, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Perhaps the most critical area in which industrial civilization has disconnected itself from nature is food production. Ask a city dweller where his food comes from and he’ll give you the name of a grocery store chain. Of course they know the food is produced somewhere outside the concrete jungle, but exactly where, by whom, and how are questions no one asks. And for the masses who are busy eking out a living on the treadmill of capitalism, the convenience of “fast food” often trumps all other considerations. The giant food manufacturers have spent considerable time tinkering with the three ingredients of sugar, salt, and fat in their processed food so as to reach a “bliss-point” for hooking the “consumer”. Thus in the process of commodifying, commercializing, and mass marketing our meals, we have lost the connection to nature fostered by food grown on a small-scale, sustainable manner. Nature Deficit Disorder appears to be rampant. As S. Roy Kaufman explains, industrialized food production has destroyed the human bond to the land:

Snap 2000-12-31 at 19.17.33

Is “economy of scale and efficiency” really the best thing to pursue on the only planet humans have to live on? It turns out that in our quest to feed the most people at the lowest price, we have externalized a lot of costs which are now coming back to bite us in the ass. For example, bee pollination is priceless, but we are killing these insects off with our chemical pesticides and herbicides. The same goes for other plants, animals, and microbes which support the natural processes required to keep the land productive. As these creatures disappear from the landscape, we lose known and unknown ‘environmental services’ beneficial to man and the ecosystem. Industrial farming is a heavy user of CO2-emitting fossil fuels and contributes to a large percentage of the global warming we are experiencing. Biodiversity loss and destruction of crop yields are an inevitable consequence of a warming planet, even right down to the soil microbes. Pesticide and fertilizer run-off is polluting streams and rivers as well as creating massive dead zones in the ocean.

In the past century alone, over 50 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost because of the demands of agriculture. And of the more than 3500 species currently under threat worldwide, 25 per cent are fish and amphibians. – link

Industrial agriculture destroys biodiversity not only because it wipes out entire ecosystems and habitats, but because it favors genetically engineered monocultures. The following pictograph is a shocking illustration of how industrial agriculture has reduced the variety of foods we eat over the last century:

…Over the past hundred years, the variety of seeds planted has dwindled from hundreds to just a handful. Animal diversity is suffering a similar fate. Large commercial farms that focus on specific animals or plants to maximize yields and profits have caused the variety in our food supply to plummet.

Today, only 30 crops provide 95 percent of our food, and only four crops (maize, wheat, rice and potato) account for 60 percent of what we eat. We’ve lost three-quarters of the genetic diversity of crops in only 100 years. Now 1,500 of the 7,600 animal breeds are at risk of extinction.

Why should we care? Well, we need biodiversity to grow food, or in other words, to survive….


The Achilles’ heel of our monoculture crops is that they are vulnerable to small environmental changes. Dependency on such genetically uniform crops leaves modern society in danger of famine due to crop failure:

Snap 2013-07-16 at 04.20.02

The lessons of the 1972 epidemic of ‘corn leaf blight’ have still not been learnt. The Committee on Genetic Vulnerability of Major Crops at the US National Research Council at the time posed the question: “How uniform genetically are other crops upon which the nation depends, and how vulnerable, therefore, are they to epidemics? The answer is that most major crops are ‘impressively genetically uniform and thus vulnerable and results from government legislative and economic policy’. – link

Another problem of the industrial agriculture complex has been the overuse of herbicides and pesticides to control weeds, insects, and viruses in order to maximize crop yield. It worked for a while but over the last couple decades the pests and pathogens have evolved to become immune to our chemicals:

Snap 2013-07-16 at 04.34.56

Snap 2013-07-16 at 05.19.33