“Monoculture” means growing only one crop species in a field at a time. If you’ve ever taken a road trip and driven past miles of fields all filled with corn and soybeans, you’re familiar with monoculture. This type of farming is common in the United States. Most of the corn, soybeans and wheat we produce are grown as monocultures. Growing food this way is hard on the planet. Monocultures deplete nutrients from the soil and leave plants vulnerable to pests. This means farmers need to use more fertilizer and pesticides for crops to grow. Fertilizers and pesticides pollute the water and air. They also contribute to global warming.
You might think “I don’t eat that much corn or soy, why should I care how they’re grown?” but these three plants find their way onto your plate in surprising ways. Corn on the cob at summer BBQs and creamed corn at Thanksgiving make up less than 10 percent of the corn we eat each year. The rest is processed into cooking oil, flour, and high fructose corn syrup. These products enter your diet as tortilla chips, beer, soda and baked goods. Soybeans have a similar fate. Only a small percentage of the soy we produce in the United States is used for tofu, soy milk, or other vegetarian products. Soy is added to packaged foods like cookies, bread, and candy to improve taste, texture and shelf life. We grow more corn and soybeans than we could possibly eat. We end up burning them for fuel, feeding them to animals or even allowing them to rot. Over seventy percent of the soybeans and thirty percent of the corn we grow each year are fed to livestock. Another example of monoculture is wheat. Wheat flour is used to make over 75 percent of crackers, pasta, pastries, bread, and cereals. About 23 percent of the calories we consume each day come from processed grains and flour. A common thread between corn, soybeans and wheat, is their presence in processed foods. Packaged baked goods, pastries, chips, sugary drinks and other snack foods have a lot of added sugars, salt and fats. Eating too many of them can lead to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Just like monocultures are hard on the planet, processed foods are hard on our health.
The best thing you can do for yourself, and the planet, is diversify your plate. Choose unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains to crowd out the hidden corn and soy. These dietary changes improve nutrient intake and enjoyment of eating while helping to support the planet. Changing your eating pattern is challenging and our nutrition practitioners are here to help. Make a nutrition appointment at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle or Bastyr University Clinic in San Diego. Hannah Grant is a Dietetic Intern at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is passionate about the power of plant-based diets to improve both personal and planetary health. When she’s not hiking or doing yoga you can find her in the kitchen whipping up delicious plant-based treats. References: DeSilver, D. (2020, May 30). What’s on your table? How america’s diet has changed over the decades. Pew Research Center. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/13/whats-on-your-table-how-americas-diet-has-changed-over-the-decades/Economic Reseach Service. (2021, December 1). Corn, soybeans accounted for over 40 percent of all U.S. crop cash receipts in 2020. Economic Research Service U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=76946 John, J. (2021, March 20). Monoculture could make climate change even scarier. Food Tank. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://foodtank.com/news/2021/02/monoculture-could-worsen-vulnerability-to-climate-change/ NIH. (2021, August 31). Highly processed foods form bulk of U.S. youths’ diets. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/highly-processed-foods-form-bulk-us-youths-dietsUSDA. (2019, July 29). Corn is america’s largest crop in 2019. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2019/07/29/corn-americas-largest-crop-2019