clover to grow. Cows manage grass, so little seeding required.
  • Compost for soil improvement: Winter hay includes manure. Bacteria break down manure, straw, woodchips. Keep pile aerated, warm, dry. Weed seeds in pile killed by heat of bacteria working. Used as fertilizer, rebuilds soil, provides nutrients

Decision-making criteria for sustainability

Adopting new technology, deciding what to offer CSA members, whether to cut hay or let cows eat the grass, etc. Criteria are:

  • Community
    • Interactions with community via marketing; includes farm workers, farm animals, wildlife
  • Economics
    • Don’t let it become the domineering criterion.
  • Control for farmer
    • Does it give the farmer more or less control over what he’s doing? Ex: raising poultry for a corporation, which dictates amount of food, water, light, etc.
  • Control for consumer
    • More or fewer choices for consumer?
  • Energy
    • Let the cows harvest their food and spread their manure
  • Ecology
    • Soil building, water quality. Are we working with or against environmental processes?

Local food systems

Cheap food good for consumer, hard for farmer, leads to consolidation into big corporate farms, less and less % of $ going back to farmer

To bring community to farm:

Buy a share of farm output. Each week shareholders weigh their veggies and bag them themselves.

Grass-fed beef
Buy a quarter steer.

Annual festival
Entertainment, farm tour

To take food to people who can’t get to the farm:
Farmers’ Market, Food Bank, Farmers’ Market coupons for low-income consumers

Video: Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming?


  • Industrial ag degrades, erodes soil, pollutes environment -> can’t support future generations
  • Chickens
    • 8B animals raised and consumed in US each year. Over 7B are poultry, mostly chickens
    • Multinational corps control operations on individual farms
    • Manure biggest problem. Full of nitrogen, phosphorus, heavy metals, antibiotics. Put on soil, runs into waterways.
  • Cows
    • Preserve biodiversity rather than limit it
    • Use animal waste to restore fertility to soil
    • Animals recycle plant materials
    • Cows are not built to eat grain
    • Smaller farms need to move to pasture-based system to stay in business
  • Hogs
    • Produce 5x the waste of a human, with no treatment plants
    • Held in lagoons, sprayed on crop fields
    • Dust causes respiratory problems, liquid gets into watertable
    • Contract producers have to buy facilities, deal with waste, have no control, and are only guaranteed contract for a single flock/herd
    • Easier to keep hogs healthy outdoors: get minerals from ground, nutrients from trees, plants, they’re happier
    • Better meat when they’re kept outdoors
    • Humane treatment: no shockers, can’t kick or mistreat them, no antibiotics or hormones or steroids, have to give them forage, minimum space requirements
    • Hogs have personalities
  • Animals connect us to the earth
  • It’s not (or shouldn’t be) all about the money
  • Need to educate consumers
  • Need to vote with dollars
  • Transform the food system one consumer at a time

Video: The Future of Agriculture, Parts I and II


The Future of Agriculture
Being organic does not necessarily mean you are sustainable.

Think of sustainability as a concept of resilience, rather than steady-state, in the face of the challenges we will be facing in the future:

  1. Energy. Era of easily-obtained carbon-based energy is coming to a close. Oil produces corn that produces ethanol–still petroleum based. Think about energy/profit ratio–there’s not going to be a technological rescuer; we have to redesign systems instead.
  2. Water. Current economy enormously water-consuming. Agriculture draining water reserves at terrifying rate. Most crop production globally relies on irrigation. We need 4L of water a day to live, but we consume 2000L a day through all the food we eat!
  3. Climate Change. Current ag systems highly monocultured and specialized–require consistent climate to maintain productivity.
  4. Ecological degradation. Ecological resources are foundation of any ag system, but ag systems are destroying ecological diversity, most importantly: soils. Can no longer absorb and hold water as well, no longer the has nutrient capacity as when it was biologically active.

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 4: Food and Farm Policy

Here are my notes from Week 4 of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. I cleaned them up a bit, but they’re still pretty raw: just for my reference and your education. Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3. This week, I particularly enjoyed the TEDxManhattan lecture, From Fables to Labels, which is only 13 minutes long. Check it out!

This week’s lectures and readings cover the past, present, and future of the Farm Bill and US food policy.

Farm Bill History

Many policies affect food at federal, state, local levels. State and local levels a “laboratory” for policies that might be able to be scaled up to a federal level

It’s a public health bill; it affects:

  1. What we eat
  2. Environmental health/sustainability
  3. Food security
  4. Equity
  5. Rural public health

We need government in agriculture. Why?

  • Farmers need security in order to go into business. Weather unpredictable; market unpredictable.
  • Protect environment: Farmers tend to overproduce and use unsustainable practices
  • Ensure food supply: Consumers need to be able to afford and access food

Farm policy over the years

  • 1800s western expansion of farming. Homestead act, railroads
  • 1914 extension system through university partnerships to increase use of technology, productivity
  • Tearing up prairies to put in crops, leave fields open w/out cover crops. Topsoil blew away. Droughts + wind -> erosion -> dustbowl
  • 30s: Farmers hungry and demonstrating, consumers hungry and demonstrating -> first Farm Bill
  • New Deal brought first Farm Bill in 1933 to stabilize prices
    • Ever-normal Granary: store crops to stabilize prices
    • Mandatory idling of land to limit overproduction and keep prices up
    • Land and water conservation
    • Subsidized school lunches
  • 1938, 49 bills are permanent legislation–if we can’t pass a farm bill we return here!
    • 1949 started donating surplus food overseas
  • 1970 some stuff in the bill became voluntary instead of mandatory
  • 1973 big changes
    • Wetlands drained, forests cut down to increase farmland (“Fencerow to fencerow”)
    • Maximize yield rather than manage supply
    • Trend towards big farms
    • Processes industrialized
    • Foodstamps introduced
  • 1985 and 1990 more environmental programs–maybe because of problems from 1973 changes?
    • Conservation
    • Wetlands preservation
    • Research into sustainability
  • 1996 “Freedom to Farm”
    • High commodity prices, high incomes
    • Aim to end govt intervention in commodities (land idling, reserves, prices support policies)
    • Ending govt intervention led to price drop, more govt payouts -> dropped plan to end subsidies
  • Subsidy levels currently high following bill having purpose of ending subsidies!

2008 Farm Bill Policy
Food, Conservation, and Energy Act

  • 800+ pages
  • about 2/3 of it is Nutrition section, then Commodities, then Conservation
  • Most money spent on SNAP program

What Farm Bill supports does not look like what govt recommends we eat!

Fruits and veg have become more expensive, junk less expensive over the years. Based on subsidies for commodities?

Commodities: where all individual items interchangeable: corn, wheat; and can be stored or processed

Commodity subsidies:

  • Direct payments
  • Countercyclical payments
  • Lots of other assistance
  • $5.2B/yr per 2008 bill
  • More than 80% of $ goes to corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, rice
  • 20% of recipients get 90% of the money
  • Crops sold at lower-than-production prices, so subsidies are safety nets and keep farmers farming
  • Do subsidies drive overproduction, or does lack of price stability drive overproduction? Seems to be lack of price stability
  • Do subsidies drive obesity? Unclear:
    • Yes: processed food crops, marketing, concentrate power in food industry
    • No: see our same obesity trajectory in other countries, farm price has small impact on food price

Current food supply would not allow for everyone in US to follow govt’s nutritional guidelines

How can Farm Bill increase fruit/veg production?

  • Research to build yields
  • Provide growers insurance and loans (like other growers get)
  • Marketing funds

How can Farm Bill increase access to healthy food?

  • Bring free healthy snacks into schools
  • Support farmers’ markets
  • Support community initiatives
  • Allow schools to say they want their food to come from local/regional sources
  • Incentives for SNAP program to buy fresh fruit/veg

How can Farm Bill improve environmental health/sustainability?

  • Address problems from incentive to overproduce
    • Gulf of Mexico deadzone from areas where most subsidies are given (fertilizer)
    • CAFOs, pesticides, decreased biodiversity
  • Conservation compliance
    • If you’re farming on conservation land, you must meet minimum reqs. Possibly has improved erosion
  • Conservation reserve
    • Pays farmers rent to take land out of production to restore groundcover
    • Farmers taking land out of program as they realize they can make more $ farming it
  • Conservation stewardship
    • Rewards for conservations initiatives across entire farm
  • EQIP
    • Assistance for sustainable practices
      • Switching to organic
      • Energy conservation
      • Forest/water conservation
    • Might be misused by big livestock corps: 60% of $ goes to livestock producers
  • Organics support
  • Renewable energy
    • Shift away from ethanol

Other Farm Bill programs:

  • Hunger and food security: SNAP, food banks, incentives to buy fresh fruit/veg, research
  • US Food aid internationally: ocean shipping takes 4-6 months to arrive. Undermines local farmers. Profits to Big Ag and shippers. 2008 FB tries giving cash instead.
  • Equity provisions: Livestock growers given more power to promote competition
  • Rural healthcare: telemedicine
  • Research: healthy/sustainable production methods, climate change, peak oil, nutrition, food safety, obesity, food security

Farm Bill Today

Farm Bill Politics
Ag committees in house and senate: senators and reps from farming states, mostly commodity production areas.

Stakeholders: Agriculture, agribusiness. Anti-hunger community becoming stronger player. Sustainable ag, environment community, int’l development, community food security, public health, cities

Public health’s involvement:

  • Success with priorities in 2008 bill
  • 2012 how to be most effective?
    • Ally with agriculture, nutrition, other groups

2012 Farm Bill
Marker bills hoping to get into bill:

  • Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act
  • Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Money devoted to 37 programs due to expire–many public health and conservation

Republicans wanted to change SNAP; farmers wanted to end direct payments program to be replaced by crop insurance. Taking away direct payments removes requirement to adhere to conservation policies.

Budget problems: focus on low-cost programs.

Election year: extra political shenanigans in 2012

  • Sequestration could cut $7B from FB
  • Senate wrote and passed a FB cutting $23B
  • House Ag committee passed a FB cutting $35B; didn’t make it to the floor. Why?
    • Repubs cut SNAP benefits; Dems didn’t like
    • Debates could harm candidates
    • Spending so much $ could harm candidates
    • Removing benefits could harm candidates

Drought: worst in 25 years impacts farmers, increases need for farmer help in bill

Farm Bill expired Oct 1, 2012. Revert to 1938, 1949 Farm Bills–expensive, unrealistic to apply to modern times. Extension to end of Sept 2013 agreed upon by House and Senate Ag Committees, but full Congress didn’t like it–would threaten fiscal cliff legislation. McConnell and Biden came up with their own extension and put it into fiscal cliff legislation, and it passed. Committee leadership furious. What was it?

  • Prevents dairy price increase–BUT–
  • No input from committee leadership
  • No reforms
    • No changes to SNAP
    • Direct payments kept
  • No deficit reduction
  • The 37 programs due to expire expired
  • Probably no new enrollment in conservation stewardship
  • No disaster protection for most farmers
  • Many mandatory conservation programs became discretionary

Challenges upcoming: sequestration, debt ceiling, new committee members. Need to pass a better FB soon.

Important things missing from discussion:

  • Climate change
  • Industrial farm animal production
  • Commodity program reform
  • Competition
  • Worker health

Need expansion:

  • Support for farmers who are new, sustainable, diversified, transitioning to better practices, fruit/veg producers, small/mid-sized, or socially disadvantaged
  • Increase local/regional, healthy food demand
  • Local/regional food infrastructure improvements
  • Research for healthier food system

TEDxManhattan lecture: From Fables to Labels


  1. Consumers will pay more for labels that they think add value
  2. Consumers are misled to believe that some labels are meaningful
  3. That dilutes consumer demand, and dilutes moving the marketplace forward

Labels need to be truthful:

  • Natural: manufacturers can use it to mean whatever they want. Polls show consumers confuse this with organic, which has 600p of standards, is a regulated program
  • Fresh: can use it on frozen chicken!?
  • Free range: means animals have option to go outdoors for undefined period of time. Doesn’t mean they actually went out.

… transparent:

  • GMOs: not enough science behind it, most people want labelling
  • Mad cow tested: govt left some loopholes in animal feed in place, so Japan said they didn’t want our beef. A farm wanted to test themselves and give themselves this label, but gov’t said no, the test isn’t good enough–even though it’s the same test the gov’t uses to test for mad cow.
  • Carbon monoxide added: to improve red color in meat. Considered a food additive by FDA, so no labelling required
  • Country of origin labelling: animals often born, raised, slaughtered in different countries. Int’l complaining that it’s not good for trade so this label is in peril.

… trustworthy:

  • Redefinition of HFCS. Calling it corn sugar. Shouldn’t be allowed to change name to confuse consumers.
  • Cold-pasturized: meat producers don’t want to call it irradiation. Irradiation isn’t held to same health standards as pasturization
  • No nitrates: natural nitrates same as synthetics, but gov’t allows labels to say no nitrates if natural nitrates are used.

Good labels: organic, grass fed, Animal Welfare Approved

Reading: Principles for Framing a Healthy Food System


Principles for moving toward a healthy food system:

Principle 1: It would insure community food security for all residents
Principle 2: It would be community-based
Principle 3: It would be locally integrated
–Not reasonable to expect all food to be grown locally
Principle 4: It would be reasonably seasonal in nature
Principle 5: Present primarily opportunities rather than problems
Principle 6: Connect “healthy” across the layers of the system
–Soil to plants (to animals) to people to communities
Principle 7: Be diverse

Reading: A 50-Year Farm Bill


Soil is abused and non-renewable. More valuable than oil but no lobby.

  • Erosion
  • Polluted by fertilizers, pesticides

Industrial agriculture relies on fossil fuels

We’re headed for disaster. Need to:

  • Rotate crops for year-round soil coverage
  • Develop grain-bearing perennials

“We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities.”

Reading: Do Farm Subsidies Cause Obesity


Deregulation of commodities, not subsidies, has impacted commodity crop prices, incentives to businesses leading to more processed food consumption


  • Reform commodity policies by developing responsible federal supply management
  • Increase consumption of fruits, veg, whole grains, especially in underserved communities
  • Help farmers diversify crops and supply local/regional markets
  • Improve infrastructure of healthy food delivery


  • Removing subsidies would not curb overproduction of commodity crops
    • Because farmers collectively tend to overproduce without some sort of government intervention, the academic literature finds that subsidies themselves do not cause overproduction
    • If subsidies were removed, farmers’ income would drop, causing smaller farms to be sold to larger farms. Overproduction would not decrease.
  • Low commodity prices offer savings to the food industry, but not to consumers at the grocery
    • Low feed prices for animals, low corn prices for HFCS
    • Over the last 3 decades, grocery prices have gone steadily up, but corn prices have fluctuated wildly
    • Commodity prices make up tiny percent of retail cost of food. Most $ goes to makers, retail, marketers
  • The food industry has been the main driver of commodity policy, not farmers
    • Livestock industry wants high production and low prices for feed
  • Removing subsidies before commodity supply and prices have been managed will not stop overproduction, but could harm small/mid-sized farms
    • 82% of small/mid-sized farms receive subsidies
    • Need to support small/mid-sized farms as they are able to diversify and supply local/regional markets

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 2: Food Systems, Food Security and Public Health

“The food system is run by people who know nothing about health, and the health system is run by people who know nothing about food.” — Wendell Berry

Below are my notes from week 2 of the excellent free online course I’m taking through Johns Hopkins. Read week 1 notes here. Again, these notes are just what I type up while listening to the lectures, and aren’t fancified for posting here.

This set of lectures covers: Food security introduction, food system definition, history of food production and its effect on society.

Food Security

Exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient safe, nutritious food for health/activity needs, with implementation via sustainable methods.

The right to adequate food is a human right.

History of concept: in 70s, hunger was seen as a food problem, so focus was on ensuring adequate food supply and stabilizing food supply. 83 addition: securing access to food for anyone who needs it; 86 addition: adequate food to fuel active and healthy life; 96 addition: Rome Declaration signed by 176 countries declares reaffirmation to everyone’s right to food.

UN Millennium Development Goals: first goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Cut each in half by 2015. Progress on each as of 2004, but poverty slow to improve in W Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, former SSRs, and hunger slow to improve in S Asia, sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods of Food Production for Food Security

Soil (topsoil quantity), water quality, natural resource sustainability

  • Erosion of topsoil–depth from 21″ 200 yrs ago to 6″, on farmland
  • 60% freshwater used goes to crop irrigation
  • fisheries fully exploited or in decline/collapsing; overfished by 25%
  • industrial production methods affect small farmers and retail, and rural communities

World food production is adequate to feed everyone, if distributed equitably. More than enough food calories per person is currently available. 1 billion (1/5 of total) undernourished/underweight. But 1 billion suffer from diseases of overnutrition (diabetes, heart disease, obesity)!

More people could be fed if people relied on grain-based diet rather than animal protein-based (American-style) diet, that is more equitably distributed.

Food security exists when people have physical and economic access to sufficient safe, nutritious, sustainably produced, and socially just (to producers) food to meet their dietary/cultural needs and activity levels

New threats: biofuels, climate change, increasing meat production

Ingredients of the US Food System

“How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.” –Wendell Berry


  • Scope and magnitude of US food system: 1 billion acres agricultural land + >2 billion food animals
  • Influences + Inputs -> Activities [production, processing, distribution, retail, consumption] -> Outcomes

Early History

  • Humans 150,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers.
  • Agriculture 11,000 BCE (fertile crescent and other areas)
    • motivated by glacial conditions?
    • motivated by larger/denser populations?
    • more work for more stable/abundant food supply (10-100 more calories per acre)
    • 4mil global pop before agriculture grew to 50mil in 1000 BCE, and 200mil in 1 CE
  • Settlements around agriculture grew to towns and cities. Uruk=world’s first city, 3000 BCE, 50k people
    • Now that they don’t have to hunt/gather, people can focus more on art, literature, technology, politics, social classes
  • Periodic famine in Europe as population grows exponentially
    • Famine drivers
      • pop growth, resource degradation, climate, drought, conflict
      • early farmers often depleted soil fertility
        • plow -> erosion
        • Dust Bowl in 1930s from erosion
    • Population growth sustained by
      • Imported crops from the Americas–improved nutrition
      • Refrigeration improves lifespan of food
      • Transportation network improvements
      • Nitrogen fertilizer in the 1900s increased output big time


Industrialized agriculture is less labor-intensive, makes food/farming cheaper, encourages consumerism by leaving more money in people’s pockets to buy stuff

Union Stockyards in Chicago for slaughter, process, packing, distribution. Largest in country in 1900. Inspired Henry Ford’s auto assembly line.

Characteristics of a factory:

  • Specialization
    • More efficient to focus on one thing. Skills, tools, facilities
    • Monocultures of corn or soybean (over half cropland is devoted to those two)
  • Mechanization
    • Simpler, more routine work can be replaced by machines
  • Standardization
    • Different facilities can better work together if specs are standardized
      • Grow chickens to same size so machines can handle
      • Sell meat of a certain size to restaurants
  • Technology + inputs
    • Special feed, breeding techniques to grow animals faster, bigger, cheaper
    • Chemicals, drugs, fossil fuels use increased
  • Economies of scale
    • Operations grew to gain efficiency in mass production
  • Consolidation
    • Trend toward larger and fewer facilities. Machines mean fewer workers needed. Smaller farms can’t afford same technology, economies of scale.
  • Concentration of control
    • Extent to which a small # of corps control most of the sales. Merging, buyouts.
      • Top 4 beef processing firms control over 80% of market
      • Pork: top 4 control over 2/3 of market
      • Corn: top 2 control over 1/2 of market
    • Those firms have power to influence how food is produced and who produces it

1950-2000 production on US farms doubled. US Agriculture is the most efficient in the world.

Some examples of external costs

  • Animal welfare
  • Environmental degradation from chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers)
      • Dead zones
      • Algal blooms

    Fertilizer can reduce soil fertility in long run

  • Pesticide exposure to animals and humans
  • Loss of biodiversity
    • Irish potato famine: only one type of potato, wiped out by a pathogen
  • Climate change from greenhouse gas emissions

Alternatives to Industrial Agriculture

What is sustainable ag? Meet current needs while not hindering future needs.

  • Economically viable
  • Ecologically sound
    • Native plants, recycling organic waste to enhance soil fertility
    • Resilient to droughts, pests (diversify, build healthy soil)
  • Socially just
  • Willing to use technology where appropriate

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 1: Introduction to Food Systems, Equity and the Environment

“If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.” – Wendell Berry

Here are my notes from week 1 of the free course I’m taking from Johns Hopkins on the US food system. So far I’m really enjoying it! These notes aren’t proofed or reorganized, just dumped here from Evernote for your educational pleasure. I hope you learn something; I know I did, and will be expanding upon some of these points in later posts.

The Vicious Spiral

Poverty – Population growth – Environmental degradation (PPE spiral)
  • Extreme poverty in the world is decreasing
  • Projected population growth mostly in developing nations
    • high: sub-saharan africa, bolivia, afghanistan, pakistan
    • Low: canada, brazil, most of europe, russia
  • Hunger declining but still too high
    • Most in Asia/Pacific,then sub-Saharan Africa
    • 1 billion of 7 billion total people are undernourished
    • Food prices spikes due to fuel prices going up, more crops used for ethanol

Equity and Global Ecological Footprints

Global pop: 7bil as of 10/11
  • 2bil overweight or obese
  • 1bil undernourished

Resource extraction increasing in emerging economies; 75% of pop live in countries where resource extraction > resource capital

Water quality/quantity:

  • Extreme scarcity in sub-Saharan, India, Nepal, SE Asia, Lat Am highlands
  • Chemical pollution bad in US, China
  • Dead zones from excess fertilizer: poultry production belt (NC, deep south), Europe’s concentrated livestock farming
Degradation of soil:
  • US farm belt (MS valley) very degraded
  • Iowa, for ex, loses soil at unsustainable rate–some areas >100T of soil per acre. Rich, fertile topsoil being lost to industrial farming techniques/overcultivation
    • Soil carried down MS river and lost at sea


  • Same area of soil degradation in N Amer shows high loss of biodiversity
    • Focus on corn, soybeans
  • Sub saharan, latin america bad
  • Industrialized countries w/ 15% pop used 50% fossil fuel, mineral resources; developing countries increased fossil fuel use by 40% in last 10 years
Biocapacity: capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and absorb human-generated CO2

Biologically productive land: cropland, grazing land, forest, fishing ground. Declining

Most of world at margins of using more biocapacity than is being replenished. In 2007: 151% Earth’s biocapacity used. Some countries ok: Lat Am, Canada, Russia

Diet, Food Production, and Global Health

Double burden of disease: healthcare systems of low/middle income countries overwhelmed by same old communicable diseases plus new chronic diseases from diet/less activity. Obesity has doubled globally since 1980. Diabetes type 2, cancers, heart disease, stroke. 80% of type 2 diabetes is in developing countries.

Undernourished mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, India, Mongolia, even China.

Food distribution:

  • US produces and uses vast majority of corn
  • Europe most wheat
  • US/Europe most meat, dairy, way more than India/China
  • US consumes 800kg grain per capita per year. Compare to 400 Italy, 200 China. Most of our grain goes to feeding livestock.
    • 700kg grain = 100kg beef
    • 650kg grain = 100kg pork
    • 260kg grain = 100kg poultry
    • 1000kg water = 1kg grain! So 700,000 kg water = 100kg beef; 7000kg water = 1kg beef

Federal subsidies: meat and dairy 73.8% of all subsidies. Fruit and veg .37% 

US meat consumption since 1961 increased 70%. 223lbs per person per year. Global demand for meat should double from 1990-2020. Global consumption since 1961: 82% increase. FDA says we don’t need all that protein and meat. US men consuming 170% of recommended protein; women 127%. Lot of room to reduce consumption.

Intergenerational equity and Food production impacts

  • Rapid land and soil degradation
  • Water table lowering
  • Antibiotic overuse – drug resistant bacteria
  • Fish stock depletion and more factory farmed fish
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Climate disruption
Industrialized agriculture: started in 19th C for efficiency, speed. Monocropping, pesticides, fertilizer, water.
  • Fertilizer overuse = nitrogen/phosphorus pollution
  • High use of non-renewable resources and reliance on fossil fuels
  • Agricultural subsidies
  • Artificially inexpensive fuel and water
  • Hidden costs of food = externalities
Production needs quality soil and good rainfall but that’s unevenly distributed.
  • 2/3 water use worldwide is for irrigation
  • Irrigated land produces most crops, and amount of irrigated land growing


  • 220million metric tons of fertilizer used per year globally in 2020
    • Most chemicals not tested
    • Crops only absorb 1/3 to 1/2 of applied nitrogen
  • 6mil metric tons of pesticides used per year globally
    • chemicals enter food, air, water stream and could give us cancer
    • 1 billion lbs pesticide per year in US
      • that’s 20% global production for 4% global population
    • Roundup resistance (glycophosphate). At least 10 species of weeds now.
      • Monsanto controls 96% soybean market w/ Roundup resistant soybean seeds

Energy use

  • 1kcal output requires 3kcal input on avg farm
  • Feedlot cattle: 1kcal output requires 35kcal input!
  • Over 80% US energy consumption for food production (2002)
  • Most greenhouse gases from meat (30%); processed foods/snacks (25%); dairy (18%); cereals & fruit/veg 11%; chicken/eggs/fish 10%

Industrial agriculture and biodiversity

  • Current rate of loss 1000 species a year!
  • vs Paleolithic rate of 1-2 per year
  • Amazon, 2000-2005, deforestation: 60% for cattle farming, 33% small-scale agriculture, 1% large-scale agriculture
    • 1% has ballooned in recent years due to soy production
    • Also sugar cane, maize production
    • Soybeans here predominantly shipped to China to feed hogs, essentially shipping water to china in the form of soybeans
  • Threat to food supply: monocropping = more susceptible to disease, drought, pests
    • Industrial animal farming = loss of genetic biodiversity in livestock
    • Species go extinct
    • Spread of pathogens (west nile, dengue)
    • New pathogens emerge
    • Balance of species controls pests (why crop rotation is used)

The role of food animal production

1/32 of the Earth’s surface suitable for raising food. Must raise food for 7bil people.

Meat production inefficient use of grain, water, land, but accounts for 70% farmland, 30% Earth’s surface, 40% grain grown globally

  • 7% global water for grain for livestock
  • 70% herbicide and 37% pesticide in agriculture used for livestock feed
  • half corn grown in US used for animal feed (1% for human feed as actual corn)
  • Grain use ahead of production; global stocks decline (China became a grain importer) (450mil hogs grown and consumed each year in china)
  • Africa and Middle East require more grain
  • Ethanol production the major threat to availability of grains for human consumption since late 2005 (largely driven by subsidies)

Industrial food animal production:

  • one corp controls everything from hatching to slaughter.
  • animals raised in CAFOs
  • feed controlled by corp, not contract grower
  • grower is left with waste and carcasses, paid at end of cycle by weight of animals
  • livestock outnumber humans 5:1 in US
    • 2002 10bil animals slaughtered for food in US
    • 93% chickens worldwide
    • 20% of worlds animals consumed in US
    • 5 tons waste per capita
  • CAFO vs public health
    • antibiotics = resistant bacteria
    • emergence of new foodborne pathogens
    • chemicals enter foodchain through diets of animals
    • CAFO ruins communities
    • health threats apparent in CAFO neighbors, workers (asthma, injuries)
    • climate change
      • 18% greenhouse gas production worldwide, more than anything incl transportation
      • 37% methane emissions (20x worse than CO2)
      • 65% NO2 emissions (286x worse than CO2, and lasts 114yrs in atm). FERTILIZERS.
  • Precautionary principle: if something is suspected of endangering humans, the proponent of the activity, not the public, should bear burden of proof
  • How to feed everyone sustainably?
    • small farms currently support 2bil people globally; improve biodiversity and soil quality; decrease poverty
    • need to advance technologies and make them free
    • govt investment
    • invest in women farmers
    • infrastructure improvements: roads, storage facilities, refrigeration, surplus mgmt
    • diet: can’t sustain meat consumption increase, but need access to iron- and protein-rich meat sources
    • resilient food system: elasticity, recoverability, buoyancy

 Reading: Food: The growing problem


  • At least 30% of global food is wasted; people are too poor to buy it. Highest rates of hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa; most undernourished in Asia
  • Percent hungry dropped for decades, but 2008 food price crisis reversed trend
  • Available calories per person has increased (family size decreasing, pop growth should plateau in 2050), so we will be able to support higher pop, but water is limiting resource
  • Some studies say we’ll have enough land by converting land farmland in Lat Am and Afr without hurting forests, protected areas, urbanization. But others say we should intensify existing farms
  • Sustainable intensification: doing more with less, improving techniques, less water, less chemicals. Need more public investment in farming practices.