“People are fed by the food industry which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” – Wendell Berry
The connection to modern food production, human health and climate change is making headlines, thanks in part, to documentaries like Kiss the Ground.
When it comes to climate change, the leading contributor of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fossil fuels. However, the damaging effects of modern industrial farming practices also have a large part to blame in this.
Sadly, when it comes to human health, the role of our food system is leading the way to global chronic disease thanks to industrial farming practices like mono-crops for processed foods and animal feedlots that are calorie abundant but not nutrient dense.
In order to sustain cheap processed food or meat, industrial agriculture practices, (subsidized by governments) involve growing just a few mono-crops like soy, wheat and corn that are heavily sprayed with chemicals or even grown in chemical fertilizer that then get processed and show up in our boxed food.
What many people don’t know is that most of these mono-crops are used to feed (or fatten up) animals in industrialized feedlots.
These unsustainable practices are damaging the environment while contributing to climate change and our poor health. Solely focusing on fossil fuels and sustainable energy methods while ignoring industrial agriculture is just not enough.
Ananda Fitzsimmons, from The Canadian Organic Grower says “In the past 150 years, half the world’s topsoil has been lost to erosion and what remains has been degraded by compaction, loss of soil structure and deterioration of microbial populations. Industrialized agricultural practices, deforestation and urban sprawl have accelerated soil erosion and degradation. The result is decreasing fertility and yields—with eventual desertification.”
Enter fake and synthetic meat products and the Beyond Meat burgers that are sweeping the processed food market.
Is that the answer to our environment and health issues: fake food? Is removing the cow from the pasture in favor of a fake burger the path to a reduced carbon footprint?
In short, no.
So, how do we deal with climate change and the growth of chronic illnesses that are prevalent today?
One idea is that the solution lies in balancing our carbon output, that is, emitting less carbon than we can sequester. Farming practices, with a focus on soil health, can play an important role in supporting this goal along with more nutrient dense food. This is where regenerative farming comes in to help! (I’ll talk more about this in a minute.)
If you’re interested in learning more about how soil sequesters carbon, watch this 4-minute video: The Soil Story
Since I’m on the subject of soil, it’s important to examine the issue of Desertification that is also having an impact on our environment, and it’s happening globally.
“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” says Allan Savory, “and it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos.”
What causes desertification? For the most part, the overexploitation of soil as a result of human activity, like industrial agriculture!
Savory has devoted his life to stopping desertification. He believes and has proven, that with the right holistic management tools in livestock farming, we can fight desertification and reverse climate change by sequestering carbon back into the soil where it belongs.
Check out one of his most-watched TED Talks on Desertification: Ted Talk with Allan Savory.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE FARMING?
In essence, regenerative agriculture involves farming in a way that eliminates inputs of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, increasing soil organic matter, enhancing biodiversity while restoring ecosystems, and optimizing water cycles. Consider it Organic Farming 2.0.
Regenerative farming helps the environment by focusing on soil health through practices like no-till and the use of cover crops instead of chemical-based weed killers that then damage the soil. It focuses on a healthy functioning ecosystem that can naturally sequester carbon in our atmosphere, thus helping to reverse the damages of both climate change and environmental degradation while providing more nutrient dense food.
To learn more about the practices and principles of regenerative agriculture, this article helps to break it down.
Ranchers like Gabe Brown in the United States (who’s also inspiring Canadian growers and ranchers) teach farmers about soil health and farming while working with nature, not against her, in a regenerative way.
This more natural and sustainable way of farming is giving American and Canadian farmers a better life on the farm, increased profit, and improved health, as regenerative farming doesn’t require heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, glyphosate (also known as the weedkiller Roundup), or GMOs.
Interestingly, when I started to research this topic, I learned that the principles applied to regenerative agriculture also apply to human health.
INDIVIDUAL HEALTH AND PLANETARY HEALTH GO HAND-IN-HAND.
The more time you spend learning about industrial farming practices and climate change, the more you begin to connect the dots about how large-scale industrial farming practices are the biggest health offenders of both our climate and our bodies.
It’s not just livestock’s fault, it’s ALL TYPES of industrial agriculture. This includes things like soy or pea protein for your Beyond Meat burger and Canadian grain products that are sprayed with Glyphosate.
As Dr. Arden Andersen – a physician specializing in spreading awareness about the need to practice healthy eating and wholesome farming practices and author of three well-known publications – explains:
“The same principles that apply in farming: disease, weeds, and insect
problems are nutritional issues and deficiencies that are principles in
the human body, specifically connected to our microbiome.”
The conversation around requiring healthy soil to grow nutritious food is the same conversation about feeding our inner eco-systems for optimal health.
Our human systems directly reflect the natural eco-systems around us.
The way we farm and eat has an incredible influence on both our health and well-being and our planet.
As large-scale industrial farming practices use high quantities of chemicals, fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides, we are already damaging the first stage of nutritional food: the requirement for healthy soil.
Because of unhealthy soil, food is grown with fewer nutrients today than what was being grown 50 years ago.
In fact, in a survey of 43 crops of fruits and vegetables, Davis, Epp, & Riordan, (2004) found a significant decrease of vitamins and minerals in foods grown today, compared to the 1950s.
Compound that with the fact that your body has to work harder with less support from the important nutrients that provide the building blocks for health.
Now your liver is working overtime to detoxify the chemicals that come from industrial agriculture.
No wonder GLOBAL CHRONIC ILLNESS is at an all-time high, stemming from lifestyle and food factors!
In a recent study, it showed that in the USA alone cardiovascular disease (CVD) nearly doubled from 271 million in 1990 to 523 million in 2019. Furthermore, the number of CVD deaths steadily increased from 12.1 million in 1990 to a shocking 18.6 million in 2019.
Yet, we know today, more than ever, how much healthy food and lifestyle choices can benefit our health.
In North America we have access to as much healthy food as we want, (not that all of us can necessarily afford it) shouldn’t we see CVD cases decrease?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation says that almost 80% of cardiovascular issues can be prevented through healthy behaviours.
That means that habits like eating healthy and being active have a tremendous impact on your long-term health.
But how can we get all the nourishment we need if farming practices continue to cause contamination and lower the nutritional content of our food?
In our modern world, with all that we know and understand about health, shouldn’t people have, at a basic level, access to quality and nutrient-rich foods, especially in wealthy places in the Western part of the world?
WHAT IS TO BLAME FOR THE STATE OF OUR HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE?
Two terrible practices come to mind: CAFOs and chemical sprays in our farming methods – these are by no means the only two problems, but short of writing a book, I decided to focus on the two biggest issues at play.
- CAFO’S – CONCENTRATED ANIMAL FEEDING OPERATIONS
In the current industrial agriculture system, most livestock is not raised on farms.
Instead, they have been removed from farms and squeezed into concentrated areas, where they stand there and fatten up until they are harvested for meat.
This meat is usually of poor quality, with high amounts of Omega-6 to 3 ratios (40:1) that are not good for our health, often causing inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
When compared to their humanely raised counterparts, who are given a proper diet and raised in an appropriate environment, it is quite obvious that the life that animals have before they are harvested has a major impact on the quality of the meat.
In fact, Coen Farms in Alberta, Canada had their beef tested at the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences for its omega 3:6 fatty acid ratio and the results were phenomenal! Their beef had a ratio of 2.5:1 – what dieticians and nutritionists would recommend keeping inflammation at bay and a healthy cardiovascular system.
Thanks to the advent of CAFOs in the seventies, farmers were able to raise more animals for a lower cost – however, this increase in meat production has come with steep ecological, health, and humanitarian costs.
This shocking video follows two investigators into modern dust-bowl conditions as they visit a CAFO in North Texas to see firsthand how the food supply is raised.
- INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS & GMO’s THANKS TO BIG AGRICULTURE CORPORATIONS
As Dr. Zach Bush, M.D, so eloquently describes it: “we are putting chemicals into the food chain that delete the ability to build a healthy human body and chemicals that delete the medicine in our foods.”
Chemical compounds like glyphosate (or roundup), for example, are a routinely sprayed toxic herbicide that interferes with the shikimate pathway in humans.
Dr. Steven Gundry calls glyphosate an Antibiotic Against the Earth, due to its negative impact on the biodiversity of the soil. It also affects humans, as it’s known to kill off our microbiome.
Glyphosate is increasing our cancer risk, according to a report published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Sadly, in Canada, glyphosate is sprayed on our conventionally grown wheat products just before harvest, which explains why Honey Nut Cheerios have more glyphosate per serving than vitamin D and B12, added to enrich the cereal.
It’s simply a myth that GMO crops are the only way to feed the world and is nothing more than a massive PR campaign for Big Agriculture. Afterall, there are still nearly one billion people around the world hungry or starving.
This might help you relieve guilty feelings about eating animals, or you might truly believe it’s better for your health. The reality is it’s not helping the planet, your health, or farmers advance to a better life.
It only helps to grow the pockets of large agricultural or big food companies.
Being vegetarian or vegan can be an excellent way to health for some people, but not in the way of processed soy burgers or synthetic meat.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO TODAY?
The number one thing that each individual can do today is support local farms or growers that are trying to get away from conventional methods and grow better food for our health, the health of our animas and the health of the planet.
If you’re really interested in this movement, check out Growing Eastern Ontario Organically, a three-year, on-the-ground initiative to support farmers to transition to regenerative organic through mentorship, financial incentives, and on-site experiential learning.
You can us this link to access a map of regenerative farms in Canada and find one near you.
We can look to support the people who are farming our food in a way that is friendly to nature and our health.
This way, we are giving our money to a business that will protect our earth and protect our health.
Here are a few examples of fantastic local farmers in the GTA:
- Canadian farms like Farm Queen Foods in Chatsworth, Ontario, are something to be proud of. The owner and operator, Cindy Boyd, is raising her animals humanely out on the land while working with nature to regenerate the soil and give her animals a quality life by offering them quality foods, along with lots of outdoor time, sunshine and a whole lotta love. Cindy is a one-woman show, running a 50-acre operation on her own!
- If you’re looking for local, organic produce, Providence Hill Farm in King Township, Ontario, is a husband-and-wife homestead operation. Lex and Beth, along with their children, are growing a variety of produce with regenerative methods in mind:
“Our unique regenerative approach focuses on improving soil health by increasing organic matter using cultivation methods that do not disturb the soil structure whenever possible. This greatly increases biodiversity, water retention, crop health and, most importantly, nutrient density.”
Individual responsibility is more important than ever!
Each of us making small-scale changes, collectively, can have a large-scale impact on farming practices and the health of our planet. Don’t forget that it’s beneficial to your health as well!
We can’t wait for the government to step in and fix this – it’s consumer demand that will be the driving force for good in this grassroots movement.
If all you can do right now is get to know a farmer, that’s a great first step.
As Gabe Brown says in his book Dirt to Soil, DO SOMETHING!
If you can’t afford to buy food grown in a healthy and regenerative way, take to the Internet, where it’s free to learn, read, or watch videos about this movement (YouTube is bursting with videos on everything I talked about in this blog).
Or why not start your own food fund and save money in a Tax-Free Savings Account that you can use solely for purchasing nutritional local food that will benefit your health.
After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Other things you can do:
- Grow something in your backyard, on your balcony, or even herbs on your windowsill. Check out this Simple Guide to Growing
- Plant a tree: it’s only $5 with this Canadian foundation
- Call your local MP and ask them what’s on their agenda to help improve the lives of farmers, our environment, and our health? After all, chronic illness is not due to a lack of pharmaceutical drugs. Subsidizing healthy food and farming practices that help the environment should be at the top of their agenda, but it’s not (I know, because I’ve asked ;))
- Shop at farmers’ markets. The great thing about farmers markets is that it supports local food systems.
- Join a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture (both farms mentioned above have CSA’s). This link also provides a directory for Canada.
- Watch the Documentary Kiss the Ground, narrated by Woody Harrelson
- Educate yourself:
- Read the book Food Fix by Dr. Mark Hyman for an in-depth look at how to save our health, our economy, our communities, and our planet – one bite at a time
- Go to https://thecarbonunderground.org/
- Visit the Weston A. Price Foundation, a wonderful resource for all things nutritional science and traditional diets.
- Explore the Environmental Working Group website for all things food, environment, chemicals, and health-related.
- Avoid GMO’s as much as possible
I’ll leave you with this famous quote that has never been truer than it is today:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead