Here are some student comments about the book, and their opinions:
FoodWISE: Gigi’s argument about labor is about all about advocating for the rights of workers. So much of our agricultural workforce is immigrants that our current policies and attitudes on immigration greatly destabilize the working foundation of our farms. These jobs are so gruelling that not many longtime residents of the U.S. are rushing to fill them. That’s why it’s essential that we not only keep those who are willing around through not only our national policies, but also fair wages and working conditions. Gigi asserts that the FoodWISE approach to agriculture includes strong ties between the farm and the community, which is not possible without fair working conditions for workers.
Opinion: I personally couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to see the injustices happening at our southern border, let alone the divide it’s creating between citizens of our country and a group of people we rely so heavily on. In order to have a resilient agricultural system, we need a just one. Injustice is destabilizing. I also like that Gigi addresses the pressure farmers are under to stay afloat, and how that can often translate to negative consequences for workers. Both farms we visited yesterday said that their operations are currently losing money. I imagine it’s very difficult to find ways to decrease spending and increase revenue outside of cutting corners on sustainability and workers’ wages.
FoodWISE: Gigi immediately brings up the effects of climate change on agriculture. There are many things. to unpack here: how changing temperature and rainfall patterns will affect the ecosphere in regard [to] when and where what production can take place. Another big point is the fact that carbon emissions need to be carefully managed: we’ve already hit 400ppm CO2 ahead of almost everyone’s schedule (but not Exxon Mobil’s), and with an increasing number of people requiring an increasing amount of food, production and transportation techniques need to be reevaluated in order to prevent carbon emissions from spiralling out of control.
Opinion: I wholehearted agree with this sentiment. It’s paramount that we find ways as a species to lessen our unintentional impacts on the biosphere. As it’s also mandatory that we have enough food to eat, we need to do so in a sustainable way so we don’t irreversibly damage our planet in the process. But it’s something that requires a concerted effort from everyone, and we can’t keep passing the buck to the next convenient scapegoat that comes along.
FoodWISE: This section covers the ethics of choosing to take a life to feed another, and then put on a grand scale. Humans eat a lot of meat in general and it is not very efficient in terms of how many resources it takes and how much nutrition the person eating it gets, compared to a leafy green. Animals like cows are able to digest their feed and transform it from plant protein to animal protein really well and taking their life in the name of food fits the farmers process. So, is eating meat at this scale ethical? Some say yes, others say no.
FoodWISE: One of the main points in FoodWISE is that meat production is not always bad, nor is it always good. Gigi’s main points are that many livestock such as cows are fed the unwanted by-products of other industries, and they produce useful products like manure for fertilizing crops, though there is still a large amount of waste. Large-scale farming worldwide applies excessive amounts of antibiotics, creating resistant pathogens and health concerns. Meat demand is at its highest, which causes the biggest problem in the meat industry. Gigi suggests hunting for animal protein as often as possible to lessen the demand for farmed meat.
Opinion: I disagree and have a more polarized view, I do not think it is necessary for humans to seek protein from animals. I do understand that different people require slightly different diets though. Not only is it unethical to assume that killing these animals on a mass scale is okay, I also know that the meat and dairy industry around the world contributes greatly to climate change and deforestation. In my view, if there is already all the nutrients we may need residing in vegetables, then why go the extra steps to convert that into plant protein and then sacrifice a life? Taste?
Opinion: I think large scale meat production is a serious problem, (much like other large scale farming.) I will say that I am a proponent for animal’s rights and so I think that large scale animal farming has its vast amount of problems in what Gigi would call “normal animal behavior.” After taking a few toxicology classes the use of antibiotics and other hormonal supplements definitely is alarming. This is especially true when it comes to how much of these supplements are being excreted into the manure which is then put on pastures etc.
Opinion: I agree with these points to a certain extent. I do think that it is important to use every part of a product in any way possible, so that aspect of the meat industry is beneficial. However, ruminant animals do produce excessive amounts of methane that has huge impacts on the greenhouse effect. The meat industry as it is does not do a good enough job mitigating these emissions to validate the amount of livestock we produce. The morality of the meat industry is very poor, especially on the large-scale feed lots and slaughterhouses. I do think that there is a moral way to produce meat, but we currently have far too many inhumane practices that place efficiency above morality. I agree that hunting wild animals is a great option because it not only reduces demand on the industrial side, but also forces consumers to be aware of how animals are killed for their sustenance. Hunting is not really an option for many people in urban areas, so I would suggest also reducing meat demand by supplying cheap alternative protein sources.
GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)
Opinion: I 100% agree, I think GMOs are not intrinsically a bad thing and sound, in principle, like a good idea that needs to be implemented in order to have more resilient crops. However, I know that not everything works out as planned, and companies like Monsanto are destroying these small farms because they accidentally grew a patented plant without permission. I think it is wrong to patent a plant, but I understand why. The incentives for creating GMOs would not be as strong without being able to patent GMOs.
FoodWISE: Problems surrounding what it means to become “certified organic.” Certified organic farms cannot use synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but they may use manure even if that manure comes from non-organic farms. This can cause issues down the line because the manure may have come from cows that have ingested such chemicals – which in turn can have adverse impacts on the organic farm that took the manure. Gigi argues that the rules and regulations surrounding what it actually means to be certified organic, rules and regulations that are meant to protect organic farmers, present weaknesses in the program and don’t do enough to prevent situations like the above from happening. Gigi also explains how being certified organic doesn’t mean what many people might imagine: a green grassy field with free-roaming animals and a big red barn. A certified organic farm can be just as industrial and may very well be growing monoculture crops just as much as non-certified farms – meaning that a certified organic farm doesn’t necessarily mean a farm with reduced external inputs (meaning that it’s not necessarily any more sustainable than other farms). Another layer to this is the increased consumer demand for organic-labelled foods. Gigi reminds us that we need to think critically about our choices. Something labelled certified organic may not really be any better than the next thing, and it may have actually required greater energy and fossil fuel use to get to the market or grocery store. Is it better to buy the non-gmo, certified organic product from across the country (or halfway around the world), or the local product that may have used an herbicide? Considering the processes and connections involved in each one, it is likely better to choose the latter.
Opinion: All of Gigi’s talking points and arguments on this topic make sense. When we were at the manure bay on the farm today, Troy talked about how separating the organic matter out of the manure prior to putting out to the grass fields was an important step in helping the grasses grow higher and faster. If chemicals can remain active in manure after being transferred from one farm to the next, it wouldn’t surprise me that it would have such a major effect on the plants at the organic farm, since it seems like even the slightest changes in composition can have a significant effect on plants. Gigi points out that the federal certified organic program has weaknesses, and I agree based on the examples given. But when it comes to the manure problem, for example, I’m wondering what solving that weakness would look like. Of course if you’re a small farm, it might be easier to use your own manure or manure from your neighbors down the road, but what if you have to import your manure. How can that farmer be absolutely sure the manure doesn’t have synthetic chemicals? Would it cost money to be sure? How much money would that cost and what kind of effect would that have? Are there any ways the organic farm can process out any potential chemicals before using the manure?
Opinion: When it comes to the producers, the actual criteria for growing organic seems to be less of an issue than paying for the certification. As for the so-called organic farming methods themselves, Gigi cites how the product only needs to be 95% certifiably grown/produced by organic methods. Although this is a high percentage, it still leaves 5% of the product’s composition to be determined. Some farmers still operate with organic systems and processes, yet don’t want to have to pay for the label. It’s interesting to me that there is more of a cost to be labelled as “environmentally conscious” than there is to not be. In the consumer market, it seems as if many people are paying extra just for the title without proper information. People in society, especially those living in high-priced cities, love calling themselves “green” and “progressive” by purchasing outrageously expensive food certified as organic and/or natural. Through my own accounts, I have noticed that these people tend to care less about the factual substance behind what makes the product they’re consuming “green,” and more on the label itself, more of an image based lifestyle.
FoodWISE: Gigi argues that in order to reach a sustainable agricultural future a lot will have to change. She follows this statement with multiple areas needing change to secure the future of sustainable agriculture. She argues that land must be available with a healthy source of soil and water. Financial incentives need to be implemented for farmers, producers, wholesalers and retailers to uphold sustainable practices. And lastly she argues that consumers need financial means, knowledge and opportunity to buy, cook, and eat sustainably.
Opinion: I personally agree with Gigi’s argument because people only know what they know until they are given the right information and a little push in the right direction. Each point she makes in her argument provides farmers, consumers and anyone in between with the resources they’d need to make a complete mental shift toward sustainability. Humans are stubborn creatures, so shifting away from “traditional practices” won’t be easy or quick. With that said people will need a motive (incentives) and a reason why it would be more beneficial for them to change (knowledge).
FoodWISE: Gigi talks about sustainable fish as a FoodWISE issue. Overharvesting and unsustainable management of our fisheries is reducing our ocean’s stock. Her main points are that the four Hs are collectively endangering our natural Pacific Salmon fisheries and referencing the tragedy of the commons. She argues that we need fish, but we also need a sustainable harvest, sustainable fish farms that don’t produce negative ecological effects. However, this section doesn’t focus much on freshwater fish and their trials.
FoodWISE: This subject comes up as a call to action; to demand sustainable fish as a factor in our approach to food and farming. One of the most important factors about fishing is its inherent unmanageability. Fishing and fish populations are out of our control, which makes for a difficult industry when “fishing anywhere affects the populations of those fish everywhere else” (Berardi, 2019, p. 66). It is actually quite easy to see that the fishing industry is a textbook ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. Gigi touches on the growth of aquaculture and farmed fish over wild-caught fish, due to over-harvesting and population crashes. In the case of salmon, habitat damage coupled with overfishing has proved devastating for the population and the surrounding ecosystem. Thus, the prevalence of farmed fish, which don’t do much good themselves, what with often being polluted, full of antibiotics, and contributing to tainted watersheds.
Opinion: I agree that sustainability is ecologically savvy. Fish stocks are crashing around the world and it’s a necessity that we work together internationally to manage stocks. International management is a challenge, however, if we are to avoid more tragedy in the commons, we must communicate. Also important is the consideration of ecological damage humans create when we try to unnaturally add to the population. Huge ecological change occurs when a large number of nonnative or genetically modified fish enter the ecosystem. These fish may have different eating habits, sizes, life histories, diseases, etc. than the native varieties and thus fill slightly different niches than the fish they are supposed to supplement, like hatchery salmon to wild salmon.
Opinion: I completely agree! The fishing industry is so very…childish in my opinion in its approach. There is no regard for natural cycles and population fluctuations. Farmed fish are horridly treated, swimming in circles all their lives while being pumped full of hormones and poor-quality feed. The farms have problems with waste management, threatening existing wild populations with contamination or death. It seems that there are very few solutions to aquaculture today. Our demand for fish as a protein source overwhelmed supply a long time ago, and to the sacrifice of many ecosystems and populations, we have kept up. Fishing is such a difficult problem to solve, honestly closer to a wicked problem, as the dilemmas involved are so out of reach and intangible at this point (inability to REALLY know how many fish are available to catch in the wild, contamination or mutation in wild species, competition created by farmed species, untraceable pollution, etc.).
FoodWISE: One environmental issue Gigi writes about is the lack of biodiversity currently in farming systems. As Gigi [states] in her book, tomatoes are bred to have tough skin to help keep out diseases and pests, and also have poor maturity, this leads to hard tomatoes that can maximize a farmer’s profits but the product itself lacks taste and nutrition. If farmers used biodiversity as a tool and diversified their crops, the need to breed crops to be resilient changes- tomatoes could have thinner skin [and we could work with other crops in the community] to be resilient together. Variety helps crops survive, and monocultures make it harder for that specific crop to be resilient.
Opinion: I agree that crops should have biodiversity! Diversity means there is an entire ecosystem where the plants can communicate and help each other. Funguses “talk” to trees and other fungus, they exchange nutrients when needed, and help each other survive. Cover crops can help balance nutrients, maintain water levels, and prevent soil erosion which help the main crops grow. Variety and protection of crops in farming systems is important to help maintain quality and quantity of the product grown. Sustainable farming practices like implementing diversity in crops means tastier, softer foods like tomatoes.
FoodWISE: With the rise of the large conventional farm came a demand for a cheap, steady labor. Large FVH farms employ a lot of migrant workers from Mexico who engage in labor a lot of Americans won’t do for that wage. Due to the precarious nature (especially now) of our immigration policies and how they coincide with immigrant agricultural labor, [there] is a huge issue of environmental justice and socio economics. Many workers face the issue of deportation, lack of social safety nets, and lack of access to a plethora of opportunities that legal status gives.
Opinion: I agree with this issue Gigi brings up. The work hazards, living conditions and pay are huge issues within the agricultural labor force. We do not equitably compensate the immigrant workers for the hard work they put in just so that Americans can eat the way we eat. In order to increase the health of our agricultural system, we must start by taking care of those non-U.S. born farm workers and ensure job security, fair wages, and healthy work conditions. By maintaining a fairly paid, healthy work force, that is another part of keeping the entirety of our contemporary food web somewhat healthy. Taking care of agricultural workers should hold precedence when it comes to what to prioritize in making better changes in our food system.