We live in a country where about 80% of the population is overweight, and almost one-third is considered obese. For the first time, babies born in America now have a shorter average life expectancy than their parents, due to obesity. In 1930, Americans spent 24.5% of their income on food; in 2004, that number went down to 9.5%.
We’ve all been trained to save money on food. The fast food companies have persuaded us, for years, to do just that. And while they were fighting among each other for market share by lowering their prices, our collective health has deteriorated. America is the world’s top spender in health care, spending about 2.5 times the average of European countries.
The German philosopher Feuerbach used to say: “We are what we eat.” I truly believe in that statement. We have created this cheaper, bigger, and faster food system by supporting “the $5.99 value meal” for too long, and by doing so we simply killed good farming practices. Almost without noticing, we traded quality for quantity.
Fifty years ago, America had great farming practices. But those great farmers were forced by our changing consumption habits to start growing cheap produce, and to raise cattle in faster and cheaper ways, to keep up with our demand.
So I’d like to say that “We shape the world by what we eat.”
About 98% of the food grown in America comes from factory farming. Only 0.5% of the US farmland is certified organic. About 95% of the products that you can find in the supermarket now have some GMO content. And there is no label regulation that warns us about this presence.
Additionally, the production of these chemicals requires a lot of energy. And of the carbon footprint created by food manufacturing, 85% is generated by the production, and 15% by the shipping. The level of consolidation in the current food system is also unbelievable: only four companies produce 81% of the beef, 73% of sheep, 56% of pigs, and 50% of poultry in the US.
A big part of the solution is to start eating better foods. By better foods, I mean foods that are organic and locally grown. If we all start supporting good quality food, we will be healthier, but we will be also supporting the right agricultural practices. And change will happen faster than most people think it can. We must take things into our own hands and start leading by example, because capitalism must be changed from within, and through profits. Once the right farmers start making good profits through our consumption habits, most farmers will switch back to the right practices, and the pace of change will accelerate.
Let’s all think before we eat, and help others to do the same, and change will immediately happen. Our health will automatically improve, and we will certainly move towards the food system that we need: quality over quantity.
By Alberto Gonzalez, founder and CEO of GustOrganics, the world’s first certified organic restaurant, and one of the greenest and most progressive restaurants on the planet.