Tag Archives: food politics

400 Million Lives Saved

Yorkshire_pigs_at_animal_sanctuaryI’m writing to share a huge success story. A larger success than I ever imagined. Last year, 400 million fewer animals were killed in the U.S. than in 2007. That’s more lives saved in America than there are American citizens.

As a vegan I would love to take credit. But it’s not just vegans and vegetarians; in fact it’s not even mostly us. Most of those lives were spared by people who are simply eating less meat. It’s a known trend that as societies get wealthier they demand more animal products, but that trend is being reversed in the U.S.
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Food Politics

I almost said that I’m expanding my focus with this article, since I usually write about animal rights. But really I’m narrowing my focus to one particular animal: the human animal.

I’m used to boycotting foods that cause harm to non-human animals. These include all animal products, and lately I’ve started being careful to avoid palm oil unless it’s certified rainforest-safe. Palm oil is often grown in a way that destroys orangutan habitat. I’ve recently become aware of how harmful the banana industry can be to its workers and it’s gotten me thinking about human exploitation in our food system.

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This week in food politics, the Soli edition

We’ll start with this image, which I saw on Facebook last week.

I know a lot of us are having issues with being unemployed, underemployed, or just not having enough money to cover all our living expenses. I admit that I wonder sometimes how my paycheck can disappear so quickly. Food is one of the reasons why. Good, nutritious food is a right, not a privilege. But until water and air, which we also need to live, growing food takes people power. It takes knowledgeable farmers with skills and brains to make the food the best it can be. Salatin, in the above picture, is just one farmer taking this approach. Unfortunately he is in quite the minority, when most of the food Americans eat come from industrialized, monoculture farms. Too many of them use toxic chemicals to grow their food, or the food is toxic themselves. Which leads well into my next point…

A viral gene has been found in genetically engineered soy and corn/maize crops. I’ve been anti-GMO since I first learned of their existence around 1996, and one of my goals for the year is to better educate myself about these crops. Whatever your beliefs may be about them, take note of these paragraphs from the end of the article:

It is perhaps the most basic assumption in all of risk assessment that the developer of a new product provides regulators with accurate information about what is being assessed. Perhaps the next most basic assumption is that regulators independently verify this information. We now know, however, that for over twenty years neither of those simple expectations have been met. Major public universities, biotech multinationals, and government regulators everywhere, seemingly did not appreciate the relatively simple possibility that the DNA constructs they were responsible for encoded a viral gene.

Biotechnology, it is often forgotten, is not just a technology. It is an experiment in the proposition that human institutions can perform adequate risk assessments on novel living organisms. Rather than treat that question as primarily a daunting scientific one, we should for now consider that the primary obstacle will be overcoming the much more mundane trap of human complacency and incompetence. We are not there yet, and therefore this incident will serve to reinforce the demands for GMO labeling in places where it is absent.

I’ve said it before, I love food. It’s my passion. And I want to see everyone able to access real, nutritious food and have the best health possible. But more and more of the food in this culture is fake, lacking in nutrients, and making us sick. Our overculture seems to want food which is cheap, fast, and good. The way we’re doing things right now you can have the first two without a problem. The third is when things get dicey and it seems like that is what we’re most willing to sacrifice.

Meal time can be sacred. In Egypt there was a prayer which translates as this: May Netjer (God/the Gods) be satisfied with the repast to the right and to the left. When you live in a culture where food is not automatically abundant on the table at all times of the year, or you had to worry about a poor or failed harvest, you do gain a level of reverence for when you are able to eat.

Incidentally, this applied to all cultures throughout the world before modern times. Yes, it’s amazing we have such abundance and can eat so much out of season. But we don’t respect it as we once did. We don’t have to plan ahead for the fallow seasons and can, ferment, dry, and otherwise preserve the bounty. If something spoils, we can just toss it in the trash and drive down to Stop and Shop for more.

But is this abundance a good thing? We’re throwing away up to half of the food being grown or made. One argument I’ve seen for genetically engineered food is that it will help feed people going hungry. Forgetting the fact that people go hungry for reasons which have nothing to do with availability, the fact that we’re tossing half of what can possibly be eaten doesn’t speak well for bioengineering food to cover this deficit. If we can’t get the food we’re making now to be consumed, how will making more be a help? Won’t it just mean more of this food getting tossed?

I’m not going to try to present solutions here, since such things are beyond me at this point. Instead I take a lesson I learned from Jello Biafra a long time ago, that the first step to finding a solution is pointing out the problem.

Incidentally, some of the food issues I’ve discussed here aren’t just for people whose politics fall on the left. As this article puts it so well, Tea Party Libertarians and small organic farmers make strange politics bedfellows. It’s something to consider, and part of why I still question whether I am a liberal. If I’m not, I don’t mind being a left libertarian.

What do you do to get food to your table? Do you grow it? Buy organic? Or beyond organic? Do you avoid GMOs? Do you have, or wish for a garden?

One last little tidbit for this wanting to garden. The University of Connecticut now has a rain garden app if you are interested in making a garden and taking advantage of rainwater to make your environment a more beautiful place.