When I was a child growing up in Brooklyn, we had TV dinners almost every night. My mom, originally from Hungary, believed the ads that promised that those shiny silver trays would provide a perfectly balanced meal she could feel proud to serve to her family. My sister and I happily peeled off the aluminum-foil lids, revealing four compartments featuring beef, mashed potatoes, soft string beans and an apple dessert with a sweet topping. We ate them while watching Green Acres. And once a week my dad brought home a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which we devoured while laughing at Lucy and Ethel’s latest antics on I Love Lucy.
My family innocently and enthusiastically embraced America’s food culture, with its focus on affordability and convenience. Unfortunately, most food producers – then as now – are primarily concerned with growing sales. Neither the long-term health of consumers nor protecting the earth is high on their list of priorities. Currently, there are 160,000 fast food restaurants in this country, serving 50 million Americans every day. This glut of unrealistically cheap food is destroying our health – and producing it takes a terrible toll on our environment. In their urgency to increase yields and profits, most conventional farmers embrace genetically modified seeds and an arsenal of toxic chemicals. The way most animals are factory-farmed is inhumane, as well as a threat to both our planet and our health. It is imperative that these shortsighted trends be replaced with far more sustainable practices.
When I look into the future, 25 years from now, I choose an optimistic vision: a society of people who have learned from the mistakes of our generation. People who understand that producing food the way we’ve been doing it has costly repercussions, and have chosen instead to embrace a new food culture that values fresh, organic, humanely raised food.
It’s hard for me to predict where new technologies will take us in the next 25 years – especially when hamburger meat can be cloned today – but I believe despite future innovations, we will still be dependent on this planet’s soil and water to provide our food. It will be essential for the next generation to guard these precious resources with more vigilance than ever before.
This glut of unrealistically cheap food is destroying our health – and producing it takes a terrible toll on our environment.
More people are already making the connection between diet and health, and as a result, they are making significant positive changes in their food choices. The connectivity facilitated by technology increasingly stimulates fact-sharing and corporate transparency, enabling consumers to be less influenced by marketing dollars and make more informed choices.
My hope for the future lies in the fact that when we change what we eat, we change how food is produced. In our free-market economy, consumers have immense power when they vote with their forks. The growth of the organic industry is a perfect example of consumer-driven change. In 1984, when my husband Drew and I started Earthbound Farm, organic was barely on the radar. Few retailers were eager to introduce organic foods, but they eventually did because of consumer demand. Now, organic food is available in almost every supermarket in the U.S., and 10 percent of produce sales in America is organic. Over the last 10 years, the organic food industry has increased from $8 billion to $29 billion, a growth of 360 percent.
We live in an area contributing to a healthy food revolution. According to the 2012 Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner’s crop report, Monterey County has 131 registered organic farms. And this year we had 16 farmers markets. In 25 years, I hope our county will be able to boast that the majority of our acreage is being farmed organically, with our healthy food being sold directly to every local resident at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and in great abundance on supermarket shelves. I hope to see more delicious diversity return to our crop offerings, and the bounty of the earth inspiring more home cooked meals and backyard gardens.
I believe consumer demand is the key to turning food and agriculture in the right direction, and I want to thank the Monterey County Weekly for 25 years of enlightening reporting – the myriad ways they educate their readers to help them make wise choices.
As we plunge into an era ever more dependent on technology, with boundless information and entertainment at our fingertips, I hope food will serve as a grounding force in our lives, helping us to slow down and feel connected to the earth and to each other. I envision dinnertime 25 years from now – when my children are feeding their children – and I don’t picture a garbage can filled with disposable aluminum trays. Instead, I see a cornucopia of fresh-picked produce, whole grains, beans and seeds – foods that are chosen because they are delicious, healthy and sustainable to produce.