2017 was a year of countless technological breakthroughs with the world currently being the most advanced it has ever been. Yet surprisingly, world hunger actually increased last year with now one in nine people suffering from chronic malnutrition. To solve this, we must use the most efficient farming method available. We already have the technology, the question becomes what is the most efficient farming method.
However, there is much debate over what this “best” farming method is. On the rise is the In the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” author Michael Pollan illustrates what he believes is the solution: Polyface Farm, a self-sustainable farm run by farmer Joel Salatin. Pollan contrasts this farm against the current industrial system which he believes is detrimental to the environment. In this essay, I will prove that Salatin’s farming method is not only detrimental to the consumers, but also to the environment and our global economy.
. Salatin believes that farming should be fully sustainable and not leave any negative impacts on the environment. This reflects in his farming style, where everything is connected in a complex cycle renewable energy and waste. As a result, he says that his method is more efficient as he saves energy by using the waste as fuel sources that produce more and better quality food. Furthermore as a firm believer in seasonality and bioregionalism, he strongly disapproves of the global system of food transportation which he believes produces large amounts of greenhouse gases. Instead, he argues for buying local which he believes reduces pollution, an increasingly popular movement known as the “food miles movement.” These “locavores,” people who argue for only eating locally, claim food grown in specialized areas across the globe generate considerably more carbon dioxide waste as they have a lot more “food miles” – the distance between the producer and the consumer.
They advocate for locally grown food that travels shorter distances and thus produces less carbon emissions and uses less energy. The misconception food activists believe in is that international transportation create more distance food traveled which in turn produces more CO2 emissions into the environment. Both of these beliefs are absurd and not true. By only focusing on the distance food travels before reaching the consumer, local food activists fail to see the carrying load efficiency of different modes of transportation.
A 2005 UK Department for Environmental, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) study showed that although sea transport attributed to only less than 1% of all distance traveled, they carried 65% of all food per distance traveled. On the contrary, cars made up a total of 48% of all distance traveled, but only carried less than 1% of all food per distance. In other words, it would require the very little energy per apple to transport apples from New Zealand as compared to driving by car to the supermarket to buy one (Desrocher & Shimizu, 7). So as shown by the statistics, the efficiency of each transport method plays a crucial role in consideration of how environmentally friendly they are. Salatin also proposes that by buying local, we will be able to reduce carbon emissions substantially.
However, the numbers do not support this claim. Desrocher and Shimizu (2008) point out that food transported internationally through means of ships and airplanes are able to account for over majority of all food miles and only produce around a fifth of total carbon emissions each year (p. 9). Cars on the other hand are the least carbon efficient form of transportation producing 13% of all carbon emission, more than both sea and air transport.
Here, Salatin’s argument contradicts itself: Salatin encourages people to buy local and even go on “half a day’s drive” (Pollan, p. 250) to local farms to protect the environment, but as a result, this only adds more carbon emissions than just buying food locally. It is much more eco-friendly to mass-transport foods at longer distances and have the consumers travel shorter distances than vice-versa. So unlike what Pollan advocates, food miles do not directly correlate with greenhouse gas pollution. Desrocher and Shimizu (2008) point out that international transport via air and sea is actually quite energy efficient, and that cars are the least efficient mode of transportation, producing the most carbon emission. The food miles ideology is clearly flawed.
In the bigger picture, food miles only attribute to a mere four percent of greenhouse gas emissions related to food. The majority of pollution, 83% of it, comes from the production of food, not transportation of it. “Buy local” advocates solely focus on food miles and often forget about the “seed-to-plate” perspective: the amount of energy spent on not only transporting the food but also making it (Desrocher Shimizu p. 9). Thus, the question becomes how could we improve the method of food production.
Pollan (2005) believes that by growing local, we can change the agriculture industry and make it more energy efficient. However, local farming fails to utilize natural climate to mass produce crops suitable in that specific area. Kenya, although the 7th largest exporting country in the world has also one of the lowest carbon emission levels. The natural Kenyan sunshine and heat makes it an ideal location for agriculture. It is much less environmentally damaging to mass produce a specific crop in a location with low carbon usage then importing them through long distances than to grow local and out of season. If the local farms do try to capitalize on natural climate grow by season, it creates a lack of variety of foods available. Especially in winter, there is a only a very narrow selection of Salatin’s method of farming, however, cannot be improved to yield greater outputs.
Because the whole system is linked together by complex web, farmers cannot simply boost production and expand their farm without ruining the entire system (Pollan p. 222). Thus, the question then becomes how we can improve industrial farming, not replace it.