Five Steps to Food Freedom
Back in the days of our great grand parents, daily vittles were consumed in a much simpler world of supply and demand. Nearly everyone had a vegetable garden whether they lived in the country or a suburb, and many kept chickens or other domestic animals for meat. A child accompanying a parent to the grocery store was aware of where milk comes from, even if the family didn’t own it’s very own cow.
Contrast that with a complex modern world where many children reach adulthood without ever visiting a farm, and have no idea what it takes to produce the food we all come to expect and take for granted. If you are reading this, you may be among the awakened; someone who values your right to choose what you eat. But despite your willingness to discern these choices, largely a result of the organic food movement which has taken hold in the US over the last 25 years, there are awareness gaps which preclude truly knowledgeable choices. How is this possible?
Industrial agriculture – it’s very much alive and well, despite longstanding organic activism and consumer demands for pure safe food. In fact, a surprising non sequiteur of recent years is the eruption of large scale organic production systems which eschew biodiversity and are therefore monocultures. Large scale organic production is increasingly common while small family farms – organic and otherwise- continue to dissolve. Today’s increasingly ubiquitous industrial ag corporations operate internationally and aim for total control of production, from seed to table. Through the introduction of GE (genetically engineered) crops an increasingly complex contracts, mega corporations dictate farmers’ choices with an expert combination of economic and legal pressures. These controlling tactics functionally emasculate farmers and ultimately put consumers and the entire food system at risk. While biotechnology research and development has ushered in a frighteningly fast paced era of industrial agriculture, oversight by Federal agencies such as EPA, FDA and USDA is woefully inadequate.
As opposed to the long-promised vision of GE as a solution to world hunger, biotechnology “products” are actually being developed to force farmers’ increased use of agricultural chemicals, most notably the herbicide Glyphosate (RoundUp). Farmers like Canadian producer Percy Schmeiser have been forced to defend themselves against legal actions when their fields were contaminated by pollen from genetically modified crops. Genetic contamination is the new pollution, and an increasing threat to organic agriculture.
In response to these threats, we turn a new corner in our quest to uphold safe food choices. The issues are complex and in many ways overwhelming. But there are tools for action. Glimpsing these threats of industrial agriculture, we see the implications of consumer ignorance and farmer compliance which further the status quo. We see that we must reignite strong public opinion. The public must demand safe food, sustainably produced.
“Five Steps to Food Freedom” means a multi pronged approach to facing our food system head on, and demanding alternatives. To begin on a positive, US nonchalance regarding genetically engineered crops is not a shared attitude in many countries around the world. Organized food awareness movements in Japan and Europe have insisted on labeling for GMO foods and products, and this trend works in our favor when we bring the issue to the attention of our elected representatives.
- Write to your representatives to express concern about the safety of GE foods. Farmers must receive assurances of protection from seed and crop contamination from GE crops. Insist that the FDA, EPA and USDA monitor the development and use of GE crops and products and enforce safety protocols. Check out the work of Cal GE Free (Occidental Arts and Ecology), Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Organic Consumers Association, Hawaii GE Free and others. Respond to appeals and make your views known. Finally, demand that all GE foods and products produced through GMO technology be labeled as such.
- Support local farming and organic agriculture by buying through a regional CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or at your local farmer’s market. Check out the “Slow Food” Movement online at www.slowfood.org and seek to choose foods which are produced in a manner that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just (sustainable).
- Grow your own garden. Even if you only have space in pots, you can get a feel for producing your own ecologically sound food by making the effort to grow your own. There are many resources to support all aspects of organic gardening, most notably Rodale publications, Mother Earth News, and a wealth of on-line resources. Make compost and revel in the truly sustainable cycle of life as you garden with nature.
- Industrialized meat production is unsavory, unsanitary and dangerous. If you care to eat meat, choose free range or humanely produced products which should be labeled as such. Avoid consuming fish which is caught using drift nets or using other industrial means which create huge amount of “by-catch”. The incredible waste many types of ocean fishing is unsustainable and damaging to ocean biodiversity and health. Choose “dolphin-safe” tuna. For more information on this see the Center for Food Safety Web Site. Also for updated sustainable fish choices (they change throughout the year and by region) visit the website of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Encourage your friends and relatives to buy organic, and buy locally as much as possible. We mustn’t simply preach to the choir. It is imperative that more consumers understand the gravity of their food choices. We indeed do vote with our dollars, and food choices are just about the most politically instantaneous votes we can cast.
The more we know about our food supply, the better chance we’ll have to ensure it is safe and responsible. Consumers, farmers and the environment all need protections and assurances which are easily undermined by corporate interests. These five simple steps are a starting point toward food freedom. If everyone takes action we can be assured that our efforts will bear fruit. Let’s demand nothing less than a future where sustainable farming, fair production contracts for farmers, and safe food is the norm.