Food is, obviously, one of life's daily necessities, so food sources have powerful leverage in shaping the environment. Unfortunately, these days (at least in the U.S., but other countries around the world are in similar situations), our agricultural methods are cruel, poisonous, and downright endangering to the human race. Artificial and chemically engineered pesticides and fertilizers poison plants, insects, and the water supply, and make produce that is not organic potentially dangerous to eat. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are inhumane and highly polluting.
If your food is coming from those places, that is bad. Bad for the environment, bad for the animals, and also very bad for you and your health. Mainstream agriculture breeds its produce to travel well, but what is lost in that breeding process is nutritional value. That's right, a tomato from the supermarket is pretty much the health equivalent of a doorknob when compared to an heirloom (not hybrid) tomato from the garden. Meat coming from CAFOs can also be unsafe to eat for a number of reasons, and is often pumped with antibiotics that were used to keep animals healthy despite their dismal living conditions.
Beyond the immediate effects that food coming out of the industrial agriculture machine can have on your health, environmental factors can also strongly affect you. Pesticides and fertilizers poison water supplies, rendering it undrinkable for humans (obviously a problem). Cows are a strong contributor to global warming, and the U.S.'s appetite for beef is not helping. Then on top of that, you have to consider how many miles your food travelled from its place of origin to your plate. Virtually all of that travel was facilitated by carbon emitting vehicles and may also have involved electricity to keep it cold. Factoring that in means almost all of your food is a significant contributor to global warming, which has already imposed harmful effects on many human beings, from the surge of diseases like dengue to freak weather events, droughts, and famine.
Next we must consider what effects the industrial food system has on individuals other than yourself. The treatment and pay of farm workers are dismal in many places, and those who work in animal agriculture also often suffer psychological issues. Many wild animals suffer the consequences of our food system too, their habitats stripped from them along with water and food sources. Domestic animals raised for their meat and other products lead miserable lives full of suffering, usually in confined and unsafe conditions.
Additionally, we must consider the economic and social ramifications of centralized and industrialized agriculture. Communities and economies would thrive and be much more tight knit if community members depended upon each other and paid each other for something as basic and necessary as food. Instead, many communities contain more than their fair share of Safeways and Americans don't know their neighbors.
So, are you bummed out yet? I sure am. But there's a reason I'm telling you all of this. I want to show you that your food choices matter! As you can see, they can have extremely negative impacts on yourself, other people, animals, and the planet if you choose food produced by the machine of industrial agriculture. The good news here is that, on the flip side, your food choices can have immensely positive effects on all of the areas we're concerned about if you choose the right alternative food sources.
I'll be talking about all the options you have for those alternatives, as well as the many movements designed to create and encourage sustainable and socially just food systems on Thursday. Until then, I encourage you to take note of where your food comes from. Often the stickers on tomatoes or apples will note their country of origin. How far away is it from you? How many miles did that food travel to get to your plate? Question your food instead of accepting it blindly. Food doesn't come from a store. It takes months of work and many intricate parts of a system to bring you just one peach. Please think about that while you eat :)
P.S. Some recommended reading/viewing for anyone looking to understand more about the flaws of industrial agriculture:
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. A great book all about food and where it comes from! Food Inc., a very exposing and excellent documentary about agriculture. Impacts Of Industrial Agriculture, a great place to click around and learn in-depth about the effects I've mentioned above.
I do not own these images, both were found via Google.