By Mark Edwards
What’s to eat? In Iowa we import 86 percent of what we eat and it comes from an average of 1,500 miles away. Shocking isn’t it, here in Iowa where we “feed the world?” We sure feed ourselves some awful good sound bites.
Whether we’re farmers, vegetarians or supermarket shoppers, we have very similar choices in getting our food. We roam the aisles of stores with hundreds of products but most of them are highly processed, packaged and provided by a system we little understand. The more I care and know, the more confused and scared I am.
I have a friend, Michael, who drives a semi-truck across the country. He picked up a load of tomato sauce on the north side of a brick building here in Iowa. The tomato sauce came here from out of state. He drove it to San Diego, where other ingredients are added. He then drove it back to the south side of the same building he started from. Later, he picked it up and delivered the “Authentic Chicago Style” pizza sauce to Chicago.
When I think about it, I realize our pizza and most of our meals are made this way. Vegetables, preservatives and cheap labor are the ingredients from California, if we are lucky. The trade figures show more of our food is being grown and processed in South America, Australian and China.
What have we traded for this? Half of our Iowa topsoil has been lost to grow our few crops and critters. We are losing agricultural soil at 16 times the replacement rate even with all our conservation practices in place. The 2014 Farm Bill actually cut conservation title funding by billions. This is the first time a farm bill decreased funding for conservation since its inception in 1985.
In a few generations, we changed Iowa into the most biologically altered state in North America. We cultivated 95 percent, that’s 56,290 square miles, into just a few species. We consume two-thirds of Iowa’s 36 million acres for only two plants — corn and soybeans. They are used mostly for fuel and feed for livestock.
These two plants took over the homes of millions of animals and plants. They require vast amounts of petroleum, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and soil loss. These toxic ingredients ensure we have the worst surface water quality in the nation. It has changed our homeland into a monoculture mess, leaving a menu we can’t live on for long.
There also are about 8,000 factory farms in Iowa with thousands of buildings containing chickens, cattle and hogs. Iowa’s hog industry alone produces the sewage equivalent of 471 million people, which is equal to 150 times the population of Iowa. Pigs and poultry permeate the land, water and air of Iowa and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
I’m hungry for something more to eat than these meager statistics here in the “bread basket of the world.” Whether you call it creation or evolution, we are trading our water, land, health and future along with the butterflies, bees, birds and fish for a fast-food meal of meat, cooked in soy oil with authentic Iowa corn syrup tomato sauce on top.
Don’t get me wrong, I love burgers, pizza and Iowa, but I’m starving for some other choices.l Mark S. Edwards of Boone has worked for the Iowa Conservation Commission and is retired from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, where he was trails coordinator. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org