This past February, The New York Times released an article titled “New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings.” Apparently, the serving sizes in contemporary American food products represent portion sizes of the 70’s and 80’s, which were significantly smaller than they are today. I imagine Canadian serving sizes are similar. Out of curiosity, I checked the nutrition label on the oatmeal packets in my kitchen: 110 calories per packet. I eat at least two in one sitting, not to mention my addition of sugar and berries. Do I need that much oatmeal to fill myself? If I were living in the 70’s or 80’s, probably not.
But this is 2014 and I am a product of North American culture, raised on big portions; one packet of oatmeal is simply not enough. Because of North America’s increased appetite, more land is being converted into farmland and more animals are being farmed to feed us. In his article “Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?” Jonathan Rauch states that:
“…the earth’s human population will grow by more than 40 percent, from 6.3 billion people today to 8.9 billion in 2050. Feeding all those people…and providing the increasingly protein-rich diets that an increasingly wealthy world will expect…will require food output to at least double, and possibly triple.”
More money equals more food and bigger appetites. Here in the Western world we like our American breakfasts, all-you-can-eat sushi, and buffet brunch on Sunday. We like king-size hamburgers, supersize fries, and Venti lattes. According to Rauch, the food system must conform to our growing food needs, and according to the F.D.A, companies must adjust their labels to reflect our actual food consumption.
Why Can’t We Conform To Smaller Portions?
The Western world eats too much. Plain and simple. We have trained our bodies to require more food than we actually need, which is hurting us in more ways than one. NewScientist Online reported in 2012 that “…for the first time, the number of years of healthy living lost as a result of people eating too much outweigh the number lost by people eating too little”. Basically its better to be slightly underfed than overfed. Not only is overeating negatively affecting our health, but it’s causing potentially irreparable damage to the planet. Monoculture crops are destroying our soil, and GMOs are a worldwide science experiment with health effects as yet unknown. The common argument for why we need GMOs and conventional farming is that organic farming is too unpredictable and does not produce yields as big as other farming methods.
People often complain about the price of organic food. Yes, it’s more expensive, but not the overall cost if you just consume less. When buying organic food, you’re not just paying for the single food item. You’re contributing to a sustainable food system that benefits plants, animals, and the people who live near and work on farms. Not to mention it’s actually healthier for you. Organic produce is grown with fewer and more natural pesticides that leave little to no residue, which means less harm to you.
It’s understandable. You’re a busy mom/professional/student on a budget/overwhelmed consumer. It’s okay—you don’t have to go all the way. A glass half full is better than empty. Choosing to buy a few organic products and consume less overall while buying all your other groceries from conventional/GMO farms is good enough.
The Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce provides a list of the food products with the most and least chemical and pesticide residue, with some of the most commonly consumed foods at the top of the pesticide-heavy list: apples, strawberries, and grapes occupy the top three spots. Buying just these foods organically will reduce your pesticide consumption and contribute to a larger movement focused on making our world more sustainable. Choosing to only buy organic greens or pasta or animal products is still better than consuming a completely non-organic diet. A little goes a long way. And who knows—maybe if everyone added a few organic products into their shopping carts, consumer demand for organics could increase supply and force prices to go down.
Why Is Sustainability Important?
If one doesn’t care about their health, why should they care about the planet? Because, according to Mark Bittman of The New York Times: “It takes the earth 18 months to replenish the amount of resources we use each year…we’d need 1.5 earths to be sustainable at our current rate of consumption.” Try as they might, NASA has yet to discover another Earth to sustain our excessive consumption. Conventional farming practices deplete our soil, poison drinking water, and expose innocent laborers to dangerous pesticides and chemicals. Exchanging at least some of our conventionally grown food purchases for the organic option will help slow down or even prevent the total depletion of our land and harm caused to fellow humans.
As Michael Pollan says: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By “food” he means whole foods, unprocessed and ideally organic. By “not too much” he means enough until we’re just satisfied, but not more than that. By “plants” he means fruits and vegetables but primarily leafy greens. If we follow this mantra, we can reduce food consumption which will make us healthier and reduce the amount of land being converted into farmland. Human beings and the environment are supposed to work symbiotically for mutual benefit—we cannot lose sight of this relationship. In addition to Pollan’s mantra, perhaps we can add another one: halfway is O.K. You don’t have to completely makeover your diet, but small changes can make a big difference.