Agrobusiness is food for thought

One of the most important issues that will face the next president of the U.S. is food. The battleground of dinner tables and drive through lines hosts the fight for the economy and security of America, as well as the health of its citizens. In Houston, we have the unique opportunity to access some of the best and healthiest food on the planet, while mitigating some of the greater concerns.

Ultimately, we are stardust, and we eat starlight. We all know organic food is better for the environment, and for our health. The sad economic reality is that we have taken the sunshine factor out of food production, to our great detriment. Large agrobusiness and current farming tactics use pickled starlight in the form of fossil fuels, which are base requirements for producing fertilizers. One example is the widely used ammonium nitrate, which McVeigh detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Given that fertilizer is one small shaky step away from military grade explosives, it makes sense to choose organic food, even at a slightly higher price. The dependence on fossil fuels doesn’t begin and end at the gas pump; current agrobusiness depends on fossil fuels for distribution of food, equipment for the production of food, and for pesticides and fertilizers.

Agrobusiness also contributes up to 37 percent of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In a global environment where there are deadly consequences for dependence on oil, these policies are utterly unpalatable.

There’s also the erosion of biodiversity by monoculture farming, and the increased inclusion of genetically modified corn products in our food and drink, leading to an intake of sugar and starches we were never intended to consume. The rampant epidemic of type II diabetes is only one example of the deadly consequences of hidden simple sugars and starches in processed foods. Combined with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Poor nutrition is a critical factor in the decreasing health of Americans, particularly college grads who are less likely to work physically during their day, and who have increased access to processed foods and sugary drinks.

We also eat far more meat than we should. American diets are grossly protein heavy, and college students’ diets typically include meat twice to three times a day. And it’s not even good meat. It’s fatty, fried, grain-fed mystery meat in some sort of oval patty shape, with unknown nutritional quality.

Government subsidies and policies have great impact on the way we produce food and how we determine healthful standards. We have no comprehensive health care policy, and we are currently paying people to help make us sick. Doesn’t really make sense, does it?

So here’s the beef: What do we do about it? How do we eat better, wiser, healthier? We have the great luck to live in Houston, home of the range-fed "foodie." Between healthy food markets, specialty ethnic markets, the farmers’ market each weekend and the fantastic climate, we have the ability to get fresh, healthy produce and known-provenance meats and cheeses, even on a college student budget. We can research and educate ourselves on the slow-food markets, evaluate the idea of fair-trade foods – even check labels on processed foods. It can be hard to cook food only for oneself, but getting a couple of people together for spaghetti or a potluck and study night isn’t that difficult, or out of the realm of possibility. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and far easier to swallow.

Mohammed, an anthropology freshman, can be reached via [email protected]

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