Consumers are being asked to make food choices in terms of not only health and money issues, but in terms of environmental and social values as well. The task of food shopping has become fraught with conflicting information, frustration and, often, outright cynicism. Being an educated consumer has never been more challenging.

Mary V. Gold, USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center

A comment on last week’s post (Hi T.K.! *waves*) got me thinking about a topic I am personally very passionate about: Food. In one of those strange quirks of fate, food topics have been floating about the spiritus mundi (or at least my local spiritus mundi) as of late. Just in the past week since T.K. and I had our comment discussion on meat, a friend posted on Facebook about Food Inc. (see the trailer below), another friend vented her frustration with her latest cholesterol test, a different friend celebrated his successful completion of 30 days of strict Paleo (and continued success at weight loss and reversing hypertension), my sister called to tell me she’s taking the plunge and going vegan, I started my “job” (I don’t get paid, but I do get free vegetables) as a community organizer for my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and I got made my first visit to the farm to meet the farmers. All in one week.

So I’ve been thinking about food. Particularly about where our food comes from.

Food is fundamental to life, to the way our bodies run, and so I see it as fundamental to society and the way a society runs. Strip out everything else we purchase – from fashion to entertainment to cars to toys – and we will still buy/barter food. Because we have to to survive. Therefore, how our nation grows, ships, and purchases food is a deep part of who we are as a people – even if most of us are completely removed (or even unknowing) of the process. Every single one of us contributes to the modern food chain and either condones or rejects the ethical standards of modern agribusiness via where and how we purchase our groceries. If you care about the ethical treatment of animals, pollution of air and water sources, obesity in America, children’s health (mental and physical), local economies, or corporate lobbyists with too much control in Washington – if you care about any of these things – you may not realize it, but you already care about food sourcing.

Face it. We have two agricultural systems in this country, both claiming to be good for farmers and both claiming to be sustainable. One focuses on local, seasonal, organic, and sustainable in the sense of replenishing what gets taken out of the soil. The other is Monsanto, for which sustainable means selling seeds (and not letting farmers save them), patented traits developed through biotechnology, and crop protection chemicals.

This is about who gets to control the food supply and who gets to choose.

– Marion Nestle (author of Food Politics), “Eating Liberally: What about those smarmy Monsanto ads?“ [Jax’s note: Monsanto is a biotechnology corporation that produces Round Up, invented rBGH, and is the world’s #1 seller of genetically modified seeds.]

The sad and frightening fact is that giant agribusinesses control the food chain in our nation (and to a certain extent, around the world), and they’re doing a great job of keeping their unethical practices secret. The corporate-driven push to cheaply feed our growing appetites has created a system that is not environmentally sustainable, not healthy for us, and beyond cruel to the animals we eat. On top of that, our tax dollars fund farm subsidies that favor big business and keep these mega-corporations afloat, allowing them to unfairly price their goods at far less than small farmers can. If this sounds unreal, don’t take my word for it, please do your own research! I’ve provided a few links to get you started. I’m writing about this because the wrongness truly is unreal, and most people don’t know about it.

  • Sustainable Table breaks down of many of the issues (particularly check out factory farming)
  • The Meatrix - A South by Southwest award winning cartoon about meat production in America today (for those of us, like me, who can’t stomach photos and videos of the real thing, this shows you some of the things going on without making your lose your lunch)
  • Our Decrepit Food Factories” – Michael Pollan, James Beard Award winning journalist and food writer, talks about the insustainablility of monoculture (don’t let the big words scare you off; it’s a very interesting read and he makes the big words make sense!)
  • What’s Wrong with What We Eat? – NYT food writer and home cooking proponent Mark Bittman talks about the history of eating in 20th century America with lots of surprising information. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but it’s an entertaining speech (as TED talks usually are!) with lots of thought-provoking facts. (~20 minute long video, so you will get sound if you open it.)
  • Slow Food – an international movement towards sustainable food choices, has a lot of great information
  • Alliance for Natural Health – A group out of the UK that’s started a US chapter fighting agribusiness and ridiculous USDA regulations in favor of holistic health

I have more to say in the future (maybe not next week, but this issue is important enough to me that I’ll be back on it with more info for you!), but I wanted to start a conversation. As a pagan, I feel very strongly about living in harmony with nature, which is what led me to research this topic in the first place. The more I looked into it, though, the more I realized this is about so much more than my personal reluctance to tamper with Mother Earth. The American food chain (which corporations are happily exporting all over the world) is damaging to society on so many levels. We just have to look at growing obesity levels , see what kind of unhealthy crap we’re feeding our children in schools (if you haven’t seen Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I highly recommend it), and read the basic standards of animal “care” in agribusiness (which most of us would call “abuse”) to see this is not a philosophical debate, it is an ongoing tragedy that is breaking us as a nation.

You deserve to know where your food comes from. Please, read about it. And let us know what you think.

Or continue on to Part 2!