Agriculture and Food Consumption

"Food will always remain a resource-intensive industry, but we can ease the burden on the environment by buying organic produce and eating less meat. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don't have to turn vegetarian -- just cutting back a hamburger or two a week can really help. "
-Warren Leon, Union of Concerned Scientists

Overview & Connection to a New Dream

Our personal health, the health of our communities and the health of our planet are tightly linked to the food choices we make. Rarely, however, do we see ourselves as part of the agricultural system. In fact, many Americans would be hard pressed to tell you where the food on their plate comes from. Who grows the food we eat? What are the benefits of farmers’ markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and co-ops? How do eating local, organic, and "low on the food chain" improve our planet’s capability to feed more mouths now and in the future?

The average mouthful of food has traveled 1300 miles before landing on your plate.(1) All this transportation means more fossil fuel consumption which means more climate change. Learning the origin of your food and choosing local options when possible (farmers’ markets, CSAs, and co-ops generally offer plenty of local selections) is an excellent first step toward promoting sustainable agriculture.

Because livestock are heavy consumers of grain, water, and land, reevaluating our levels of meat consumption is another key step toward balanced living. The Worldwatch Institute reports: "Perhaps the greatest potential for increasing food use efficiency lies in reducing consumption of meat...[R]educing consumption of [livestock], especially beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressures on land."(2)

In the United States, conventional chemical- intensive factory farms have reaped short-term productivity gains while killing aquatic life and poisoning humans. Furthermore, these unsustainable farming methods exacerbate soil erosion – millions of tons of prime American topsoil are now in the Gulf of Mexico(3)– and jeopardize future food production. Now developments in agricultural biotechnology are forcing farmers around the globe to buy seeds from multinational manufacturers and increasing our dependence on pesticides, fertilizers and monocropping. We need to reject a food system that requires intensive resource inputs and emits polluting, often carcinogenic, outputs.

There are signs of hope. Over 2000 farmers’ markets have sprung up across the U.S. in the last ten years and sales of organic produce grew from $1 billion per year in 1992 to $2.5 billion in 1996. Growing campaigns to end subsidies for agribusiness and tax breaks for cattle ranchers, if successful, will curtail these polluters' unfair advantage over sustainable farmers. Let's use this momentum to make the "right choices" more affordable and accessible to all!


  1. Food, Faith, and Sustainability (1997) by Earth Ministry.
  2. Shrinking Fields: Cropland Loss in a World of Eight Billion (Worldwatch Paper 1996) by Gary Gardner as quoted in "Biodiversity To Go" by Dave Tilford in Enough No.7, Spring 1999.
  3. Earth in the Balance (1992) by Al Gore.

Copyright (c) 1999 CNAD
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