The biosphere is a delicate and dynamic system of organic and inorganic matter and energy.The health of this system is essential to all life on the planet and yet the actions of humanity threaten to unravel its fragile composition. Many of the problems that face modern society and threaten the quality of life for future generations are a direct result of our failure to forge a respectful attitude toward the planet we live on – the source of our life. We have failed to develop a positive human ecology.
This gap in human thought and action is reflected most dramatically in the way we use the resources of nature in our daily lives. Much of this is done unwittingly and a result of social convention. One of the most commonly ignored elements of this misuse is our relationship to the food we eat.
The modern diet is the direct cause of the rise of degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke in the affluent countries of the world. It is also a primary cause of increased pollution of the environment by inefficient harmful practices in farming and the meat and dairy industry in particular. The combination of these factors influence greatly the rise of cost in health care systems and contributes to the problems of adequate food supplies to the poor and the needless and cruel slaughter of billions of animals. It is for these reasons that we are creating the BITE BACK movement.
Governments have shown unwillingness to address this issue in a meaningful way allowing the international food industry to control and manage food supplies often with subsidies that make less nutritious foods more available to the poor and by allowing increased speculation on commodity grain and bean futures.
If this situation is to be changed for the better it will take urgent action in the arena of public education that leads to a shift in consumption patterns. This education is not dependent on increased scientific research; the factual data is already there. What is required is effective communication of the facts combined with practical strategies that instruct individuals in the ways they can improve their personal health while knowing that they are also contributing to environmental stewardship and social justice.
Bite Back is the only sure-fire way to affect the damage that the food industry is destroying the health of society and the environment. It is all about money – stop buying manufactured foods, take back the kitchen.
THE CHALLENGE AND THE RESPONSE
The diet developed largely in America and spreading rapidly into Europe is a diet high in animal protein, fat and simple sugars. This diet has been cited in scientific literature over the past thirty years as one of the major causes of obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The statistical basis of these phenomena is irrefutable and yet governments have not shown the courage or leadership to challenge the international food industry to conform to more rigorous nutritional standards.
The WHO estimates that between 60 and 75% of degenerative disease can be prevented. Agribusiness, the meat industry, the dairy industry and food manufacturers have been allowed to influence government policies with no attention to social nutritional needs.
The stress on national health care systems, regardless of the source of payment, will continue to increase as North America and Europe experience an ageing population with higher expectations and rising cost of treatment. Prevention and education are the only answers.
The negative environmental impact of the food industry is second to none and is generated from several sources:
- Damage and destruction to Rain-forests through land clearing for animal feed production
- The deterioration of the oceans and the extinction of sea life.
- Long distance transport of animal feed, processed meat and dairy products.
- Excessive use of water resources for both feed and animal growth
- Toxic run off of animal waste, often polluted with growth hormones
- Methane gas from cattle
Taken together, this makes the consumption of meat and dairy food the greatest single contribution that the average person in America and Western Europe makes toward environmental destruction.
The energy that powers human life is food. Proper access to food supplies on a regional basis must be the goal of any global response to the issues of poor nutrition and the wasteful use of resources. Right now large corporations that grow, process and distribute foods to be shipped long distances consume the land resources of the planet. Often foods grown in emerging economies have little nutritional value and are grown specifically for consumption in the wealthy countries. In emerging economies this often means that food for local consumption needs to be imported, driving prices high and undermining regional self-sufficiency.
The impact of improper use of food resources is often dependent on direct or indirect subsidies that artificially depress the costs on the most harmful agricultural products meaning that the poor can only afford poor nutrition. The cost of this situation in human life and on national economies is steadily rising along with the cost of treating increasing cases of heart disease, diabetes and cancer and will continue to do so unless action is taken.
Farmers in Poverty – Small and medium scale farmers all over the world are unable to compete with agribusiness. Two crisis options are attractive; the first is to grow exotic crops for exportation instead of local crops for local consumption. The second option is to grow crops for fuel. Peasant farmers all over the world are faced with these terrifying options. No matter what choice they make they are not making enough to care for their families and are caught in a modern form of slavery. Friends of the Earth has documented evidence that one third of the land sold or acquired in Africa over the past year were for the production of fuel crops.
Jatropha is a plant that is being promoted as a solution to small farmers in South America and Asia as well as in Africa. It produces oil that is easily converted into bio-fuel. Its original promise as easy to grow is turning out to be a myth. It requires massive water resources and pesticides to produce. Jatropha farming is being sold as a “Green solution” to farmers in countries where starvation is a daily fact of life. The food for survival now has to be imported, is that the sound of cash registers I hear?
It is not a coincidence that for centuries spiritual and meditative communities have practiced specific dietary guidelines. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs there is no argument with the fact that what we eat has a profound effect on our body, this includes the functions of the brain and nervous system. A simple and nutritious diet helps to reduce physical and emotional stress and assists us in the maintaining a healthy mental and emotional outlook. In addition to the direct physical influence there is a deeper influence that comes into play when our diet is aligned with a healthy human ecology.
Creating a way of eating that covers the environmental, social and physical requirements of health puts us in a co-operative relationship with the world we live in. This path presents us with valuable challenges to self-knowledge and demonstrates our best instincts for a better world in our daily behaviour. This is not about feeling smug or self-righteous about our choices but holds the opportunity for us to demonstrate our compassion and commitment to life in a healthy and practical way.
The problems described above have a high degree of complexity. Food is not only an issue of nutrition it is also an issue of culture and emotion. The food industry is massive and resists any change that shifts power away from the corporation and into the community at large. The only actions that can stimulate essential changes are shifts in consumption. If the consumption of processed food, sugar and animal sourced products were substantially reduced by only 20% the effect would be seen within a short period of time. The attainment of this goal would result in a decrease in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers as well as make a profound contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gasses.
Many people know about the dangers of the modern diet, they simply don’t know how to go about the change. More than ever before the world needs men and women who are prepared to share the simple actions that can produce health for individuals, families and the planet. We all need to speak up, share and teach our friends, families and anyone who will listen. Let’s get this done!