Thursday, May 19, 2011

Addicted Nation

I decided to re-post this blog as it appeared, yesterday, in both the Deseret News and the Logan Herald Journal:

Recently, I watched a man buy a 64 oz. cup of Mountain Dew and 2 packs of cigarettes at the local convenience store. I found myself wondering what on earth would possess a person to consume so much sugar, carbonated water, and nicotine.  I came to the conclusion that this man had personified what is wrong with our society and, in turn, our agricultural system.

Americans have become addicts.  Addiction is simply a behavior that one adopts as a mechanism for coping with the stresses inherent to normal life, though the coping mechanism rarely ends up solving the real problem, and to combat the stresses of everyday life, we have become addicted to excess.  We demand perfectly-formed fruits and vegetables, and gargantuan serving sizes of meat, and we want it now.  For example, have you ever considered the sizes of chicken breasts at the grocery store?  Chicken breasts can weigh close to a pound, but nutritionists say that the correct serving size for chicken breast is 2-3oz.  Does anyone ever split one breast among four people at dinner?  I’d guess not.

And why are the chicken breasts so large?  Doesn’t it seem un-natural? Of course it does!  But the laws of economics and consumer sovereignty dictate that it is not the producer’s decision, but the consumer’s decision on what is produced.   If Americans demand huge portions, producers must adapt to this demand. Thus, our addiction to excess has driven our agricultural system to be the un-sustainable, family-bankrupting, environment-polluting system that it is today. 

In order to satisfy  our demand for huge portions of chicken, beef, and pork, many producers have been forced to cram populations of animals into small, warehouse-type facilities called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, where the animals will live and die without dignity or the comforts they deserve as God’s creatures.  In order to satisfy our demand for humongous vegetables, producers spend billions of dollars each year on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that are all made from $115/barrel oil.  Excessive use of these chemicals, and subsequent pollution of river and lake water, has caused a ‘Dead Zone’ the size of Connecticut to form each year in the Mississippi Delta where fish, plants, and birds either complete a mass exodus to escape the chemicals or die trying.  Every day, farms that have been family-owned for decades go bankrupt to give way to these larger, corporate producers.  All because we want more and we want it now.

The agricultural industry has become addicted to chemicals because of the stresses we, as consumers, provide.  These inputs, while seeming to increase production, are masking the underlying problems of soil depletion and ecosystem disruption.  So the next time you are tempted to scoff at agriculture because Food, Inc made you queasy, stop and realize that it is you, and you alone, who are to blame.  The industry is simply responding to what you demand.

We must free ourselves from our addiction to gluttony.  We must rethink our consumptive behaviors and adopt new mindsets of ‘quality over quantity’.  We need to learn to appreciate variety and natural processes.  Pick one or two things that you do excessively, and stop doing them.  Experience the freedom that comes with enjoying a simple life.  Demand simply-produced foods. Find out where your meat and veggies come from and how they are grown.  Ask your grocer to carry organic, all natural and locally-produced foods.  This increased demand for ‘real’ food will drive the agricultural industry to adopt more sustainable methods, thereby freeing it from the chains that will surely prove its demise.

By recognizing and changing our own bad behaviors, we can ensure a more healthy and sustainable food supply for many generations to come.

Take a look at this article about a professor at Utah State and the work he is doing to this end!  Here's another article about a recent speech in which Prince Charles urged the world to push for more sustainable farming practices. 


  1. I know it took me long enough to read this but I have been meaning to for SOOOO long. I really like it! I like how it shows me that there is something I can do about the problem. When I read the infamous book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" I felt so overwhelmed by the problem and I didn't know what I could do to help the situation but your article shows that we can all do something to help. Nice job.