Beware: That Killer Food
Wilhelm is sitting down to enjoy a peaceful lunch with family and friends at the local neighborhood corner restaurant. Everyone is enjoying a light meal, lively conversation, and in particular he is noshing on a stylishly prepared salad of fresh baby oak leaf lettuce, arugula, baby spinach, grape tomato halves, Greek olives, and sprouts. All is well in the world of culinary bliss restaurant entertainment and dining pleasure!
Two days later Wilhelm is admitted to the central hospital with violent internal hemorrhaging and intense stomach pains, initial tests show E. coli bacteria has entered his digestive tract system, three days later Wilhelm’s body can no longer fight the infection and dies due to the rare O104:H4 strain of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC).
Every time national or international news stories shatter the headlines about food-borne illness outbreaks this issue comes to the forefront again and again. The latest E. coli outbreaks in Europe resulting in 3,406 illnesses and the deaths of 39 people underscore the sad state of food safety in our modern industrial societies today.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the more than 76 million estimated food-borne disease cases annually, 325,000 people are sent to hospitals every year for food-borne related illness, and of those cases more than 5,000 will die due to complications that arise from contaminated food. We are our own worst enemy, yet we seem to continue living with blindfolds over our eyes, keeping our heads buried in the sand, sweeping any vestige of food related illness and death under the proverbial carpet.
Modern Science to the Rescue
Modern agriculture marvels at the prospect, harvesting vast quantities of mass produced fruits, vegetables, and animal protein, keeping prices low, and transporting them to markets thousands of miles away. Profit margins vary from animal product to produce, but the huge scale and quantity of output makes up for any slim margins. For example, a tiny edge of just a 1% profit margin on a particular item that yields 300 million pounds of saleable product per year, and let’s say it is sold at $1.00 per pound, the resulting net will line the pockets of the corporate machine with 3 million dollars profit on that one crop. While this is a simple analysis, you get the picture; small margins are okay when the vast quantity produced still yields huge returns. Even if the return is a mere 0.5% profit on this same crop, the net return is still $1.5 million dollars.
Now, take this simple generic analysis above and apply it to the overall 5.67% profit margin posted in March of 2011 that Fresh Del Monte Produce (Stock: FDP) reported, along with their net income of $29.9 million, all those zeros start adding up. I am only using FDP as an economic example of the very successful agriculture business model and money making machine that exists today.
What does it really cost?
But there are other costs that do not factor into the bottom line for agri-business operating budgets, profit margins, and stockholders dividends. These costs are not measured by business outcomes, but by the costs that society pays for the privilege of being able to buy food products from around the world at relatively reasonable costs.
How does it cost you in ways other than price?
- Knowing where you food comes from
All these add up to costs that we have been willing to pay without question…until recently.
How many times have you come home from the grocery with pears that are hard as a rock and never seem to ripen, when they do feel soft they seem to have become rotten.
How about limes that you bought for extracting some juice, only to find they are harder than bricks with skin thicker than an elephant and yield only minimal drips and drabs of liquid.
How about that package of live fresh basil in the refrigerated section, only to come home and find out that it was never to be chilled in the first place and then the leaves turn black because the product was miss-handled during shipment and display.
Today’s apple is not your grandfather’s apple!
Did you know that in 1903 there were thousands of species of vegetables that have since gone extinct? In fact, there used to be 487 known varieties of lettuce, today there are only 36. Almost 96 percent of the commercial vegetable varieties available over a hundred years ago are forever lost from the gene pool today, according to the 1997 World Resource Institute report Agrobiodiversity Loss: Conflicts and Effects.
Did you know that along with the loss of diversity of vegetables and produce we have also lost quality? A report from the ETC in November 2009, Who Will Feed Us:- Questions for the food and climate crisis, tells us that the nutritional content of many grains and vegetables today has dropped between 5 and 40 percent, which means that we have to eat more calories to get the same nutrition. It is no wonder we are growing in our waist lines. Today you have to eat two apples to get the same nutrition that an apple provided a hundred years ago.
Is this the law of diminishing returns at work on our crops?
What does this all mean?
According to the letter to nature Productivity and sustainability influenced by biodiversity in grassland ecosystems published in 1995, as forms of biodiversity are eroded, food security can also be reduced and economic risks increased. Evidence indicates that such changes can decrease sustainability and productivity in farming systems. Loss of diversity also reduces the resources available for future adaptation.
What it means to me?
Homesteading, growing and producing my own vegetables and protein sources, I know where the food comes from and how it was handled. I have control over what goes into the meals we prepare, going from front yard to kitchen table.
But it’s more than just that, it’s reducing our carbon footprint, it’s about going back to the land, and it’s about returning to a simpler way of sustaining our lives.
My father grew up on a farm with his brothers and one sister near the town of Morse in Acadia Parish located in south central Louisiana from the late 1930’s to the early 1950’s and were able to live sustainably with cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, corn, and a large vegetable garden. Their main source of income resulted from annual crop rotations of soybeans and rice. The agricultural way of living may have to come full circle, and I see it in my future.
I’ve started my homesteading with expanding my garden tenfold this season; you can read about that in my previous post Cultivating Your Life!