Today’s ‘Big Ag’ Farmers Eat Really Unhealthy Diets
Modern 'Big Ag' farming often precludes the time and the available household labor for healthy eating. As a result, many farmers today have very unhealthy diets (hat tip to Amanda for submitting):
To the non-initiated, life spent on a farm — with its fresh air, physical labor and just-picked produce — may seem like the epitome of healthy living. But being a farmer today does remarkably little to ensure good eating. As it turns out, many of today’s farmers face the deep irony of producing beautiful fruits and vegetables for consumers while subsisting on a diet that more closely resembles a McDonalds’ menu than Old MacDonald’s farm.
In theory, farmers should be poster children for the locavore movement. They have fridges and fields (or home gardens, in the case of some larger farms) stuffed with gorgeous produce. But such proximity to local food does not automatically translate to the plate. The evidence is perhaps most extreme in California’s Central Valley, where a startling 80 percent of farm laborers – many of whom are recent immigrants living in low-income communities – are obese. But the disconnect impacts farmers of all kinds.
The primary source of the tension between what farmers grow and what they end up eating is time. During the planting and harvest seasons the days can get extreme, stretching as long as 12 to 16 hours. Farmers who host onsite CSA pickups or navigate through rush hour traffic to drop produce off in nearby cities have to cater to their customer’s own hectic work schedules, which pushes off dinner prep (not to mention breakfast and lunch for the next day) until 8 or 9pm at the earliest….
…Historically, the social ecology of a family farm included systems to accommodate the harvest season time-crunch. Some members of the family, traditionally the father and brothers, worked in the fields while others, typically the women, were tasked with preparing and, when necessary, packing up, breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also spent hours canning, pickling, preserving and otherwise stretching the life of the season’s crop.
Some farms continue to work this way. “Where I live in North Dakota, most farmers have a mother or a wife making their food,” says Hagen said. In his case, it’s his mother and girlfriend. “Without that support, you begin to get into the junk food element.”
But if a farm is set up so that the whole family works in the fields, or one spouse works a supplementary job, those systems can break down quickly. Brad Wilson, 60, of Fireweed Farm in Iowa, says falling crop prices over the last half-century have eroded the traditional family structure on many farms: “The wives had to get jobs in town, which takes away the home garden and vegetables at dinner. After my mom died, with my wife working in town, I asked my dad to bring out food for the workers. Instead of sandwiches, he went to town and bought high sugar, artificially flavored junk food in packages.”
Meanwhile, today’s growing crop of young farmers – the ones who left urban life in order to farm – often find themselves lacking that critical support network.
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