A New Food Revolution

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In Amanda Little’s essay, Power Trip, she examines the ways in which fertilizers, coupled with the seed engineering breakthroughs of the Green Revolution have brought us agricultural abundance. And yet, being able to feed an expanding population has also produced many practices that have put strain on the environment and come at a cost to other living systems.

Little explores how the push for higher and higher crop yields has forced the use (and overuse) of commercial fertilizers. And by promoting an agribusiness model, society has deepened its dependence on oil, set production standards too high for smaller farms, and done massive ecological damage. Little cites a University of Chicago study that states, “Americans actually emit more greenhouse gases from eating than we do from driving,” (150)

A reinforcing loop has been established between nitrogen fertilizers and commercial farming. Farmers are incentivized to produce as much as possible which leads them to over-saturate their farms with fertilizer; this increases demand for fertilizers, which in turn forces many farmers to think only about yields. So, although the Green Revolution allowed agriculture to feed many more people, its long term impact will likely cause serious damage. The question is, can we recover and build a system that is more sustainably focused?

Farmers increasingly power their technology with fossil fuels and often grow a single crop, thus degrading their soil for future use and diminishing the farm’s biodiversity. Corporate patents on seeds and increased emphasis on high yields has meant that smaller farms, unable to afford advanced machinery, higher oil prices, and modified seeds, have been pushed out of the marketplace. This also affects farmers in developing countries, where resources are more scarce and competition has become impossible in the global market. Little believes that possible solutions to ending this negative reinforcing loop require transformations in farming practices and also in patterns of thought. (175) While we need to provide food to a growing population, we must also guarantee that the ways food is grown preserves the integrity of an intricately balanced system.

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