Let's face it, we are doing a pretty average job being human.  Over the last 80-100 years we have wreaked havoc on our environment and food systems. We can see this playing out in terms of the health consequences we are experiencing in modern society today.  

Our Impact

The biggest impact we have on the face of the planet right now would have to be through agriculture.  It's clear when you’re flying on a plane and looking out the window that most of our interaction with the face of the planet, aside from housing, is via agriculture.  This is actually having a huge ecological impact on the environment. The main degradation is through the process of factory farming and intensive commercial agricultural practices, such as monocropping. But today, let's focus specifically on factory farming.

Most of the agricultural produce and arable agricultural land in the US, Canada, and most of the world, is used to grow broad acre monocrops such as corn, wheat, and soy.  And a large percent of these crops is used to feed animals in factory farm environments. These animals become the majority of the meat that we see in fast food outlets and in supermarkets worldwide. This type of agricultural practice is causing a huge strain on the environment as well as on the ecosystems which are connected to it. We even have situations where the runoff from these factory farms and monocrop practices are causing huge dead zones in the Mexican gulf and in other regions around the world. This is reducing the oxygen in the water in that area and causing a large kill-off of fish and species in the water.  This is a decision that we have the opportunity to change.  

Learning From Historical Innovators

In Jared Diamond's most recent book, “Collapse”, he looks historically at some of the major societal collapses and he assesses and analyzes the reasons why those collapses happened. Were they because of disease, or because of agricultural issues, or because of population pressure, or food shortages. He also analyzes different case studies of societies that averted collapse. This is particularly telling when it comes to knowing how we can avert ecological collapse on planet earth as a whole. It also adds weight to the decisions that you and I make on a day-to-day basis when it comes to the foods that we eat.  

One of the case studies that he explained was about the small Pacific island of Tikopia.  This small island is actually just the tip of a volcano that pops up in the ocean. The closest island is about a day's sailing away (there are about 100 people on that island) and then it is another day or two to the next major inhabited island - making Tikopia one of the most remote islands in the world. However, people have successfully lived and maintained a steady population on this island for thousands of years. It is reasoned that this is likely because they made two critical distinctions in how they saved their island from collapse, especially in comparison to other islands that have collapsed, such as Easter Island.

A few thousand years ago, four chiefs on the island got together to discuss a big challenge they were facing on the island - pigs.  In their culture, pigs were a status symbol.  They were collected and eaten for ceremonial as well as nutritional purposes. The problem that the chiefs were noticing was that these pigs were consuming a considerable amount of food which could have been utilized for other purposes, such as feeding it directly to humans. This led to a shortage of food on the island.  The chiefs realized that getting rid of the pigs on the island was a necessary change.  This  decision went against their culture but they knew their survival depended on it. They slowly transitioned from consuming pigs as a staple in their diet to eating more plants and finding additional protein from the ocean. 

Along with this change, they put an end to slash and burn agriculture. This style of agriculture meant that they would clear large pieces of land by burning it down and then plant agriculture and move on to the next land.  This was not sustainable, so again they made a change.  They adopted small scale, permaculture, multi-tier systems where they planted plants in combination with each other.  The modern understanding of this is called companion planting.  This style of planting not only gives small communities pieces of land, but it also provides year-round harvest opportunities. 

The chiefs realized that there would be a limit to the ability of the island to support their population, so by making these two key decisions they avoided ruining and putting stress on the environment. And they made these changes thousands of years ago! To this day, there are 1,100 people still living on the island with complete access to food and security. Had those chiefs not made those decisions it could have been a very different story. 

Steps Backwards

If we look at what happened on Tikopia, we actually see a similar problem today.  We are chopping down huge portions of the Amazon rainforest to grow corn, wheat, and soy, and then we are shipping that to factory farms, in North America in particular, where we are feeding it to these animals.  And these factory farm environments are horrible for the animals.  They are far from their natural environment and they are getting sick because they are being fed foods they were not meant to eat in the first place.This leads to them being injected with hormones and antibiotics to try and keep them alive until they go to slaughter. 

Here are 3 major reasons why we should boycott factory farming in the modern era:

  1. ENVIRONMENTAL: It does not make ecological sense to chop down the Amazon Rainforest to grow food for factory farmed animals. Although it’s championed as ‘efficient’, it comes at a huge loss for the environment. These ecological impacts have been well documented, especially when it comes to agricultural runoff creating dead zones in the ocean,the degradation of our precious topsoil and the huge strain on water and fossil fuels to sustain these farms and ship the end product to market
  2. HEALTH: The health impact of eating factory-farm animal products is starting to come to light more and more. Not only do these products often contain antibiotics and hormones, they are also high in omega 9 and omega 6 fatty acids when in comparison to omega 3 fatty acids. It has been shown that this fatty acid ratio (high omega 9 and low omega 3) can cause inflammation in the body and systemic inflammation can lead to  all sorts of chronic degenerative disease from heart conditions, to cancer, etc.
  3. ANIMAL WELFARE: No animal would ever consider the modern factory farm a healthy and hospitable place to live. They are not allowed to court, mate and play in a natural way and they are fed an unnatural diet. Paul McCartney once said, “if slaughterhouses (and factory farms I would add) had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian". Watch this pre-release excerpt of The Carnivore's Dilemma to learn more. 

It's at this point in time in our history that we need to come together as a conscious community and make a new decision about what we are going to eat.  We need to not only preserve our health but also preserve the health of the planet that we live on and be more compassionate to the animals we share it with.  And that is why I think that we should boycott factory farmed animals. 

Resources: If you’re looking for more ways to introduce plant based foods in your diet there are some great recipe series on FMTV including “Elizabeth Eats”, “In The Raw with Chef Cynthia Louise” and “Raw. Vegan. Not Gross” plus also a guided 10 Day Plant-Based Challenge with meal plans, shopping lists, expert interviews and inspirational films.