Monday, May 17, 2010

What exactly is sustainability? And why does it matter when it comes to food?

My AP environmental textbook gives me a nice definition of sustainability, and because i trusted this book enough to maybe give me a 5 on the AP exam, i can trust it to give me a solid definition.
Sustainability: A guiding principle of environmental science that requires us to live in such a way as to maintain earth's systems and its natural resources for the foreseeable future.
in not textbook English, that means using resources wisely, so next year when we need a resource, its still there. for example if you cut down every tree in a forest, next year when you need a tree, there will be no trees left. but if you only cut down a few trees, next year when you return there will be trees left.
So how does this apply to food? well unlike trees that take decades and decades to grow back, food (ie corn, tomatoes, rice) only takes a season or so, and we have enough land dedicated to food production, (12% of earth's land is dedicated to growing crops, this shocking statistic was also found in my AP environmental science textbook, good job textbook.) so if one region is in drought and cannot grow crops, other regions are able to make up for it. however, because we never seem to run out of food, many do not see how we are running out of the resources to produce food. in fact, producing crops takes a lot more effort than one might think.
i'm a tomato, and i live in California. i was planted in the ground by a truck that uses diesel. then the same diesel chugging truck continued to drive around me to spray me with pesticides and fertilizers. these pesticides and fertilizers were all made in factories. every day or so, when it doesn't rain enough (which is often), a sprinkler is turned on and i am watered. this water came from the Colorado river, which is very far from my patch of soil in California. to get the Colorado water to me, pipes were built and ground was dug up to put the pipes underground and segments of the river and its tributaries were dammed, resulting in loss of habitat and a change in the river's ecosystem. when i'm finally nice and plump, a diesel chugging truck comes and picks me. then i am sent to a processing plant where i am packaged in petroleum based plastics. then i am loaded in an air controlled, diesel chugging, tractor trailer that drives me all the way to a distribution plant in western MA. from there, another truck drives me to a supermarket. at the supermarket, some lady picks me up and then drives me to her house. later that evening, half of me is consumed. the other half of me goes bad in the fridge and then i am thrown out.
think of all the resources that tomato just took up, the diesel it took to grow it and ship it to your mouth, the chemicals that had to be produced to protect it from bugs and help it grow bigger, and all the people that were needed to drive the tractor, wrap the tomato in plastic, drive the truck, unload the tomato from the truck, drive the other truck, and then arrange the tomato on a shelf at the supermarket. all of this effort was put in for one tomato, and only half of the tomato was actually eaten. tons of non-renewable resources were wasted in this process. in order to keep eating, our current food system based on waste, unnecessary energy output, and burning fossil fuels will need to change and become more sustainable.

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