Posted by: Kara @ The Foodie Dietitian | March 28, 2010

The big BAD industrial food system

Good morning!

I hope you aren’t in search of a new and exciting recipe because that I cannot give you today. What I CAN give you though is a lot of valuable information that will shock you, maybe make you shed a tear, or go out and start your own farm. And if you don’t feel compelled to do any of these things, it’s okay. I think you will just be happy you have a new sense of awareness about what effect our food system really has on us, our community, and our environment.

I was inspired to explore this topic further at my most recent rotation at CitySprouts. CitySprouts is an organization that promotes garden-based learning in a public school system. What an inspirational idea if you ask me! Students learn how to grow their own food, are exposed to produce they have never laid their little eyes on before, and develop a new found appreciation and excitement about fruits and vegetables. Kids? Excitement about fruits and vegetables? I kid you not. Saw it with my own two eyes! Kids are trying swiss chard and bok choy and enjoying it! Why? Because they grew it and they had a part in it. Imagine what the world would be like if all kids had this sort of learning experience? Maybe Jamie Oliver wouldn’t need a food revolution… 🙂

Students also learn about the benefits of local produce and how our current food system operates. I think the idea of garden-based learning is a fantastic way to reach out to kids at an age when they are impressionable. I am now inspired to share with you all some tidbits about the big BAD industrial food system. Hopefully you all are still impressionable too 🙂 What I am going to tell you is only a snapshot though. For more information I encourage you to check out some of my recommended resources that I included at the end of this post!

So let’s start out, what effect does the big BAD industrial food system have on our health?

Well, did you ever hear of this little crop called corn? In case you haven’t already noticed, it is in everything we eat! It comes in different forms, yes. One of which is called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is used as a sweetener in any processed food, you name it! So what’s the big deal about HFCS?! Well, since 1976, the number of Americans who are obese has quadrupled while the number of calories from HFCS an average person eats has risen from 3 to 200 per day. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

If that doesn’t convince you of the impact our food system has on our health, let me share with you a quote from the Natural Resources Defense Council on food travel. “Every year, nearly 270 million pounds of grapes arrive in California, most of them shipped from Chile to the Port of Los Angeles. Their 5,900 mile journey in cargo ships and trucks releases 7,000 tons of global warming pollution each year, and enough air pollution to cause dozens of asthma attacks and hundreds of missed school days in California.”

Cough, cough, cough. Oh sorry, I was just still thinking about those statistics. YIKES! We also need to think about the impact the food system has on our community.

What about the farmers?  You know, those people who used to grow all our food? What’s happening to them? The number of farming-dependent U.S. counties decreased between 1950 and 2000. Just check out the maps if you don’t believe me. The red represents farming-dependent counties in 1950 and the green represents the farming-dependent counties in 2000. Yep. Not so many anymore, huh?

So where does a dollar spent on processed food go? Not to the farmers, that’s for sure. Farmers make more money from whole foods than they do processed foods. For example, for every dollar a consumer spends to buy eggs, the farmer makes 40 cents, and for every dollar a consumer spends on HFCS, say in a soft drink, farmers get only four cents. So you’re thinking, how much does this corn that’s in all our foods cost anyways?? So glad you asked! Breakfast cereal is the perfect example of why companies love to make processed foods. A box of cereal contains four cents worth of corn but guess what, that box will sell for close to four dollars. What’s wrong with this picture?!

We now know the effect the big BAD system has on our health, our community…well what about the bigger picture, our environment?

Well let’s talk food miles. Food miles tells you how far your food traveled from where it was originally grown to get to your supermarket. In the U.S., conventional (industrial) food travels on average 1500 miles while local foods on average travel only 56 miles. So what does all this traveling of our food mean? First class benefits? True blue points? No, my friends, this means more fossil fuels are burned, creating greenhouse gases that impact global warming. And the fossil fuels don’t stop there. They are also used in other aspects of industrial food production, including the use of chemicals and pesticides, packaging, and fueling machinery.

So why make the switch to local purchases? What will that change do for our environment?

Well research conducted in Iowa revealed that growing 10% more local produce would result in an annual savings of 280,000 to 346,000 gallons of fuel and 6.7 to 7.9 million pounds reduction in CO2 emissions! That’s HUGE people!

I hope my brief snapshot on the big BAD industrial food system inspired you to learn more and maybe make a trip to the Farmer’s Market this summer to buy locally, or better yet, try some gardening in your very own backyard!

To learn more about the effects of our food system, check out some resources I recommend:

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Food, Inc. (movie)

King Corn (movie)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Peace, love, and local food,




  1. awesome post! I’ve heard so much about Kingsolver’s book, need to read that! Also, fyi: I added a link to your blog on my recent blog post about DIs…thanks Kara!

  2. Thanks Rachel! I would definitely recommend that book to learn more about gardening, farming, and eating local, in-season foods. Thanks so much for mentioning my blog on your post!

  3. An eye opener…great information! Buying local is the way to go!

    • That’s only a small piece of the vast information that’s out there on our current food system. I encourage you to read Omnivore’s Dilemma or watch Food, Inc., you can learn so much more that will open your eyes even wider! 🙂 And yes, you’re totally right, BUY LOCAL!

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