China’s Polluted Land… Our Polluted Food
By Greg Peterson
I am continually on the lookout for valuable data to share in our Urban Farm Lifestyle Newsletter. In doing this, I watch several areas for information that significantly effects our food system and the general sustainability of our culture. I do my best to avoid the news; in fact, I turned off the TV almost two years ago and have not missed it a bit.
There are many reasons to grow our own food and build our local food economy, the biggest of which is to produce healthy food—food that we plant and nurture, and know exactly what goes into it.
What you may not know is that the average number of food miles (the distance food travels from farm to plate) in the United States is 1,500 (and that is just the average). The U.S. imports 4 billion pounds (4,000,000,000 that is a whole lot of zeroes) of food from China per year and China is 7,200 miles away from the U.S. For each and every one of those pounds, there are environmental impacts from being shipped that distance and being grown unhealthfully.
This makes the April news out of China all that more interesting. 20% of China’s farmland and 90% of China’s water is contaminated with toxic heavy metals (1). The red flag for me here is that China is a totalitarian communist regime, which would probably have a tendency to hide data like this. Why they let this news out is open to speculation but I assume that the conditions are probably worse than presented. This is farmland that is so polluted it cannot be used to grow food and, when it is used for farming, grows food that should not be consumed.
This leads me to wonder what the other farmlands’ viabilities are and better yet the healthfulness of the nonorganic and even the certified organic food raised there. Remember: getting an organic certification on a farm or product isn’t a spot test of the health of the food; it is just a certification of the process the producer uses. If there are heavy metals or other pollutants in the soil they are still there whether the food is certified organic or not. For more information on this listen to Food Chain Radio Show 968 from a couple weeks ago.
Heavy metals included in the report include arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead. These are quite toxic heavy metals and, according to the U.S. Department of Heath, can cause heavy metal poisoning:
“Heavy metal poisoning refers to an overexposure to lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium or other high density or metallic element that causes irritation or damage to the body. Heavy metals can be found naturally in the environment, in homes, or at the work place. Sudden severe exposures as well as moderate exposures over time can cause toxicity. Depending on the exposure, metals can increase cancer risk, impair production of red and white blood cells, and affect physical and mental health.” (2)
These heavy metals are the unintended byproducts of industrial processes and pesticide use over the past 50 years. I could go on to explain about the hidden ingredients such as preservatives, fillers, herbs and spices in a lot of our processed foods, the fact that 100% of our canned peas and 50% of our apple juice comes from China, or that 1/3 of our Certified Organic food comes from China—but let’s move on to what we can actually do.
- Stop buying all foods from China. I know this is a little hard when it comes to all the additives in food, but if it says “Made in,” “Grown in,” “Processed in,” or even “Thought About in” China – Just say NO!
- If the label does say China, tell the grocer you are no longer willing to purchase the product and don’t buy it. Vote with your dollars and tell them about it!
- Shop at a local farmers market—one in which you know the farmer and trust their method of growing food.
- Eat in season. By eating what is grown in season you are purchasing and growing more nutritious food, if for no other reason that when the food is picked it’s at its peak of ripeness (and therefore is most nutrient dense and best for you).
- Most of all, grow your own. Start your garden! Even if it is just a pot on the front porch, jump in and experiment. Grow a tomato, lettuce, squash or a peach – believe me there is not much greater in the world that eating what you grew yourself.
- Watch the movie FED UP – “Everything we have been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. Fed Up is a movie that the food industry doesn’t want you to see…”
It is time that we take control of our food system. Join the revolution; learn where your food is coming from; make a different choice. The hard part is learning what we need to learn to make the changes. I found that once I do make the changes they actually come easier.
The old adage goes ‘we are what we eat,’ and the more our food system is polluted, processed and punked (look that one up on Urban Dictionary, I did), the more discomfort, disease and distaste we will see. It is up to you. I have found for myself that I am a whole lot happier when I make the change.