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Nature = Food

Part 1: Agriculture
• Nature is the ultimate source of all food consumed by
• Some of this food is recognizable (unprocessed
vegetables and meats), while some is not (Twinkies are
a good example!)
• Some of the food is wild caught/harvested, while the rest
is produced (cultured) for us via agriculture and
Modern Food Supply
• World food supplies have more than kept up with human
population growth over the past two centuries.
– 1950 - 2.5 billion people - average daily diet was less
than 2,000 calories/person.
– 2001- 6.0 billion people - world food supply can
provide more than 2,500 calories/person.
– 2007 Currently, more than 4,000 calories of food are
made per day for each American
• Of course, food is more than calories and there is
mounting evidence that the Western diet is full of empty
calories and lacks important nutritional components
(‘Unhappy meals’)
Modern Food Supply
• The most common dietary problem in wealthy countries
is over-nutrition.
– In North America and Europe, average daily per
capita caloric intake is 3,500 calories.
– Leading to serious medical problems associated with
obesity (for example, heart disease, diabetes, high
blood pressure)
• Sub-Saharan Africa has not kept food production up to
pace of population growth
– As a consequence they depend on foreign nations and aid
organizations to provide food assistance
• Collapse of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to
significant collapse in food production.
• An overweight world diagram
Modern Food Supply
• Food security - the ability to obtain sufficient food on a
daily basis
• About 1 in 5 people in the developing world are
considered chronically hungry.
– 200 million children
• Can lead to permanently stunted growth, mental
retardation, and other developmental disorders.
– Poverty is the greatest threat to food security
Food as nutrients
• Macronutrients – nutrients that are required in large
– Carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins
– Water
• Micronutrients – nutrients that are required in small
quantities (and larger quantities can be toxic)
– Vitamins and minerals
• Essential nutrients – nutrients that cannot be made in
an organism (biochemically) and are therefore necessary
components of the organisms diet
– Omega fatty acids
• The foods we eat are essentially combinations of
nutrients, essential nutrients, and energy
Food as nutrients
• Malnourishment - nutritional imbalance caused by a
lack of specific dietary components
• Protein Deficiency Disorders
– Kwashiorkor - “Displaced Child” - Occurs mainly in
children whose diet lacks high-quality protein.
• Reddish-orange hair, bloated stomach
– Marasmus - “To Waste Away” - Caused by a diet
low in both protein and calories.
• Very thin, shriveled
Food as nutrients
• Iron deficiency
– The most common dietary imbalance in the world.
– Leads to anemia.
• Increases risk of death from hemorrhage in
childbirth and affects development.
– Sources of iron: red meat, eggs, legumes, and green
• Biologists estimate that there are roughly 30,000 plant
species with parts that humans can eat
• Majority of our food supply (90%) is derived from only 15
plant and 8 animal species
• Three grains, wheat, rice, and corn, provide almost half
of the calories consumed by people
– These three species are all annual plants
• 2 out of 3 people on Earth survive primarily on grains
• Two major types of agricultural systems:
– Industrialized
– Traditional (practiced by roughly half of the world’s
Industrialized Agriculture
• Also referred to as high-input agriculture
• Requires large amounts of energy, water, fertilizers,
antibiotics, and pesticides; three of which come from
fossil fuels
• Produce huge output of single crops (monocultures) or
livestock (which are often fed monoculture products)
• Accounts for roughly 25% of the world’s cropland
• Mostly in developed countries, but it is spreading into
developing nations
Plantation Agriculture
• Form of industrialized agriculture practiced primarily in
tropical developing countries
• Cash crops, such as bananas, coffee, and cacao
(chocolate and cocoa butter)
• Grown for sale in developed countries
Traditional Agriculture
• Traditional Subsistence Agriculture
– Only enough crops and livestock are produce to support
a farm family
– In good years surpluses might be sold for cash, trade,
and store
– Variety of different forms of subsistence agriculture:
• Shifting cultivation and nomadic livestock herding are
• Traditional Intensive Agriculture
– Increased inputs of labor (human and animal), fertilizer,
and water
– Increased outputs of crops and livestock, which are
available for sale
Green Revolutions
• Green Revolution – systematic application of new
technology to improve crop yields
– Three steps involved:
• Developing and planting monocultures of
selectively bred or genetically-engineered high-
yield varieties of crops; emphasis placed on plant
growth instead of seed growth and development
• Use of large quantities of fertilizer, pesticides,
antibiotics, and water to increase yield
• Increase frequency and intensity of cropping (more
crops per year and increased acreage)
– Two recognized green revolutions:
• 1950-1970 developed world
• 1970 – current developing world
Why Livestock?
• One of the principal uses of animals in agriculture is to
transform plant material into high-quality protein (
Protein conversions)
• In traditional agriculture, livestock graze land, taking
nutrients in and then they defecate and return some of
the nutrients to the same field
• In industrial agriculture, livestock are fed grains (corn
particularly, which they are not “designed” to do) and not
necessarily in a field, so the manure does not fertilize a
• Per capita meat consumption has increased 29%
between 1950 and 1996
• 1/5th of the world’s population consume roughly half of
the world’s grain production through livestock
Organic Revolution
• Began in the mid-1900s in response to growth of
industrial agriculture
• Focus placed back on soil fertility and sustainability
– No inorganic fertilizers or pesticides used
– Organic fertilizers (i.e., manure, compost, peat, etc)
and “natural” pesticides are used (i.e., soaps, plant
derived pesticides, etc.)
– No antibiotics added to animal feed
– Reduced amounts of fossil fuels; smaller in scale so
less demand/need for fossil fuels
– Animals and plants lead a more natural life
• Boom in “organic” foods has led to modern industrial
organic revolution
– Reversing some of the trends of the initial organic
– Better than contemporary, non-organic industrial
agriculture, but there are naysayers.
Benefits of Traditional Methods
• In stark contrast to monocultures, many traditional
agricultural methods involve interplanting
– Interplanting – simultaneously growing several crops
on the same plot
• Types of interplanting
– Polyvarietal cultivation – several varieties of the
same crop
– Intercropping – two or more different crops are
grown in the same plot (grain plus legume)
– Agroforestry – mixed crop and shrub/forest farms;
shrubs/trees provide nitrogen or firewood
– Polyculture – most complex form of interplanting with
many different types of plants and animals growing
• Studies have shown this method to
produces/maintains the soil ecosystem and
produces higher yields (higher than monocultures)
The problems with/caused by modern
• Agriculture, particularly the industrialized forms, has a
profound and significant negative impact on air, soil, water,
and biodiversity resources
• Humans and human health is also negatively impacted
• Negative aspects of cost the US $150-200 billion per year
(Pimentel estimate), a cost which is not reflected in the
actual cost of food
• What are the specific negative impacts and their costs?
The problems with/caused by modern
• Biodiversity loss
– Loss of habitat through conversion of grasslands and
forests along with wetland draining
– Fish kills from agricultural runoff
– Extermination of predators
– Loss of genetic diversity due to monocultures
– Genetic pollution from bioengineered or selectively bred
organisms that “escape” and interbreed with native
– Spread of diseases from agroecosystems to natural
The problems with/caused by modern
• Soil
– Loss of soil fertility
– Salinization of soil
– Waterlogging
– Desertification
– Soil loss through erosion
The problems with/caused by modern
• Air
– Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use
– Other air pollutants from fossil fuel use
– Air pollution from pesticide sprays
– Toxic odors from livestock waste (manures and their
associated smells)
The problems with/caused by modern
• Water
– Aquifer depletion
– Increased runoff, due to land clearing and plowing
– Sediment pollution from runoff
– Fish kills from pesticide runoff
– Surface and groundwater pollution from pesticides,
antibiotics, and fertilizers
– Over-fertilization of lakes, rivers, and coastal ocean
from fertilizers, livestock wastes, and food processing
The problems with/caused by modern
• Human Health
– Nitrates in drinking water
– Pesticide contamination of foods, drinking water, and
air (all have significant and measurable concentrations)
– Contamination of drinking water with diseases from
– Bacterial contamination of meat and produce
Overweight world
Protein making machine efficiency
Kilograms of grain required per
kilogram of body weight

Beef cattle 7

Pigs 4

Chicken 2.2

Fish (catfish or