Food for Thought

Why it matters where your food comes from and how it was grown, raised or produced

Nutrition is about understanding how food works in your body. The way food was produced can affect how it works in your body and have impacts on your health. Whether an apple was grown organically in nutrient-rich soil, a steak came from a cow that was fed grass or corn, or if a piece of bread is free of additives and preservatives all have impacts for your health and wellness. Understanding where food comes from and how it was grown, raised or produced can help you make educated choices about nourishing yourself with the best food possible.  Food choices matter and we should be mindful of how our food gets to our plates.

Our Health Matters

A growing body of research indicates that industrial agriculture has had an increasingly negative effect on human health. Foods produced in more traditional ways (farming without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, pasture-raised animals, no additives and preservatives) are often better for human health. Organic foods have been shown to be higher in nutrients, minerals and antioxidants, while having lower levels of toxic metals and pesticide residue. Food coming from factory farms often contains harmful bacteria, pesticide residue, antibiotics and artificial hormones, all of which can be harmful to consumers. Factory farms and industrial agriculture also impact human heath through air, water and soil pollution.

Pasture-raised animals produce meat, dairy and eggs that are better for consumers' health than conventionally-raised, grain-fed animals. In addition to being lower in calories and total fat, meat from pasture-raised animals have higher levels of vitamins, and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional meat and dairy products. Studies have shown that milk from pasture-fed cows has as much as five times the CLA (a “good” type of fatty acid) than milk from grain-fed cows.  And meat from pasture-fed cows has from 200 to 500 percent more CLA as a proportion of total fatty acids than meat from cows that eat a primarily grain-based diet. Free-range chickens have 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat and 28% fewer calories than their factory-farmed counterparts.  Eggs from poultry raised on pasture have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 400% more omega-3's.

The Animals Matter

Each year, hundreds of thousands of animals are subjected to terrible living conditions in industrialized factory farms. Animals are viewed as units of productions, instead of living creatures, and their well being is exchanged for profit.  Closely-confined animals in factory farms are exposed to high levels of toxins from decomposing manure, pesticides, unhealthy additives and fed foods they would not normally eat. This situation is counteracted with low levels of daily antibiotics, which is contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Animals are also frequently fed hormones to increase production.

Learn more about the humane animal products purchased by Dining Services.

The Environment Matters

In a healthy farm system, agriculture works with the natural environment. Farmers keep healthy soil in balance, rotate crops and use animal waste to fertilize the land. While farmers take from the land, they also give back. Industrial farms ignore the need for natural balance. They take without giving back. To compensate, chemical fertilizers are used to replenish dead soil.  As a result, land, air and waterways become polluted. The soil is unusable without chemical fertilizers. Researchers from the Department of Economics at the University of Essex put the annual cost of environmental damage caused by industrial farming in the United States at $34.7 billion.

Learn more about Dining Services' sustainable practices.

The People Matter

Many industrialized farms put profits above farm workers, who are often subject to hazardous working conditions and unfair labor management practices. Working conditions at confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are particularly unhealthy, dangerous and extreme. Harmful gases  contaminate the air breathed by workers, which leads to respiratory ailments. As many as 25% of all workers at CAFOs experience chronic bronchitis, while up to 70% will have acute bronchitis at some point during the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.”

Local Economies and Communities Matter

Industrial farms not only produce foods that are potentially harmful to human, they also negatively affect local economies and communities. Agribusiness often claims that its presence will have a positive impact on a local economy by creating new jobs and investing in the community. Recent experience, however, has shown that when large-scale farms enter communities and replace small farmers, they can actually create a downturn in the local economy.

Factory farms affect communities by introducing hazardous substances into the air and water. Air pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and particulate matter are released in significant quantities by these large confined animal feeding operations, and all have the potential to negatively affect their surrounding communities. Large farms also often pollute local water sources, mainly through the release of nitrates and nitrites from chemical fertilizers. While many physical problems have been linked to factory farm runoff and air pollution, there is evidence that psychological and social problems can also result from living close to such facilities.