John SchwenklerOctober 24, 2011 - 12:47pm1 comments
What does it really mean to care about what one eats? Many Americans are obsessed with their diets, but not many—certainly not as many—seem to know much about the country’s food economy: where their own food comes from, how it gets to them, and what happens to it before they put it in their grocery cart. If people knew more, would they care more? Would they eat differently?
Consider the humble chicken. Most chickens today are raised by one of a few massive conglomerates that contract with farmers to raise stock. The farmers buy both the stock and the feed they raise it on from the same conglomerate. The birds live in closed, crowded sheds, and are then processed and packaged so they can be consumed as chicken nuggets and frozen dinners. The entire system is set up to maximize the profits of massive businesses. It is not designed to maximize the health of chickens or consumers.
Or think of the enormous crops of corn, soybeans, and wheat grown in the arid Great Plains region. Decades ago, farmers used primitive windmills to draw up water for their crops from the vast underground Ogallala Aquifer. The windmill pumps usually produced about ten gallons per minute. Fly over the Plains today and you’ll see vast crop circles, all centered on pumps that draw up to twelve hundred gallons a minute—an unsustainably high rate, according to experts. Slowly but surely, the aquifer is going dry, as the demand for government-subsidized grain continues to increase, with much...