Alex Wecht ’24
Regrettably, the consumer price of fresh, healthy, organic, and sustainable foods soars high above that of junk food counterparts. Much of the world’s population depends on fast-food eateries. Many people, because of financial burdens, ignore the negative health effects of eating junk food. On top of this, not too many people are aware of the negative externalities that the fast-food industry foists upon the environment. Personally, I see fast-food’s dominant role in our society’s diet as a substantial threat to our nation’s health.
From the farm to the American gut, fast-food joints are far from sustainable. They are even further from being ethical. Fast-food restaurants, with their deeply rooted power in our American culture, are the primary reason that factory farming is so widespread in our economy. Fast-food restaurants demand gargantuan amounts of cheap animal product, and they do not care how it gets there – as long as it is kept out of the public eye, that is.
According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, factory farming produces 37% of all global methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is around 20 times more conducive to global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). On top of this, the mass deforestation that ensues in order to create grazing fields for livestock and growing fields for feed crop emits upward of 2 billion tons of CO2 annually, not to mention the large amounts of CO2 that those forests would have been soaking up but now cannot. In sum, the fast-food industry’s carbon footprint, fuel consumption, packaging and food waste, water contamination, and emission of volatile organic compounds are deceivingly and devastatingly harmful to the sustainability of life on Earth.
With efficiency as the main goal, “farmers” cram as many animals into one place as possible. These animals produce massive cesspools of manure that eventually find their way into waterways, where their harmful bacteria kill fish and disrupt ecosystems.
I must admit, if producing as many animal products as possible at the cheapest cost is the only concern in mind, the factory farming industry is doing the job nicely. For the people who are benefiting from these industries, that is the only goal in mind.
Briefly, let’s look at the health implications of a fast-food diet. Fast-food is the leading cause of obesity and is directly linked to depression and other mental disorders. The rate of obesity has been rising over the past four decades and now over 40% of American adults are obese. Despite the new science, the revealing documentaries, and the increased availability of knowledge, we have accelerated in the wrong direction.
There need to be checks on the factory farming industry. At the rate obesity is killing Americans, there ought to be checks on the fast-food business as well. If fast-food is the leading cause of obesity – the lethal disease that takes 300,000 American lives every year – why has there not been a government push to restrict or more closely regulate the fast-food industry? Why isn’t something similar to the ban of televised cigarette commercials happening?
After one learns about the detrimental health and environmental impacts that stem from our fast-food dominated society, one must then consider the poor ethics that characterize the industry. Take for example the factory-farmed chicken industry, where chickens are injected with chemicals that force them to grow three times faster than a typical chicken. These alien “chickens” can barely support their own body weight and are crowded into coops to the point that they cannot move. A chilling documentary, Food Inc., exposes the unethical treatment of the chickens and other animals exploited by the fast-food industry. Go check it out sometime.
This is not sustainable. With a growing population, there will come a time when we can no longer clear-cut forests for factory farming. There will come a time when Americans are forced to put health, future, and best interests at the forefront and ditch some current ways of life.
The environmental impacts that the production of fast-food generates should, at the very least, make one reconsider. The harm that fast-food does to the human body should make one fear fast-food and wonder why healthy foods aren’t made more available for all. The poor ethics that much of our country depends on should make one upset.
In this piece, I have barely scratched the surface. We Americans live upon an unsustainable, unhealthy, and unethical system of food production. Unfortunately, we have not really even begun to face these disturbing facts. We should get started.