Food Impacting the Environment

By Aya Zein

Cover picture taken from TeessideLive

It is common knowledge that food is necessary for life. The basic physiological needs of a human being are food, water, clothing, sleep, and shelter. For the majority of the existence of humans on the earth, this has been the framework of a normal life. The deviation from this resided in the case of the wealthy.. The rich, at all points in time, were granted the ability to seek more, due to their ability to provide to themselves. However, this deviation from basic living is no longer the case. As of the last century, the human population, besides the population in poverty, no longer seek to simply satisfy their basic needs.

            After the industrial revolution, food was no longer from farm to table, becoming instead factory to table. The commercialization of food increased production in order to increase consumption. The increased speed of production and diminishing need for human labor caused the food to be produced in larger quantities for lower prices. Populations privy to the industrial revolution responded by overconsuming and, in turn, wasting. The food waste was visible in the form of littering. In the 1920s, American health officials had to address this and began the implementation of proper sanitation and waste disposal practices, however, no decrease in the production of food. 

            Decades later, the world was hit by the Great Depression causing huge food waste due to the short shelf life of produce and meat and the population’s inability to afford it. However,  people still needed to eat, so, companies took advantage of the situation to produce a solution. The companies developed canned and processed foods with long shelf life. These products were easily mass produced, as well. While during the depression, overconsumption was impossible, the production of these products would later have grave consequences. 

            As time passed, many initiatives were started to counter food waste. However, industrialization, commercialization, and, more importantly, capitalism create new products, and then mass producing them in order to sell them at affordable prices. The industry was largely successful. Due to their success and their establishment as staples and home essentials, it was very easy to integrate the need for fast food. At this point, the ball is rolling so fast, so, above produce and processed food overconsumption,  unhealthy, but cheap, meals became part of the routine. 

            Nowadays, according to the UN Environment Program, around one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. That equates to about 1.3 billion tons of food. That amount of food waste alone is appalling. However, there is a certain implication that comes with food production, to begin with, and to have it wasted further perpetuates the crisis of food production in consumption. Seeing as the aforementioned implication is multifaceted, each aspect will be discussed individually.

            Firstly, there are many issues that reside in the production of food, as previously mentioned, many of which  pertain to agriculture alone. For example, for efficiency purposes and crop maximization, vast areas of greenery are cleared for the growth of crops. One might argue that it is alright as long as they are replacing trees with more trees. However, the already existing plants and flora were a habitat to animals and, furthermore, the crop structure not only not made to be a habitat, but wards of animals and insects, on purpose. Hence, there is a danger to mass consumption and high demand of commercially grown vegetables due to their impact on pre-existing wildlife and their respective homes. 

            Moreover, once land has been cleared for crops, there is a great deal of pesticide and herbicide applied to the terrain for the priming of the soil, to maximize crop yield and success rate in growth. This is bad for two reasons. The first being that the people consuming this food will not be able to clear it of all the chemicals and, therefore, will ingest them. Oftentimes, the chemicals are sprayed to an extreme extent which implies a certain level of toxicity, which after harvesting, stocking, and purchasing, is still a problem to the consumer. The second issue is environmental. The chemical sprays do not get disposed of. Whatever is released into the terrain will move itself eventually, whether by diffusing into the atmosphere or seeping into the earth and running into bodies of water when carried by rain, they will be impacting places farther than their initial site. This is called bio-accumulation. It has a plethora of consequences like toxic concentrations of chemicals in habitats, which, further, lead to infertility, genetic damage, or, in some cases, simply death of species’ populations.

            Another facet to the dangers of mass food production is the expenditure of resources and the greenhouse gas emissions that follow. Seeing as it requires chemicals and machinery to operate mass production facilities, like vegetable, fruit, or cattle farms, there is a heavy involvement of fossil fuels. When burnt, for use, they release an abundance of air pollutants. In 2018, global emissions due to agriculture were the equivalent of 9.3 billion tons of CO2. Moreover, there is another type of air pollutant specific to mass cattle farming. Methane is a natural byproduct of the metabolism of cows.  However, there is now one cow to every 5 people in the world, increasing how much methane is being produced to unnatural levels. This in terms of their waste production creates a lot of manure, and its harmful byproducts. In addition, there is a lot of water consumed in the process of cattle raising, irrigation, and food production, overall. For the amount of food that gets wasted, and all the other downsides to production, the enormous loss of water is distressing.  

            In terms of morals and food production, it is important to note the origins of agriculture and cattle farming. Before industrialization, families grew their own produce and may have had some livestock. This was  sustainable, in terms of outward externalities, as the people reaped the fruits of their own efforts and harmed no one else in the process. However, with the exponentially growing population and culture of overconsumption and decadence, mass farming and producing is the norm. This, however, implies terrible living conditions for the parties involved in the making of the end product. Whether it be cows for cheese or chickens for eggs, there is a huge factory, overpopulated with animals that are fit into tiny spaces and spend their time eating hormone packed feed, until they are killed for consumption. Their killing is not humane either as humane killing is considered “too expensive”.. 

            Overall, the industry that puts food on our table is ridden with issues. The worst of them is that none of the producers or huge companies will be stopping any time soon because their businesses are so lucrative. Therefore, it is up to the consumer to change their eating habits to facilitate a change in their ways of production. There are many ways to do this. The first is to be weary of your own personal serving size. It is not to say one should eat less, but to be aware of how much is required to satisfy oneself. This is important as nowadays, especially in fast food, the industry is all about supersizing. Another way to help is to buy groceries in a mindful manner. Fruit and vegetables go bad quite quick; therefore, it is important to buy as much as can be eaten before it is going to be thrown away. More fun ways to reduce the downsides of food production would be to plant your own produce. To whatever extent this is possible, growing maybe one or two things would help. An additional way to reduce your food carbon footprint would be to shop locally. It is much more ecofriendly to eat seasonally and locally. There are multiple downsides to consuming exported fruit and vegetables; Most of the human labor involved do not get fair wages, transportation releases gas emissions, and all the aforementioned problems. Either way, supporting local businesses and producers is a great choice, in any case. 

            Statistics show that if food production were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China. So, it is vital that people make changes in their everyday lives, no matter how small, to help assuage the demand on food and show producers they must change their ways. 

Works Cited

“Exhibits.” USU Digital Exhibits,

Emissions Due to Agriculture – Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Environmental Impacts of Food Production.” 2020_Horizontal_FullColour,,increase%2033%25%20to%2010%20billion.

Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Environmental Impacts of Food Production.” Our World in Data, 15 Jan. 2020,

“Reducing the Environmental Impact of Your Diet.” CSIRO,

Edited by Daniella Razzouk

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