It is hard to imagine life without food, which is not only a basic need for living things, such as human beings and animals but also a cornerstone of health. Notably, people rely on nutrients found in food for the energy required in performing activities and for the full functioning of the body, such as growth and repair of tissues and cells. The most common sources of food needed for the human body are obtained from animals and plants. Although the above information may be common knowledge to the majority of individuals, very few people recognize areas in which the food they consume is prepared or sourced. While individuals may share the opinion that food is exclusively grown and prepared by experienced large-scale domestic and international farmers and corporations, the activity can be conducted partially by small and large-scale female farmers in organic, agroecological, and conventional circumstances.
Growers of the Food we Eat
A substantial fraction of the food we eat today is grown by local small-scale female farmers. According to scholars, the gendered division of household labor entitles women to the responsibility of providing food for their families; thus, the majority of them practice agriculture (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 487). For example, previous studies show that approximately 30 percent of America’s small-scale farm operators are women (Koba). In particular, it is observed that women of color are the dominant race in the activity. For instance, researchers state that Latinx and Asian immigrant women indulge in gardening traditions within their homelands (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 487). The authors add that women in rural Africa and Asia participate in subsistence farming, whereby agricultural production is mainly done for family consumption rather than commercial purposes (Wharton 13). While the majority of the small-scale female farmers grow their food for family use, some of the produce finds its way in the United States commercial sale through informal markets, which are also highly dominated by women. The fact that women indulge in agriculture, and that part of their produce is sold in informal markets implies that a significant portion of the food we eat is grown by small-scale female farmers.
Part of the food that we eat is also grown by large-scale domestic farmers and corporations. A report issued by the United States Department of Agriculture shows that “large farms with over $1 million in sales account for 66 percent of all sales in the country” (Koba para. 3). Unlike small-scale farmers, corporations and large-scale agriculturalists are highly equipped with modern machines and labor required to produce food in bulk. Hence, they mostly produce goods for commercial sales in the domestic and international markets. For instance, in the United States, family-owned companies, such as Simplot and Boswell, are critical players in the agricultural sector. In particular, Simplot produces wheat, sweet corn, and potatoes, some of which are sold in the American market, while the rest of the produce is exported to other parts of the world. By investing in advanced farming technology and large acres of land, large scale farmers and corporations play a crucial role in growing and feeding the American population.
In addition to domestic small-scale farmers and large corporations, some of the food that we consume is also grown outside the United States and imported into the country for sale. Hence, to illustrate, apples are consumed year-round in the United States, despite the country experiencing three months of winter each year, between December and February (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). The apple tree requires low temperatures for growth and development of its fruit; thus, harsh summer conditions may not be favorable for apple farming. Kirk and Okazawa-Rey aver that the northern winter often coincides with southern summer, which enables the southern region to supply the Northern hemisphere, such as the United States, with apples during summer (488). The authors ascertain that some of the fruits sold in the United States are imported from Chile and New Zealand, which are located in the southern hemisphere (488). Hence, while some of the food that we consume is locally produced, some of it is grown in other countries and imported to the United States for consumption.
Preparation of the Food that we consume
Growth and preparation of food that Americans consume occur in different stages. Mainly, the growth stage entails all processes that transpire between the planting and harvesting period of crops or the rearing phase in the case of food-producing animals. For instance, the process of growing plants involves different activities, including plowing the land, seeding, watering the seedlings, transferring the seedlings from the seedbed to the larger farm for further growth and reaping. After harvesting, some of the agricultural products, such as fruits, maybe consumed directly without further processing. However, other products take the form of raw materials that may require additional preparation before being sold to consumers in both formal and informal U.S. markets.
Preparation of food is a critical process that determines the quality of the end product; thus, the activity is often done in industries or small factories that deal exclusively with the type of food in question. For instance, animal products such as milk are processed and prepared in dairy factories to produce end products, including yogurt and cheese, which are directly consumed by human beings. Similarly, some of the crops such as wheat are processed to produce flour, which is a crucial ingredient in the preparation of foods such as bread, porridge, and biscuits. Just like crop growing, women are considered the dominant population that works in industries that indulge in the preparation of food. Notably, Kirk and Okazawa-Rey highlight that such a group provides low-waged labor in the food industry (487). To some, women’s participation in food preparation is not by chance but a clear indication of a gendered division of labor, whereby women bear the responsibility of providing food for their families, cooking, preparing school lunches, and making menus (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 487). Based on the above information, it is evident that some of the food that we eat is prepared in industries by female laborers.
Food stores located across the country are also in charge of preparing the food that Americans consume. A good example is McDonald’s, a fast-food outlet that serves food and drinks, including hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, coffee, pies, among others. Notably, the food store is known for its French fries, which are the end products of potatoes. McDonald’s purchases harvested potatoes from large scale farmers, such as Boswell company, and prepare the food, in this scenario, French fries. While fast-food stores play an essential role in preparing the food that we consume, scholars observe that they offer lower-priced foods that are less healthy options. Hence, they are highly concentrated in low-income neighborhoods compared to middle- and high-income residential areas (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). Unlike elites, low-income earners face financial constraints; hence, they opt for cheaper meals which are often offered in fast food stores. Regardless that fast food joints provide less healthy food options, they play an essential role in preparing food that the United States’ population consumes.
Apart from industries and fast-food outlets, government agencies in the United States are also responsible for preparing the food that Americans consume. Unlike industries, which convert the raw materials into finished products that can be directly consumed, government agencies prepare the food by testing the quality to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. To elaborate, when the residents of the city of Flint, Michigan, noticed a foul smell and discoloration in the water flowing through their taps, they were assured by officials that it was safe for consumption, including bathing and drinking (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 490). Such information reveals that different levels of government-state, federal and local, have officials tasked with testing and ensuring that water consumed by citizens is safe for their health. Similarly, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the help of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) are examples of United States federal agencies responsible for inspecting dairy and other agricultural products that enter the country’s market (Tobin). Regulation by the above agencies ensures that food offered in the market is safe for people’s health.
Circumstances under which the Food we Consume is Grown and Prepared
A portion of the food that we eat is grown under natural conditions. Such a style of farming involves sustainable use of land, whereby pest control and land fertility are managed naturally, without the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides (Nandan and Gami 12). For instance, rather than using synthetic fertilizers, farmers practicing organic farming utilize natural fertilizers obtained from animal and vegetable matter. Such organic materials are prepared in compost pits, after which they are transferred to the agricultural land. In addition, pest control in organic farming is done through biological management. The method of control involves the use of organisms that have parasitic, predation, or herbivory relationship with the farm pests. For example, animals have herbivory relationships with plants; thus, they may be used on organic farms to control weeds. Similarly, some animals, such as playing mantis, are used to control small pests and insects that destroy agricultural products. Notably, organic gardening is labor-intensive and requires significant capital investment in human resources. In general, the agronomic and biological conditions mentioned above are utilized by farmers in the United States to grow some of the food that we consume.
Advantages of Organic Farming
While organic farming facilitates food security in the country, it is also a method of sustainable agriculture. For instance, the practice promotes health among farmworkers because organic farmers use biological conditions for fertilizer and pest control rather than synthetic matter; thus, workers are often less exposed to pesticide poisoning. In addition, organic agriculture is environmentally friendly due to the methods of farming utilized. For example, the use of animal and vegetable matter for restoring the farm’s fertility reduces global warming because fewer greenhouse gases are emitted in the long run. Besides, the limited use of synthetic matter on crops reduces scenarios of chemical residues on food that is consumed directly, thus promoting health among consumers. The fact that organic farming supports health among workers and consumers and reduces environmental pollution makes it a sustainable method of agriculture.
Disadvantages of Organic Farming
Despite its numerous benefits among farmworkers and United States consumers, organic farming is also disadvantageous in various ways. Firstly, organically grown foods are relatively expensive (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). Given that organic agriculture is labor-intensive, farmers spend heavily on each unit of production. The costs incurred during farming are then transferred to the market prices, making organic food expensive for low-income earners. Secondly, organic products are often produced in low quantities; hence, the process may jeopardize food security in the country. As observed by researchers, “13 percent of United States households were food insecure at some time during 2018,” which implies that some Americans lacked access to adequate food during that period (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). Therefore, reliance on organic food can worsen the current situation of food security in the country, given that only small amounts of food are produced through organic agriculture. The fact that organic food is expensive and that the farming method involves the production of small amounts of food makes it highly disadvantageous for low-income earners in the United States.
Apart from organic circumstances, some of the food that we eat is also grown in agroecological conditions. Scholars regard agroecological agriculture as a way of farming “that is based on ecological processes and ecosystem services” (Schoonhoven and Runhaar 443). Notably, agroecological agriculture is a sustainable way of farming that is based on the unique interaction between components of the environment, including plants, animals, and non-living things. In particular, agroecology comprises different farming techniques, such as poly-cropping and agroforestry. For instance, in poly-cropping, different types of plant species are grown in the same piece of land and at the same time. The process enables farmers to offer a wide range of agricultural products in the market. Researchers believe that agroecological farming aims at reducing the environmental impact of agriculture while fulfilling the growing demand for food across the globe (Schoonhoven and Runhaar 443). In contrast, agroforestry is a technique of farming where other vegetations such as trees and shrubs are grown among crops. The practice facilitates environmental conservation while meeting the demand for food among Americans. Both poly-cropping and agroforestry are among the agroecological techniques used in the growth of food that we consume
Advantages of Agroecological Farming
Just like organic farming, agroecology is beneficial to consumers, farmers, and the environment. To the former, agroecology provides a sustainable supply of nutritious food for American households. As mentioned earlier, different crop species are grown within the same piece of land in agroecology. Hence, Americans are often assured of a constant supply of diverse types of food, which are essential for the growth and development of the human body, as well as food security. In addition, products grown in agroecological conditions are often safe for direct consumption, since natural fertilizers and biological methods of pest control are utilized, reducing chemical residues on food. Agroecology is also advantageous to farmers because it minimizes instances of pesticide poisoning because natural methods of land fertility and pest control are utilized. Agroecological farming also promotes environmental sustainability because it is based on ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling through crop rotation and poly-cropping, biological nitrogen fixation, natural regulation of pests and soil, and water conservation (Schoonhoven and Runhaar 443). The multiple benefits associated with agroecological farming make it a highly utilized method of agriculture in the United States.
In addition to agroecology and organic farming, food that we consume in the country is also grown under conventional conditions. The method of agriculture involves the use of modern equipment, synthetic fertilizers, and chemical pesticides in farming. In plants, genetically modified organisms are used to facilitate the growth of agricultural outputs. The organisms are also used among food-producing animals to quicken growth and increase their production. Conventional farming is common in the United States since the method facilitates substantial output of food to meet the growing demand across the country and fosters food security. For this reason, a large portion of the food that we consume is grown under conventional farming conditions.
Disadvantages of Conventional Farming
While conventional farming is essential in strengthening food security in the United States, the method is associated with multiple adversities, some of which affect the environment and human health. Notably, researchers observe that industrialized farming in the country involves the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides; thus, instances of pesticide poisoning among farmers are very high, especially among Mexican Americans (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). In addition, the practice involves high levels of monoculture, where one crop species is grown over a given period. Hence, the result of the conventional method includes declining yields and impoverished soil since ecosystem services such as nutrient recycling and nitrogen fixation do not take place (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 488). While conventional farming facilitates food security in the country, it also poses a risk to human health and environmental sustainability.
As it is evident from the above research, in addition to large-scale domestic farmers, small-scale female farmers also play a critical role in growing the food that we consume. In particular, the majority of women grow crops under subsistence farming and sell the output in informal markets in the United States. The study also reveals that the participation of women in agriculture is an indication of the gendered division of labor in American society. Some of the food that we eat is also grown by farmers in other countries and imported into the country. Overall, the research shows that the preparation of food is mostly done in specialized industries, fast-food stores, and government agencies, which test agricultural products for quality and safety.
Furthermore, the study shows that a large quantity of the food that Americans consume is grown in diverse circumstances, including organically, through agroecology, and conventional conditions. Unlike agroecology and organic farming, which promote environmental sustainability, industrialized form of agriculture exposes human health and the environment to multiple adversities, including diseases, soil infertility, and global warming. While the above study provides insight on the parties involved in the growth and preparation of the food that we eat, further research is required to explore the way each player supports environmental sustainability while meeting the growing demand for food in the United States.
Kirk, Gwyn, and Okazawa-Rey, Margo. Gendered Lives: Intersectional Perspectives, 7th ed., England, UK, Oxford University Press, 2019.
Koba, Mark. “Meet the ‘4%’: Small Number of Farms that Dominate US”. CNBC, 6 May 2014, www.cnbc.com/2014/05/06/state-of-american-farming-big-producers-dominate-food-production.html. Accessed 18 January 2020.
Nandan, Neelesh, and Gami, Attika. “Organic Farming: A New Revolution in Agriculture.” Journal of Agroecology and Natural Resource Management, vol. 2, no. 1, 2015, pp. 12-13.
Schoonhoven, Yanniek, and Runhaar, Hens. “Conditions for the Adoption of Agro-Ecological Farming Practices: A Holistic Framework Illustrated with the Case of Almond Farming in Andalusia.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, vol.16, no. 6, 2018, pp. 442-454.
Tobin, Tommy. “FDA Gearing up for New Era of Smarter Food Safety”. Forbes,15 Oct. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/tommytobin/2019/10/15/fda-gearing-up-for-new-era-of-smarter-food-safety/#212e43071fd5. Accessed 18 January 2020.
Wharton, Clifton. Subsistence Agriculture and Economic Development. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.