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The Fast Food Industry Is Causing Climate Change


It was 1930 in Canada and 1940 in the USA when the first nutrient intake guidelines were established. It took the economic depression to spark this regime as food supplies were not substantial and the essentials were to be quickly discovered for the survival of the nations affected (Lawrence & Dullughan, 2016).

The nutrient intake values devised were required on a daily basis for adequate physiological function and prevention of disease. American nutritionist's Lydia J. Roberts, Hazel Stiebeling, and Helen S were the ones to first implement what is now called RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance). It was necessary to accomplish these nutritional values because the military and armed forces needed to be physiologically energized and healthy (Huxley et al. 2000)

In a way you could say their investigations and surveying of available data was a version of weaponry, a bit like today's use of illicit drugs in sport, except back then it was new and not all well understood and in war there are no rules and no one is going to hoist a red card over misconduct (Huxley et al. 2000)

These nutritionists needed to make the healthiest warriors with the most economical and rationed portions of food possible.
From then on, every five years the RDA was updated and as we can now see has became very intricate. What started out, as a method of strengthening individuals in a starved population has become one of the largest marketing frenzies. In the 1940's there were eight essential nutrients now it's not quite so simple (Lawrence & Dullughan, 2016).

Since 1930 the relationship between nutrients and prevention of chronic diseases has been intricately analyzed and researched. We now have the available data and resources to collectively understand the correlation between diet and health. Ironically, since 1930 first world populations have sunk into an unhealthy den. Even though modern day medicine and nutritional research is able to provide assisting health information to society so do the ever-expanding “big foods” (The food industry’s market power). The healthy calorie just cannot compete with the price of the sugar and preservative packed foods. People buy what they can afford, what they like the taste of and what they are addicted to; no matter how many statistics you shove in front of them (O’Kane, 2010).

Our current food systems are now unsustainable. Firstly, these “big food” companies are doing what they can to feed as many people in the population as possible for as low cost as possible. This then places a burden on manufacturers and producers to continually keep up with this mass production of cheap harvest. Secondly, it is almost impossible to create food at this scale without it being ruthlessly unhealthy and we now face an obesity epidemic. Thirdly, agriculture will not be able to keep up with this reckless turnover, we need to broaden our horizons and not only look at population health but planetary health as well (O’Kane, 2010).

Today, 1 in 3 people suffer from malnutrition. 1.4 billion people are overweight and obese. 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. 868 million people are undernourished. 1 in 5 American deaths are due to obesity. These figures lead many people to believe that the modern food systems are broken (Lawrence & Dullughan, 2016).

A healthy diet is a sustainable one. Sustainable in the way it impacts the environment on a global scale; not in the way it keeps the kilos off for “x” amount of years. The link between climate change and nutritional resources has acquired increasing attention from global authorities in the last decade. What use is ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme’ if we starve to death first (Thuraisingam et al. 2008)?

It cannot be stressed enough that implementing a strict Food Policy regime is urgent. So, where does food come from? How is it grown? What does it need to grow? What could possibly prevent it from growing? The answer? Natural resources. Climate change poses threat to many aspects of human life but access to food and water is possibly our greatest necessity and therefore our largest hazard (Berry et al 2015).



However, introducing new Food Policies is not an easy task. It was calculated that between 2006-7 46 per cent of all retailing turnover in Australia was food and liquor spending. Importantly, 191,400 people worked in the food trade within this period. So you could say the food industry accounts for a large amount of jobs and a majority of the economy. Henceforth, the resolution lies within an economical and achievable restructuring of our current Food Policy; it needs to be attractive to current stakeholders because unfortunately people invest themselves into immediate benefits rather than sustainable long-term ones. I can understand that though, why would anyone invest their hard earned money into the home cooked meals of those hundreds of years from now? When we are all long gone (Lawrence & Dullughan, 2016).

The “big foods” industry does not want to play politics; it is far too risky for their business. Nestle and Mars are multi- billion dollar corporations who could technically have more input. Nestle has agreed to play a part in the new food revolution and hopefully competitors push back and raise the bar higher. If we could turn this into a battle of the brands of “who can become the most sustainable” then I think we may have a shot. I mean it’s all about the money really isn’t it? So if we could create an urgent need for sustainable food production that would be ideal. We need the “big foods” on our side and this could be what forms the foundations when formulating a new policy. The solution is to undo the conflict between commercial interests and public health (Nestle, 2009).

Food policy is socially constructed, marketing takes a look at what we want, need or they even create the need. So between these corporations and us we have the tools. Now we must create the need.

People purchase what they can afford, so we can say this sustainability issues is socio-ecologically orientated. McDonaldisation and CoCa Colonisation have influenced the health of society greatly. Even though these companies claim people make their own dietary choices, they place themselves at every possible easy-to-get-to locations with prices that cannot possibly be met by nutritional foods. Subsequently, how do people have a choice if they financially or geographically do not have another option (O’Kane, 2010)?

So how is all this causing climate change? Since1930 there has been a larger increase in the demand for grain fed meat. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be a 50% increase in grain fed meat demand, which requires large mechanical devices that use fixed amounts of fossil fuels as well as the use of pumped irrigation systems and production of artificial nitrogen fertilizers. In other words, farms have been tailored to have maximum production for economic gain and therefore environmental cost. Usable land is now declining; the earth simply will not be able to keep up with this demand. These mass productions are changing the soil acidity, salinity and quality, which impairs plant growth. Industrial agriculture uses a narrow range of crop species replacing a large variety of strata and resulting in a decline of animal and plant species. In order for farmers to survive financially they have had to inhibit long-term sustainability in order to maintain higher productivity (Garnett, 2012).

A sustainable food system and a healthy diet go hand in hand. If we switch people from red meat to fish that are not endangered (which comes with education) then we have a good example of how we can make this work. Fish is a protein that is affordable in low-socio economic societies (Macdiarmid, 2012).

The new fad diet is not only a healthy one it is an environmentally sustainable one, as climate change draws increasing attention we can start investing our resources in analyzing relevant data. In the United Kingdom, dietary consumption explains thirty percent of the total annual greenhouse gas emissions with the marginal majority coming from meat and dairy production. A way in which we can eliminate these emissions is to reduce dairy and meat production; although there will need to be an affordable alternative that provides the same nutrients as these food groups. Education is required to create the link between environment and diet within society (Macdiarmid, 2012).

The diets of society have been well established and the understanding of what constitutes as a “healthy” one has been deeply embedded. There are ways to alter the meat and dairy elements so that there are fewer emissions to create a “healthier” diet on an environmental level.

Citizens in low socio-economic countries are embracing similar high-meat diets to the upper-class global regions as it is becoming accessible and affordable (by fast food chains). These extreme rates of meat production are causing substantial dangers to the industrial agricultural system and the environment because of its widespread use of soil altering fertilizers and pesticides; this pollution means our current food production stance is unsustainable (Walker et al. 2005).

In the USA the number of fast food restaurants has doubled in the last decade. The motive for this is seen when we look at the 14-fold increase in fast food sales revenue in 2011 reaching $604 billion dollars. The low cost meals that people purchase at these venues are non-inclusive of the environmental costs. It will be the future generations who will pay the price of these $3 Happy Meals. A new Policy is more than necessary in fact it is crucial if we want our future relatives to


live sustainable and healthy lives. Modern food systems produce abundance of cheap food but at a huge cost. An intervention is greatly needed and I would recommend the vicious cycle be broken at the source (Pettoello-Mantovani, 2005).

Thus, when looking at the sustainability of our food systems and environment it is quite evident that attention be paid to the wider scale. When discussing a “sustainable diet” the perspective needs to be shifted from everyday recommended intakes to what produce will cause the least harm to our environment. For example, how can we prevent fossil fuels being burnt in order to work machinery for crops? What can be grown organically without the heavy pesticides and soil disrupting chemicals? How can we maintain our biodiversity of flora and fauna within our agriculture (Pettoello-Mantovani, 2005)?

Finally, as a society we need to create availability, accessibility and utilization of fresh farmers produce whilst concentrating on nutritional welfare. Once we have educated society and recreated that link between them and the farmers and food producers we can start to create a Policy that will lead to a maintainable management of natural resources and eradicate the identified unsustainable repetitions of food production (O’Kane, 2010).

In recent times global governing authorities have recognized the significance of sustainability and the environment as well as natural resources. They have also outlined the consequence of our food systems and how we are irresponsibly destroying our sources and therefore the future of our food security. However, these “big food” companies will not change for anything but guaranteed economical growth; consequently, we must cut off their source. A disconnection is required between the population’s consumers and the market power and a reconnection between the farmer’s and society. If we subtract their money source (the everyday fast-moving-consumer-goods buyer) to recognize the environmental affects of their cheap foods then we could potentially starve “big foods” of their income. Succeeding this we need the farmers to take a stance. We essentially must form an alliance between the public and the food producers so that there can be a direct transaction between the buyers and the producers. This creates a cash flow to the farmers and detaches “big foods” from the picture (Yngve et al. 2012).

This would be a first order policy and for it to become effective we must create a change within society and their current understanding of sustainable diets. This will not be a quick fix, as the consequences are not affecting society in the short term so we must create the urgency with awareness of how this will impact on the future of our planet.

Reference List

  1. Lawrence, M & Dullughan, A, Food Policy and Public Health: Study Guide, Deakin University, Burwood
  2. O’Kane, G, The real cost of our food? Implications for the Environment, society and public health nutrition, Public Health

    Nutrition, Volume 15, Issue 02, 2010, pp 268 – 276

  3. Huxley, R, Lloyd, B, Goldcare, M, Neil, H, Nutrition in World War II, British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 84, Issue 02 ,

    August 2000, pp 247-251

  4. Thuraisingam, S , Riddell, L, Cook, K & Lawrence, M, The Politics of developing reference standards for nutrient: in the case of

    Australia and New Zealand, Public Health Nutrition, Volume 12 (9), March 2008, pp 1531-1539

  5. Macdiarmid, J, Is a healthy diet an environmentally sustainable diet?, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Volume 72, Issue 01,

    February 2013, pp 13-20

  6. Walker, P, Rhubart-Berg, P, Mckenzie, S, Kelling, K & Lawrence, R, Public Health Implications of meat production and

    consumption, Public Health Nutrition, Volume 8, Issue 04, June 2005, pp 348 – 356

  7. Berry, E, Dernini, S, Burlingame, B, Meybeck, A & Conforti, P, Food Security and sustainability: can one exist without the

    other? Public health nutrition, Volume 18, Issue 13, September 2015, pp 2293-2302

  8. Nestle, M, What president Obama can do in the USA, Public Health Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue 03, 2009, pp 433-435
  9. Yngve, A, Haapala, I, Hodge, A, Mcneill, G & Tsend, M, Public health nutrition and the environment, Public Health Nutrition

    Volume 15, Issue 02, February 2012, pp 187-188

  10. Garnett, T, Food Sustainability: problems, perspectives and solutions, Proceedings of the nutrition society, Volume 72, Issue 01,

    February 2013, pp 29-39

  11. Pettoello-Mantovani, M, The social and environmental dimensions of nutrition science, Public health nutrition, Volume 8, Issue

    6a, September 2005, pp 749 - 752



Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2016:

You've included a lot of important data and information in this article. Thank you for sharing all the facts. Our food sources and the state of the planet are vital things to think about in today's world.

Dianna Mendez on September 09, 2016:

I've heard and read so much about companies such as Monsanto that have corrupted our foods. I do appreciate stores such as Whole Foods that supply a healthier variety of foods. I know everyone cannot afford these places, but next to that fresh foods are best. If only we could feed everyone with wholesome foods.

Setank Setunk on September 07, 2016:

Definitely too many people. I wouldn't worry so much about McDonalds. They are a popular brand and subject to the demands of the Public. It's mega corporations like Conagra and Sysco Foods you should be worried about. These are the companies that drive out natural healthy products for profit. However their success is linked to urbanization of the population. Too many people live far away from the farms and ranches that deliver their food. Frozen and Processed is the most efficient and cheapest means of distribution. Sadly it is the way of the future.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 07, 2016:

You've described the crisis extremely thoroughly and well. I think the root cause is too many people.

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