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Frozen_vegetables-SPLSorry Dr. Oz, but I respectfully disagree. In a recent issue of TIME (Volume 180, No. 23, December 3, 2012), Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote an article stating that in most cases, there is little difference in the nutritional content between organic foods and pre-packaged frozen varieties. He also argues that there is little nutritional difference between factory farm raised livestock verses free-range chickens and grass-fed cows. His nutritional comparisons also included chocolate, suggesting that consuming organic, free-trade chocolate is nutritionally no different than other varieties but can “satisfy cravings and ease guilt.”
As an Environmental Science professor, I have to say that we need to look beyond the nutritional content label of our foods, and that buying organic, free trade items does a lot more than ease guilt. The choices should focus on sustainability.
Seven billion people (U.S. and World Population Clock, 2012) inhabit our planet and current estimates put the world population at nine billion by the year 2044 (International Programs – World Populations, 2012). Our ability to produce food is not something I’m worried about. Historically, food has been produced at a rate faster than the rate of the population growth (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). It’s how produce food that concerns me. We have devoted more fossil fuel use to agriculture; increased our use of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers; planted and harvested more frequently; cultivated more land; and developed more productive livestock and crop varieties. In order for our production of food to be a sustainable practice we must maintain healthy soil, water, and biodiversity. And as our population grows, almost 99% of the next billion people born will be born in the poorest and underdeveloped regions of our planet (U.N. Population Division, 2009). One billion people already struggle with finding food to eat, mostly due to political obstacles, war, and distribution problems. There are also millions of children that suffer from malnutrition, which suggests that the quality of food is just as important as the quantity.
Can we continue this pace? In order to feed the world’s growing population, we will need to increase our global food production by 70 percent (FAO, 2009). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are already being degraded or used unsustainably (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute, 2005). Ecosystem services arise from Earth’s normal functioning of natural systems. We could not survive without these processes which include: air and water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, receiving and recycling our waste, and plant pollination. We have degraded nature’s ability to provide these services by depleting resources, destroying habitats, and generating pollution. An increase in global food production will be the ultimate challenge.
Soil is the foundation for our agriculture and presently 38 percent of global land is devoted to agriculture (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Soil is not merely lifeless dirt, but a complex plant-supporting system, consisting of disintegrated rock, organic matter, water, gases, nutrients, and microorganisms. Most importantly, soil is a renewable resource, yet can be depleted. Each year our planet gains 80 million people yet loses 12–17 million acres of productive cropland (about the size of West Virginia) (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Human activities move over 10 times more soil than all other processes combined (Withgott & Brennan, 2011).
Soil is just one of the factors that we will need to address in feeding a global population. Fresh water and biodiversity will also need to be managed wisely. A dozen species of animals provide 90 percent of the animal protein consumed globally and just four crop species provide half of plant-based calories in the human diet (FAO, 2009).
There is hope. The world has the resources and technology to eradicate hunger. But, we can’t rely on technology alone. We have to make some serious choices. I applaud Dr. Oz for living in a vegetarian household (Oz, 2012). That choice has a large impact on the sustainability of our world. Our food consumption choices need to reflect a sustainable mindset. We can’t base all our purchases on our pocketbooks. Where and how our food was produced will be just as important. Spend a little more, and make a long term investment on the health of our planet. Your life and the lives of others depend on it.
International Programs – World Populations. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/worldpopgraph.php
U.S. and World Population Clock. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html
FAO. (2009, October 12). How to Feed the World in 2050. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf
Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: General Synthesis.
Oz, D. M. (2012, December 3). Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance and Carrots Too. TIME, pp. 38-46.
U.N. Population Division. (2009). World Population Prospects: The 2008 revision. New York: UNPD.
Withgott, J. H., & Brennan, S. (2011). In J. H. Withgott, & S. Brennan, Environment: The Science Behind the Stories (p. 253). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cimmings.

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