As I drove to Toronto one recent Sunday morning I found myself as frustrated as if I’d been caught in a traffic jam on the city’s edge. But it wasn’t other drivers who raised my blood pressure. It was what I was listening to on the radio.
The CBC Sunday Morning program was broadcasting a docu-mentary about would-be “disrupters” of the food industry who were attending a conference of venture capitalists seeking investments to help them get their particular vision of the future of food off the ground. What had steam coming out my ears were the “facts” about the environ-mental and ethical sins of the current food production system – statements that went unchallenged by the people making the documentary, as if they were unquestionably true.
So in food sector after food sector, some entrepreneur was pitch-ing his or her solution to an urgent “problem” – from plant-based protein replacements for milk and scrambled eggs to manufactured meat.
Farmers and farm leaders have been battling for years to overcome the misinformation that’s out there about farming and food production. Well-meaning people often accept things they hear or read as fact – and why wouldn’t they when shows like this one never fact check?
Some things, of course, are a matter of opinion, such as the ethics of killing and eating animals. Other things should cause an intelligent person to question the “facts”, but because there’s a veneer of scientific evidence behind them, people accept what they’re told. Accepted wisdom, for instance, is that agriculture in the U.S. uses 80 per cent of the water “consumed” in that country.
My favourite is the “fact”, often restated, that 1,800 gallons of water are used to grow one pound of beef – 660 gallons in a one-third pound hamburger. Now anyone who thinks for a minute would question how 1,800 gallons of water could disappear into one pound of beef.
Check out the actual claims behind this fact and you’ll see that they include all the rain that falls on the land it takes to grow the grass and grain the cattle beast eats, all the water it drinks, plus water used to clean the pen and in the processing of the animal. For instance, they calculate it requires 3,000 gallons of water to grow one bushel of corn.
Anyone who thinks about it will realize that the rain is going to fall on that land whether it grows grass, corn or trees. Bodily functions dictate that nearly all the water that goes in one end of any animal (including humans) comes out the other, which in the case of cattle on pasture helps water and fertilize the grass that cattle eat.
Part of the problem is that people keep convincing themselves that there’s a better way than nature. The prime example of this is how much bottled water we consume in Canada. We have more fresh water in Canada than anywhere in the world, but people convince themselves they must pay dollars for a gallon of water in bottles when they could pay pennies for water from a tap.
As well, our society has also become addicted to all things new since the tech revolution of a decade ago created smart-phones, social media and apps for everything. Anything prior to 2009 is archaic – and what can be older than the growing of crops in plain old dirt.
These people think they are seeing the big picture that farmers ignore, but I’m not sure they’ve thought it through. What, for instance, is going to happen to domestic livestock if they convince people not to eat meat and milk? Cows are too big to be house pets.
Meanwhile those who know the truth are often unheard while those who think the food system is unethical and dangerous, have their message repeated over and over without questioning.◊