Convenience that have been developed in the food related sector starting from agriculture to fast food industry is probably the most important factor for negative environmental and social impact in the modern world. Convenience and efficiency brought about by advancement in science and technology has converted agriculture to machine intensive process from labor intensive work. In developed countries and developing countries alike the number of people working in agriculture production sector is decreasing rapidly. Enjoying the economics of scale big and internationalized agricultural farms have taken over small and local farmers. Big machines and equipments have replaced spade, plough, and human hands putting more pressure on the soil. Monoculture is the most convenient (and efficient) means of production for such big agriculture farms. And monoculture is probably the most harmful method of agricultural production that changes the biodiversity of a place significantly and has very harsh environmental impact. We have already seen the example of Aral Sea in the class discussion which has been drying empty due to its overuse for monoculture of large scale cotton production in the vicinity. Over used for monoculture are the rivers such as the Jordan River in Israel, the Yellow River in China, and the Colorado in the US which no longer reach the sea anymore during the dry season. The environmental impact due to change in the lifecycle in such water bodies is incomprehensible. The impact of large scale agriculture farming is also very severe in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon River basin and Africa. Amazonian rainforests are cut down at the rate of around 5000 square km every year mostly for the purpose of large scale agriculture farming. Most of the monoculture in this area is done for the cultivating soybean and other grains that are fed for domestic animals which ultimately are used by the fast food industry in various meat food items. Convenience is cheaper and vice versa. And cheaper is what people want. Convenience in mass production of agriculture makes food products cheaper which is endorsed by everyone. With so much endorsement from people big agriculture and food productions companies gain powerful position to manipulate the policy makers to make decisions in their favor. No wonder we hear the news of Monsanto scandal in the US, Coca-Cola scandal in India, and similar controversial issues with other fast food chains. The social impact of such fast food (convenience again) is seen clearly in the growing obesity problem across the developed world. Only in the US there are about 72.5 million obese people. Roughly 30 percentage of the adult population there is estimated to have problem of obesity. Heart diseases, Diabetes, Arthritis, liver damage are other example of such diseases associated with fast food. Such diet related diseases are ranked second in the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US. The negative impact on the health of people also affects their family relations, allocation of monetary resources in the family, perception and treatment of neighbors, self esteem and so on. These ultimately have a great societal impact as well. As I m writing this I am thinking of the great animation movie “Wall-E” where our future is being depicted as a bunch of obese people totally reliant on the convenience of fast food and robot. With the pace we are moving in the field of science and technology related with food and the corresponding obesity problem across the world it seems very likely that our pursuit of convenience will indeed make the movie “Wall-E” a reality.
Some interesting articles about the agriculture and food industry…
Food Inc Documentary