Food safety breaches like the recent E. coli outbreak in Europe signal warnings about the safety our food chain. In this clip from Nourish, author Michael Pollan discusses the biology and ecology of modern food chains.
What’s a Food Chain?
Food chain is a term from ecology that describes who eats who or what. These relationships form an ecological community known as a food web, which connects all types of life: plants, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, decomposers. A familiar food chain flows from grass (plant), which gets its energy from the sun, to cow (herbivore) to human (omnivore).
With humans at the top of the food chain, how we produce and consume food has broad implications for the animals and plants within the greater food web. Our modern food system has evolved to include many complex processes, from growing, harvesting, and processing food, to marketing, distributing, and consuming it. The use of machines, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and genetic engineering in agriculture, as well as the advent of processed foods, such as high-fructose corn syrup, can betray the biology underlying this system.
The intricacy of the modern food chain has distanced many people from the source of our food, while creating lasting impact on our environment, animal welfare, food security, and health. The recent E. coli outbreak in Europe, in which the use of agricultural antibiotics in livestock has been implicated in breeding antibiotic-resistant pathogens that contaminated vegetable irrigation water, points to dangers and disconnects in our industrial food chain.