It’s no question that modern technology has changed the way we farm. The world’s ever increasing population has forced agriculture to keep up and feed millions more mouths each year. I want to explore how the majority of humans look at food and how our relationship with food effects the quality of our environment.
Firstly, let’s look at the evolution of agriculture. Wendell Berry writes about the industrialization of farming in Renewing Husbandry. He had a first hand encounter of transitioning from animal-based agriculture to the dependence of machines. Berry writes, “The tractor’s arrival had signaled, among other things, agriculture’s shift from an almost exclusive dependence on free solar energy to a total dependence on costly fossil fuel”. Not only did farmers have to spend more money on fuel, but the negative effects of combustion of fossil fuels on the environment is endless. Berry argues we lost our care for the environment when agriculture became more about science and profits and less about care and husbandry. Berry writes, “the effort of husbandry is partly scientific but it is entirely cultural”.
“The way we farm affects the local community, and that the economy of the local community affects the way we farm; that the way we farm affects the health and integrity of the local ecosystem, and that the farm is intricately dependent, even economically, upon the health of the local ecosystem.” -Berry, Renewing Husbandry
Let’s move past the mechanics of agriculture and into the products we receive from it. In The Pleasure of Eating Berry writes about the ignorance of the average “passive consumer”. He argues that our dependence on others making our food has decreased public knowledge on how and what our food is made from. Berry says, “they pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold”. In short he argues the general public is “passive, uncritical, and dependent” of the food industry (Berry).
It is true that fast and ready-made food has become increasingly popular and that the majority of people, including myself, rarely know the ingredients or the processes it takes to make them. However, it’s not like the food industry helps consumers understand. Their “overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price” (Berry). As long as they are making a profit why should they care?
So what should we as consumers do to become more aware of our food? One major step would be acknowledging that the plants and animals we eat are living beings. Abram in The Ecology of Magic writes that “as humans we are all well acquainted with the needs and capacities of the human body” but other living creatures still “remain Other to us”. It’s difficult for us to imagine that other creatures share our same feelings, and although we need not completely understand them, it is important that we acknowledge and respect them as living beings.
Respecting the cycle of our food would also lead to a greater appreciation of the land. Agriculture is not kind to the Earth. It takes away nutrients, erodes soil, and releases large amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming. Perhaps if we as a society start paying attention to what we put in our bodies we might realize what we are doing to our planet.
We eat every day, and if we do it in a way that doesn’t recognize value, it’s contributing to the destruction of our culture and of agriculture. But if it’s done with a focus and care, it can be a wonderful thing. It changes the quality of your life. – Alice Waters