YES - How What We Eat Affects Our Health and the Planet by...

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18 imagine January/February ±009 Most animals raised for food or to produce food in the U.S. are raised on “factory farms,” or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). CAFOs can have hundreds or thousands of cows or hogs, and tens or hundreds of thousands of chickens. (Source: www.epa. gov/npdes/pubs/sector_table. pdf) Y ou are what you eat. We’ve all heard that expression countless times from parents and teachers who encourage us to eat healthily. But eating food is just one way you’re affected by it. The way food is produced, processed, and distributed has an enormous impact not only on the quality and variety of food you eat, but also on the environment and the health of people involved in every aspect of what we call our food system. I work at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), an interdisciplinary academic center within the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our work focuses on public health issues related to the food system, which we define as everything it takes to produce and process food, advertise and bring it to customers, prepare it, and dispose of it. This includes the people and businesses involved, and the places, processes, policies, and politics that shape the whole system. Using “systems” thinking is useful for generating ideas for change, and for keeping us mindful of the fact that tweaking one part of the system can have ramifications throughout. CLF conducts and supports research aimed at understanding the public health and environmental issues associated with our current food system; identifying ways to make our food system healthier and more sustainable; and communicating science in meaningful ways that educate, inform decision-making, and support change. In short, we want to help build a food system that is healthier for people and more sustainable for our planet. Factory Food U.S. agriculture is largely industrialized, with the farm being viewed as a factory with “inputs,” such as pesti- Food Matters How What We Eat Affects Our Health and the Planet by Roni Neff, Ph.D Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.
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January/February ±009 imagine 19 cides, feed, fertilizer, and fuel; and “outputs,” such as corn and chickens. Central to this industrial approach is the goal of increasing yields while decreasing production costs. In the last 50 years, vast tracts of land devoted to corn and soy have largely replaced farms that raise ani- mals and grow fruits, vegetables, and a variety of grains. Animals raised for food or to produce food have been moved from farms to feedlots and confinement opera- tions. And instead of family farmers, large corporations such as Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, and ConAgra control much of the process and market. The industrial food production model creates several problems. If land is used for growing only one type of crop year after year, diseases that affect that crop and insects that eat it will proliferate. To fend off such threats, farmers use large quantities of potent chemicals. And to
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