At Olives, we know the importance of considering the triple bottom line and we work hard to create social, environmental and economic success. We truly appreciate the understanding our clients have of the environmental and health benefits of raising oneself or a family on organic food. Do you ever get blissed out in a state of organic Whistler well-being? It can be easy to forget that another kind of diet looms close by, at the nearest fast-food chain or junk food aisle. Documentaries such as King Corn are a great reminder of why we make the food choices we do. King Corn follows Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis as they set out to grow an acre of corn and uncover the environmental, economic and social ramifications of the corn industrial agricultural complex along the way.
Unfortunately, industrial cropland continues to grow, while the small family farm is all but gone. Eighty to 90% of the 1.5-billion acres of farmland in the world is industrial; subject to 4.1 billion pounds of man-made pesticide. This land produces less than 30% of the food we eat – largely in the form of meat and modified corn and soy products. Corn, soybean, cotton and canola are the major GM crops covering this land. These crops have been selected for high-yield and genetically modified for herbicide and insecticide resistance. None of them are edible in their raw form. Of the 2 trillion corn plants in Iowa alone, 32% is exported or turned into ethanol; over 50% is fed to animals to become meat; and 18% is turned into commercial sweeteners and corn products – none of it is eaten off the cob.
Corn has replaced grass as the principle feed for cattle. Cattle contained in feed-lots gain weight faster and can reach market weight in a few years, as opposed to the several years it takes for grass-fed cattle. The corn-feed is supplemented with a host of antibiotics to prevent diseases from confinement issues and acidosis, a prominent condition among cattle on a corn-based diet. This is all done for economic reasons. When Earl Butz became the Secretary of Agriculture in 1971, he urged farmers to plant commodity crops such as corn “from fencerow to fencerow”; leading to the rise of major agribusiness and the declining financial stability of the small family farm. In King Corn, Butz argues that the subsidization of corn production has drastically reduced the cost of food for all Americans. Fewer people than ever are required to bring more food to the table.
Thanks to these policies, we have cheap packaged and fast food galore available to us in thousands of artificial flavor options. Production of cheap corn coincided with increases in rates of obesity and diabetes, such that 1 in 8 New Yorkers have been diagnosed with diabetes. Corn-fed beef has almost seven times as much saturated fat in it, compared to the grass-fed alternative. Consumption of sugar has gone up 30% in the states because of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a corn derivative that is basically a cheaper, sweeter version of sugar, and a nearly ubiquitous ingredient in standard packaged foods. Are these cheap foods really worth the cost to our health and environment? Instead of growing food we could be eating and gaining nutrition from, we are producing commodities that must be converted into empty-calorie ‘food’. These large mono-cultures are highly susceptible to environmental disasters such as flooding and drought and threaten our food security. Furthermore, by driving down the cost of corn-based food and driving out the family farm, we have increased the cost of nutrient-dense food dramatically. Many, including the team at Olives, believe we should shift our focus from high-yield per acre to high nutrient-density per acre. We strive to bring nutrient-dense, wholesome food to our market.
By choosing organic, whole foods you are helping the 360 million small farmers remaining in the world – the farmers, hunters and gatherers who produce over 70% of the food that is actually edible. Using agro-ecological methods, they sequester carbon, preserve biodiversity, build soil, clean water-ways and air and produce healthy, nutrient-dense food. As any of us who have participated in a WWOOF (world-wide opportunities on organic farms) program know, organic and agro-ecological farmers are working hard but experiencing great satisfaction at environmental, social and economic levels. It’s not always easy in a society that has a tendency to value economic success over social and environmental well-being. Thank you for supporting them and us, in our quest to bring the triple bottom line into balance. Should we be serving the economy, or should the economy be serving us?