Thursday, July 2, 2015

How much longer can we afford "cheap food?"

I was a young man when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published more than 50 years ago. I'm dismayed and somewhat discouraged by how little things seem to have changed since then. This morning I had an extreme sense of deja vu as I read It's not just bees: Popular pesticides are killing birds, too.

It followed too closely on the heels of a City Pages story by Hannah Sayle, Big Ag is conquering Minnesota like a noxious, unkillable weed, that I read yesterday. Furthermore, earlier this morning I skimmed through Daily Yonder's story about how corporations are expected to put the screws to those who, under contract, raise our chickens. In 2008, the New York Times warned us about The High Price of Cheap Eats. In 2009, Time Magazine advised us to start Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. We don't seem to be listening or reading for retention.

gold finches
gold finches
Photo by J. Harrington

Even earlier, in 2000, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) informed us that "states reported that agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water." And yet, unlike other major industries, agriculture is largely exempt from water quality pollution abatement requirements. Have you thought about how much of the money you "save" on food gets spent on health care? We need a much better system of food production, processing and distribution and a better way to pay for it all. Field corn doesn't directly feed us, nor do soy beans. Fortunately, some folks who really know what they're doing have started working on a system that's better for us and the environment we, and our fellow inhabitants of earth, depend on. Locally grown food, provided through community supported agriculture, farmer's markets, food co-ops and similar channels, is a big part of the solution to a number of food system problems. Support for that kind of system continues to grow. Related changes we need are included in the proposal that Congress enact a Fifty Year Farm Bill.

early season farm fields
early season farm fields
Photo by J. Harrington

From what I can see, our current system supports primarily the wealthy and large corporations while it pollutes our water, contributes to our obesity and other health problems, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and kills pollinators, birds and aquatic insects. Those are just the most obvious issues that come to mind. Every bite you eat and every vote you cast (or don't cast) is either support for these problems or eventual solutions. Chew on that for awhile.

To the Executive Director of the Actual:

By Bruce Smith 
       Is this the world, Miss Bliss? Stacks of ingots on the docks where my brother works? Work and things on the threshold of raw and radiated. Bananas gassed in shacks to ripen by the forklifts. Ships of foreign port. Ships of car parts and dyes. The beef-stripping business. Things, Miss Bliss, and work. Flavors translated from Costa Rica, volatile oils, seized cargoes, incensed loads, cracked coal. After a week the exposed skin around his wrists was blue, vein color, the color of the world. Labor, and the union of the senses to deliver us from our geography. Everywhere is here.

       When the stevedores break for lunch, one is responsible for the pot-luck of cold meats, the deep dish, leftovers from the wedding, while one is responsible for inviting the office women. These men set the table with the pomp of the late Elizabeth: linen, gilt plates, a taster, and a trumpeted summons. They force the choice bits on each other. They talk about blood and Solomon’s operation. They talk about Lily’s kids and the dead as they come hack to speak to Lonnie in his sleep. And they talk about food they could not eat, the boss, and a dream of playing lead before they switch on the TV with its loud prophecies of soap. They eat deeply in gratitude. The pot scraped with a spoon, that sound. The world’s a word, and a lever.

       The ghosts at the banquet want something, Miss Bliss. From one world I come to you with two blue wrists, my brother’s rage against the living the world owes, and everything I do that’s duplicate. My cells split. They can’t be true. I smoke. I turn out a little verse. I make a small sacrifice. I throw what cannot be eaten away. I throw it on the ground. Here, some things you can’t eat. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.