A study done a few years ago found that ex-vegetarians outnumber current vegetarians by a ratio of three to one. This suggests that 75 percent of vegetarians lapse.
A survey shows that most former vegetarians are women (as many vegetarians are) who had been vegetarians for an average of nine years when they reverted. Most originally went vegetarian due to concerns about the treatment of animals, and most returned to meat because of reasons such as declining health, logistical hassles, social stigmas, and meat cravings.
According to Time Magazine:
?... [T]he latest form of animal activism is ... only eating ethical, sustainable meat ... Sustainable meat-eating is particularly suitable for those who return to omnivorism because of health problems?.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
There's tremendous controversy about what type of diet is best ? and whether or not meat is an essential part of anyone's diet. Many promote vegetarianism for everyone, but this one-size-fits-all diet advice will do some people far more harm than good.
Personally, I would never argue with someone refusing to eat a particular food based on their spiritual convictions. It's your right to choose what you want to eat. However, I strongly believe there are health consequences for opting to avoid all animal protein. There's strong clinical evidence indicating that few people can maintain optimal health on such a diet.
To me, a major anecdotal clue is the observations of people who actually seek to implement this practice. If it were what their body needed and they were thriving why would, 75 percent of vegetarians revert back to eating meat?oftentimes due to declining health? This does not mean that many who follow a vegetarian diet aren't healthy and thriving, but it certainly is a major indication that many find problems with it.
Why Vegetarianism Isn't the Best Diet for a Majority of People
While I've previously discussed my own experience with vegetarianism, I'm not the only one who has experienced a decline in health as a result of shunning all animal protein. As mentioned above, many vegetarians who revert back to eating animal protein do so because they start having health problems. This isn't all that surprising, considering the fact that protein is one of the basic building blocks your body needs to build, maintain, and repair your body tissues.
That said, I am not saying that everyone needs red meat, fish or poultry to stay healthy either... Other sources of high quality protein include raw organic dairy and eggs, which would not violate any ethical concerns about sacrificing animals for meats.
And regardless of your ethical leanings on animal rights, I strongly recommend avoiding meat from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This type of meat is significantly inferior in quality and nutrition, and the harm will likely outweigh the benefit for most people.
My nutrition plan, which is divided into beginners, intermediate and advanced, can help you customize a diet that's optimal for you. When making a decision about which foods to eat, there are a number of factors to consider:
- Everyone needs fats, carbohydrates, and protein in order to thrive. However, the ratios of each of these will vary from person to person. For example, some thrive on very large amounts of vegetables and very little animal protein, while others need more protein and less vegetable carbs. The people who fare the worst on a vegetarian diet are those who require higher amounts of protein, as they're depriving their bodies of essential fuel.
- The quality of the meat (which is primarily determined by the way it was raised), and the way it is cooked will impact its health benefits.
- The types and amounts of vegetables chosen, because not all vegetables are created equal either. For example, increasing your vegetable intake with salads is a good start, but iceberg lettuce has minimal nutritional value. Red and green leaf lettuce, along with romaine lettuce and spinach, are more nutritious options. Eating a wide variety of vegetables is also important to ensure optimal nutrition.
Not All Meat is Created Equal
The movement toward "ethical and sustainable meat eating" is in large part fueled by former vegetarians, who have realized there's a better way to promote humanitarian treatment of farm animals than total abstinence. After all, if you avoid meat because you object to factory farming conditions, you're not really helping to change the system at all. Your decision has very little impact... But by supporting small farms that raise their animals in a humane fashion, you're promoting the proliferation of such farms, which in the end will benefit everyone, including all the animals.
Organic, grass-fed meat that is humanely raised and butchered is really the only type of meat worth eating, if you want to maintain your good health.
I've previously written about the atrocities that take place in some U.S. CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), where animals are raised in filthy, crowded conditions, and I think we can all agree that such animal abuse is inexcusable, even if they're "only" being raised for food. But that's not the only reason why I recommend avoiding these types of meat. Most CAFO's pump the animals full of hormones and drugs, and feed them unnatural diets consisting of pesticide-laden and oftentimes genetically modified (GM) grains.
It would be foolish to think that the end result?the meat from these animals?would have any major health benefits...
In fact, the differences between CAFO beef and organic grass-fed beef are so vast; you're really talking about two different animals, and two separate industries with entirely different farming practices and environmental impact. The latter also tends to favor far more humane butchering practices, which is also a very important part of "ethical meat."
A More Humane and Healthier Option
Grass-based feeding is a very efficient and ecologically sustainable method of farming. Instead of producing tons of grain for feed -- which requires extensive land, fertilizer, pest management, and large equipment for cultivating, harvesting, drying, storage and feeding -- pasture-based farming lets the cows do the work. They harvest, fertilize, and feed themselves, overseen by the farmer in a carefully managed system. The net result is significantly less fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and greater soil fertility. The animals also get to live a natural life outdoors, grazing off the land as they were intended to.
Most importantly, this natural and harmonious way of raising animals also leads to a superior food product. Grass-fed beef, for instance, is lower in fat than regular CAFO-raised beef. It also contains three to five times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid. The milk from grass-fed cows is also higher in many nutrients, including CLA, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fats.
Health benefits of CLA include:
|Fighting cancer||Promoting fat loss||Increasing your metabolic rate||Promoting normal thyroid function|
|Delaying onset of diabetes, and improving management of adult-onset diabetes||Helping maintain normal cholesterol levels||Helping maintain healthful triglyceride levels||Enhancing your immune system|
Why Choosing 'Grass-Fed' Beef is More Important than Choosing 'Organic'
Keep in mind that grass-fed, and particularly grass-finished, beef is almost always preferable to certified organic. There are two primary reasons for this:
- Most grass-fed cattle are fed on grasslands with limited pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful chemicals, and the animals will never see the inside of a feedlot. Hence it's often comparable to organic even if it's not marked as such.
- Most organic beef is still fed organic corn, which is what causes the myriad of health problems associated with eating CAFO-raised beef. Grain diets create a much higher level of acidity in the animal's stomach, in which E.coli bacteria can thrive.
The term "grass-finished" means the animals were grass-fed throughout their life. Some producers feed their herds grass only in the beginning, and then finish them off on grains.
Grass-fed and finished beef not only trumps grain-fed beef in terms of nutrition, but also in food safety. It has a minimal risk of contamination compared to grain-fed beef due to the difference in stomach pH in the two diets. And since grass-finished animals live in clean grass pastures, this superior level of sanitation greatly reduce the risk of E.coli infection as well. If you can find certified organic, grass-fed and grass-finished meat, you've essentially struck gold...
What You Need to Know about the USDA Grass-Fed Label
On November 15, 2007, the USDA enacted new standards for the grass-fed label. According to this new USDA marketing claim standard:
Grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state.
Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources...
This sounds all good and well. However, there are few loopholes. Most importantly, these standards are voluntary, so in order for you to confirm that this standard is actually being met, and the animals were indeed grass-fed until the end, the meat must also carry the "USDA Process Verified" label in addition to the "grass-fed" label.
Additionally, as pointed out by the American Grassfed Association, the definition of "growing season" means that animals could be confined indoors for long periods, and can be kept off of pasture even when there is grass growing. The rules also do not restrict the use of antibiotics and hormones in the animals.
Another issue frequently overlooked is that of cost to the farmer. USDA certification is costly, which prevents many small farmers?who are often raising food in traditional, healthy ways anyway?from legally calling their products "USDA grass-fed," because they can't afford to pay for the certification. However, if you go to your local farm and talk to the farmer, you can determine whether or not they fulfill the criteria of ethical and sustainable grass-fed and finished meat production for yourself. By going straight to the source, you're likely getting the absolute best meat there is, USDA-certified or not.
Are You Ready to Make the Switch?
If you're currently a vegetarian, and your diet allows you to function at the highest level of energy and fitness and you rarely feel hungry or crave sweets, then you're likely on the right track. These are signs that you are eating foods that are appropriate for you.
However if you avoid animal protein for ethical reasons, and are struggling with health challenges, then I encourage you to consider changing your diet to include ethically-raised animal proteins. That may actually be the best form of animal activism, because it benefits not only yourself and the animals, but your entire community and the environment as well. The more people start demanding humanely-raised, grass-fed organic meats, the more farms will spring up to meet the demand, which will make it easier and less expensive for everyone to get access to these superior foods.
If you happen to live in an area that doesn't have at least one local farm, look for a farmer's market or community-supported agriculture program in your area. LocalHarvest.org is a good source. Simply enter your zip code to find nearby farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food.
Switching from supermarket to local farmer allows you to get superior food from a safer, more humane source, while supporting your community and the environment at the same time?it's truly a win-win-win-win proposition, and what could be better than that?
The Secret Sauce in Grass-Fed Beef
Why Grassfed Animal Products Are Better For You
U.S. News evaluated and ranked 20 diets with input from a panel of health experts. They looked at whether or not a diet was easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, and effective against diabetes and heart disease.
According to U.S. News, the top rated diet was the U.S. government-endorsed Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Other high-ranking diets included the Mediterranean Diet, the TLC diet, Weight Watchers, and the Mayo Clinic diet.
Oddly, however, the Paleo diet ranked lowest of the 20 not because it was a poor diet, but because they didn't believe it was possible to find the appropriate foods in the modern era!
Another recent study supports the notion that when it comes to your weight, the quality of your food is paramount.
In a comprehensive study, researchers determined exactly how much weight gain is associated with the consumption of certain foods. The worst offenders were potato chips, which caused more weight gain per serving than any other food, the study found. The best food was found to be yogurt.
According to Time Magazine:
"It matters, of course, how many total calories you take in each day, but the authors say the age-old advice simply to 'eat less and exercise more' may be na
The Environmental Working Group's 2011 sunscreen guide can help you determine which sunscreens are unsafe. The group recommends just 20 percent of the 600-plus sport sunscreens it evaluated.
For a product to score high marks, it needed to be free of potentially harmful chemicals. Not surprisingly, their list of products to avoid list contains some popular brands.
According to Yahoo News, companies with sunscreens that scored poorly include Aveeno, Banana Boat, CVS, and Neutrogena. For more information, and to see which products EWG approved, you can click on the Yahoo link below.
Time Magazine also recounts some of the Environmental Working Group's advice:
"Avoid oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Many effective products contain one or both compounds ? oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate ? that the EWG specifically suggests avoiding. Oxybenzone is an endocrine disrupter, the EWG says, and retinyl palmitate is a form of topical vitamin A that some animal studies suggest may be linked to an increased risk of skin cancer."Sources:
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
If you go to your local drugstore and pick up a sunscreen for yourself and your family, there's a good chance that it will contain toxic chemicals that the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) 2011 Sunscreen Guide recommends completely avoiding.
This is true whether you choose a product with a high SPF or even for some of those that claim to be "natural." In fact, EWG recommends just 1 in 5 of more than 600 beach and sport sunscreens rated. Unfortunately, many Americans will be unknowingly bathing their bodies in toxic and ineffective sunscreen lotions when they head outdoors this summer -- but you don't have to be one of them.
Four Sunscreen "Red Flags"
EWG's "Hall of Shame" features sunscreen products that embody the worst of the worst when it comes to sun protection. You can spot these products by being aware of these four red flags:
- Contains Oxybenzone
Sixty-five percent of non-mineral sunscreens on the U.S. market contain oxybenzone. This chemical penetrates your skin in large amounts, potentially triggering allergic reactions. Oxybenzone is also a potential endocrine-disrupting chemical that can cause hormone disruption and cell damage.
It's been found that 97 percent of Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, and researchers have specifically advised against using this chemical on children, who are especially vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Writing in the journal the Lancet, researchers noted:
"It would be prudent not to apply oxybenzone to large surface areas of skin for extended and repeated periods of time unless no alternative protection is available. There may be an additional concern for young children who have less well-developed processes of elimination and have a larger surface area per body weight than adults, with respect to systemic availability of a topically applied dose."
- Contains Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate)
The sunscreen industry uses vitamin A in its formulations because it is an anti-oxidant that is thought to slow skin aging. However, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study found that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when used in sunscreen and therefore exposed to sunlight may actually speed the development of skin lesions and tumors.
This conclusion came from EWG's analysis of the findings released by the FDA and the National Toxicology Program. As EWG stated in the 2011 report:
"EWG analysis of product labels finds retinoid ingredients in hundreds of sunscreens, skin lotions, lip sticks and lip sunscreens?all of which pose safety concerns for sun-exposed skin. At this point, the NTP [National Toxicology Program] and FDA have invested more than a decade in studying retinoids, concluding in January 2011 that both retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid speed the development of cancerous lesions and tumors.
A year after EWG sounded the alarm about retinyl palmitate, there is still no FDA position on the safety of retinoids in cosmetics. Sunscreen industry trade groups continue to dispute EWG's warning. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products.
EWG recommends that consumers avoid products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate and retinol."
Our sunscreen used to have vitamin A in it, as at the time it was felt to be a benefit, but when we learned of its potential health problems we immediately removed it. However many other brands still include it in their formulas, so beware, and always check the labels when shopping for sunscreen.
- Inadequate UVA Protection
The EWG analysis found that more than 60 percent of products reviewed provide inadequate UVA protection, and are actually so ineffective that they would not be approved in the European market. There are two primary types of UV rays from sunlight that you need to be concerned with, the vitamin-D-producing UVB rays and the skin-damaging UVA light.
Both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly. UVA, however, penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB, and may be a much more important factor in photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancers.
Since UVA's are inherently more damaging AND persistently high during all daylight hours, wearing a sunscreen that doesn't protect you from UVA is going to give you virtually no benefit and be detrimental to your overall health. So it's important to understand that if you're using sunscreen, you need to be certain you are actually getting UVA protection.
Europe is taking a far more stringent stance to ensure that consumers are protected against the damaging UVA light when they use sunscreens, but in the United States sunscreen standards fall short.
As EWG reported:
" ? Europe's proposed standards for UVA protection are far more stringent than FDA's. The agency has spent years finalizing a rule that would merely require disclosure of UVA protection levels, while Europe has proposed that sunscreens provide UVA protection at a level at least one-third as strong as the sunburn protection level (SPF).
This means the minimum UVA protection in Europe would be roughly equivalent to FDA's proposed three-star protection level. Requiring balanced protection across the UVB and UVA spectrum has the secondary effect of limiting sky-high SPF values, ensuring that sunburn protection isn't out of step with protection from other health problems, such as free radical damage and skin cancer.
Very few sunscreens on the U.S. market would meet the baseline UVA protection standards proposed in Europe."
- Too High SPF or in Spray Form
Higher SPF sunscreens (SPF 50+) are not intrinsically harmful, however there's evidence that the higher protection level gives people a misleading sense of security, encouraging them to stay in the sun longer than they should. In reality, research suggests that people using high-SPF sunscreens get the same or similar exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays as those using lower-SPF products.
Spray-on sunscreens (or powders) were advised against because potentially toxic particles are released into the air, making them easy to breathe in.
Which Sunscreens are the Safest?
After the analysis was complete, EWG concluded:
"The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. No chemicals to absorb through the skin, no questions about whether they work."
I second this sentiment completely! I have long stated that one of the best strategies to protect yourself from the sun is actually not a sunscreen at all, it's wearing clothing or getting into the shade. This is precisely because, as EWG's findings support, most sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemicals that can actually accelerate skin cancer, or get into your bloodstream where they can disrupt your hormones.
Also, the protection sunscreen manufacturers claim is often misleading.
Cotton clothing provides about SPF 15. In other words, you will get about 15 times your skin's normal protection from the sun wherever you cover your body with clothing. Just remember that even with protective clothing on your body, it's still important to monitor your skin for the telltale signs of burning.
However, safer sunscreen options do exist to provide safe protection from the sun during times when you may not be able to control the amount of sun exposure you are likely to receive with clothing. For instance, if you take your kids to an amusement park or the beach, you might just be in direct sunlight all day.
For times like these, choose a sunscreen that contains either zinc or titanium minerals -- the ingredient in all of EWG's top-rated sunscreens. My research team has put together what we think is superior sun protection and you can find more about it here.
Other safe sunscreen ingredients that will nourish your skin include:
Coconut oil Jojoba oil Sunflower oil Shea butter Vitamins D and E Eucalyptus oil
Why You Should NOT Wear Sunscreen Every Time You're Outdoors
Getting safe sun exposure every day is actually one of the best things you can do for your health, because sun exposure allows your body to naturally produce your own supply of vitamin D.
Why is vitamin D so important?
If you've spent any time on my site at all, you know that I'm a firm advocate for optimizing your vitamin D levels because it impacts so many aspects of health. For example, this superb nutrient is known to help:
Support your cardiovascular health Support healthy kidney function Enhance your muscle strength Promote healthy teeth Help produce optimal blood pressure levels Help keep your bones strong and healthy Help maintain a healthy immune system Reduce the risk of cancer
This list of important benefits represents only a fraction of the many ways vitamin D helps optimize your health. And, although you can obtain vitamin D from natural food sources or supplements, experts agree on one thing: Sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D. The so-called experts who advise you to avoid all sunlight and religiously apply sunscreen are actually encouraging you to increase your risk of cancer, not lower it?
Over the years, several studies have already confirmed that appropriate sun exposure may even help prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens.
The key is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun. The point to remember is that once your skin turns the lightest shade of pink (if you're Caucasian), it's time to get out of the sun. Past this point of exposure your body will not produce any more vitamin D and you'll begin to have sun damage. And sunburn anywhere on your body is not good for your health.
What You Need to Know for a Sun-Safe Summer
If you work outdoors all day as part of your job, or if you need to protect sensitive areas of your face, like around your eyes, that are particularly susceptible to photoaging and not large enough a surface to impact vitamin D levels if blocked with sunscreen, certain sunscreens available in most health food stores, and the my Healthy Skin Sunscreen, are safe to use when the need arises.
You can also see exactly how your sunscreen rates for safe ingredients and efficacy by checking out EWG's 2011 Sunscreen Guide here.
However, sometimes even the most vigilant of us forget to bring along the proper natural sunscreen when we need it, which is why it's wise to ensure your body is primed to have the best defense against overexposure to the sun's harmful UVA rays at all times.
Consuming a healthy diet full of natural antioxidants has always been a useful strategy in this regard, and fresh, raw, unprocessed foods deliver the nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 oils in your skin, which is your first line of defense against sunburn.
Fresh, raw vegetables also provide your body with an abundance of powerful anti-oxidants that will help you fight the free radicals caused by sun damage that can lead to burns and cancer.
The relatively unknown carotenoid called astaxanthin has also piqued the interest of researchers due to its ability to reduce signs of aging by helping protect your skin from sun damage.
Astaxanthin is produced from marine algae in response to exposure to UV light. This is the way the algae protects itself, so it makes perfect sense that this deeply pigmented substance would have the capacity to "shield" you when it is taken in large enough quantities for a long enough time to saturate your body's tissues. Typically this is several weeks.
Cyanotech Corporation funded a study through an independent consumer research laboratory to measure the skin's resistance to both UVA and UVB light, before and after astaxanthin supplementation.
The result was that in only three weeks of taking 4mg per day subjects showed a significant increase in the amount of time necessary for UV radiation to redden their skin. You can find more information on how to use astaxanthin to help protect your skin from sun damage here.
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Children in the U.S. are taught that a college education is the ticket to a good job. But the cost of a college education is rising, and the supposed benefits are more elusive than conventional wisdom would suppose. The National Inflation Association reveals the scam behind the myth of the college education.
No wonder, then, that according to Time Magazine, a recent poll shows that:
?... a majority of Americans think colleges fail to deliver enough bang for their buck. Of 2,142 adults surveyed, 57 percent said the higher education system in the U.S. fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger group (75 percent) said college is too expensive for most Americans to afford.?Sources:
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Conventional opinion is that feeding the world by 2050 will necessitate a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. But this is not always the opinion of scientists whose work takes them out of the laboratory and into farm fields and ecosystems, such as soil experts, ecologists, and development specialists.
One recently published scientific paper urges a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. agricultural-research system, which it calls "narrowly focused on productivity and efficiency" at the expense of public health and ecological resilience. It also calls for a revamping of the Farm Bill, which it argues uses subsidies to "mask market, social, and environmental factors associated with conventional production systems."
According to Grist:
"While conventional wisdom holds that scientists who study agriculture think only lots of GMOs and agrichemicals can feed us going forward, [this research] team has quite a different set of recommendations in mind: 'organic farming, alternative livestock production (e.g., grass-fed), mixed crop and livestock systems, and perennial grains.' They are by no means the only high-level researchers to reach such conclusions."Sources:
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
From a purely financial perspective, factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) make loads of economic sense. Large numbers of animals, typically 1,000 or more, are raised in a small area, fed cheap, typically grain-based, genetically modified food, and supplemented with hormones and antibiotics to maximize their growth potential in the shortest amount of time possible.
"Indulgences" like access to pasture or natural foods, sunlight and fresh air are not a part of the equation as they don't positively impact profits.
As it stands, Time magazine reported that 2 percent of U.S. livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals, and these CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses.
But thankfully a ray of hope has emerged.
New Policy Reform Paper Urges Transition to Sustainable Agriculture Systems
A very bright, forward-thinking paper from a group of researchers led by Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold, published in Science, has summed up problems with CAFOs and the need for transformative farming approaches that address long-term sustainability.
"Achieving sustainable agricultural systems will require transformative changes in markets, policy, and science."
To realize this change will involve a transition away from CAFOs and toward innovative farming practices that:
" ? integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production."
The paper builds on a National Research Council report released last year ? Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century ? that reported in 2007 the largest 2 percent of U.S. farms were responsible for 59 percent of total farm sales.
What are the Consequences of Relying on CAFOs for Food?
The trend of large corporate-controlled CAFOs making up the lion's share of U.S. food production has lead to an abundance of cheap food, but not without consequence.
As the report noted:
"Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, or externalized costs of production, that are mostly unaccounted for in agricultural productivity measurements or by farm enterprise budgets."
- Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams and ground water (which contributes to "dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones")
- Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water and wells, and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them
- A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables), which suggests "possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content)
- Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
- Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application and excessive fertilization
Industrial agriculture also raises concerns about the welfare of farm animals and the farmers themselves. Net farm income received by farmers has remained stagnant for the last four decades, and more than 50 percent of U.S. farmers must supplement their income with additional jobs during the off-season.
A large number of these farmers are slated to retire in the next decade, which means there may be a vast shortage of farmers in the United States, and corporate agriculture could continue to reign supreme.
This is a problem for another glaring reason as well ? namely that this system directly contributes to Americans' increasing reliance on processed junk foods ? the very same foods that are making us fat and riddled with chronic disease. This is in large part due to the fatally flawed Farm Bill, which is slated to be renewed in 2012.
What's the Farm Bill Got to do With It?
The Farm Bill is renewed every four years. The last version was revamped in 2008, and at that time it set aside $2.3 billion to subsidize small farmers' specialty crops, which sounds promising until you hear that $290 billion was given to big business in the form of corn, soybean and cotton subsidies.
By subsidizing these, particularly corn and soy, the U.S. government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), soybean oil, and grain-fed cattle ? all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic diseases.
In a nutshell, the American agricultural system promotes and produces junk food, which is the precise opposite of what we all need in order to be healthy.
Take HFCS, for example. It's actually quite difficult to find a processed food product that does NOT include HFCS, and oftentimes it's one of the top three ingredients. With everything we now know about how HFCS and other sugars create obesity and chronic disease, is it any wonder we have a health care crisis on our hands?
The breakdown of government farm subsidies is really quite eye-opening and clearly correlates with which foods are heavily consumed in the United States:
- Meat/Dairy -- 73.8 percent
- Grains -- 13.2 percent
- Sugar/Oil/Starch/Alcohol -- 10.7 percent
- Nuts/Legumes -- 1.9 percent
- Vegetables/Fruits -- 0.4 percent
Notice that less than half a percent of food subsidies is for fruits and vegetables! This is precisely why families have trouble affording green peppers, leafy greens and tomatoes, but can get a fast-food cheeseburger for a buck.
The bad news is that the foods receiving the greatest subsidies are the very foods you should avoid or limit, according to federal nutrition guidelines. It's a perfect example of saying one thing but doing another, and then blaming the ill effects on human nature.
The Science report, which is calling for a reform of the Farm Bill, further notes:
"Most elements of the Farm Bill were not designed to promote sustainability. Subsidies are commonly criticized for distorting market incentives and making our food system overly dependent on a few grain crops mainly used for animal feed and highly processed food, with deleterious effects on the environment and human health."
A Better Way to Raise Our Food
The video above is the trailer from a full-length documentary called Farmageddon...The Unseen War on American Family Farms, produced and directed by Kristin Canty. It offers an in-depth look into the escalating fight for food rights in the United States, including the right to purchase raw milk from small family farms.
The growing demand for raw milk is one sign that people are increasingly looking for fresh, whole foods that come from sustainable sources.
Partly in response to this consumer demand, researchers are now calling for both incremental and transformative approaches to make U.S. agriculture sustainable. This includes not only short-term goals like two-year crop rotations and reduced (or no) tillage but also a long-term transformative approach that:
" ? builds on an understanding of agriculture as a complex socioecological system. Transformative change looks to whole-system redesign rather than single technological improvements. Examples of such innovative systems make up a modest, but growing, component of U.S. agriculture and include organic farming, alternative livestock production (e.g., grass-fed), mixed crop and livestock systems, and perennial grains.
Such systems integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production."
This sounds very much like one emerging type of farming known as permaculture. The Permaculture Institute defines permaculture as an "ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor."
The word itself comes from "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture," and at its foundation is developing agricultural and other systems that are interconnected and dependent on one another. In other words, they mimic the natural ecologies found in nature. The focus is not on any one element of the system, rather the focus is on the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat -- and how to use these relationships to create synergistic, self-supporting ecosystems.
How to Help Support Sustainable Agriculture
If you want to optimize your health, you simply must return to the basics of healthy food choices and typically this includes buying your food from responsible, high-quality, sustainable sources.
This is why I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area. This includes not only visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs.
Now that summer is almost here in the United States, fresh produce and other wonderful whole foods are available in abundance. Not only is the food so much tastier and healthier when you get it from sustainable, non-CAFO sources, but there is something about shopping for fresh foods in an open-air, social environment that just feels right. An artificially lit, dreary supermarket -- home to virtually every CAFO food made -- just can't compete.
If you want to experience some of these benefits first-hand, here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes ?Find Good Food? map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
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