My wife and I watched another documentary on the American food chain, The Future of Food. Yes, we did watch on Netflix instant, and no I am not getting paid to promote Netflix; we have just found a lot of great documentary films there.
As the title suggests, it covers topics about where our food production is at, a bit about how it got where it is, and, of course, where it is going. It’s a bit unsettling to think that.
I grew up in San Jose, California (and still live here), I can remember farms and orchards in the Silicon Valley, sparse and spread out, but they were here. I also remember watching them slowly fade away over the years. I always thought it was due to the “progress” of urban/suburban development with all of the new people moving into the area. Now I see that it was only partly the “progress” of development. It seems as though things were going on that, unless you were involved in agriculture, you most likely wouldn’t have noticed. One of these developments was the introduction of patents for genetic modifications, or more importantly, genetic markers in agricultural products.
Since I am not a genetic scientist, and my understanding is somewhat limited to biology classes in school and the documentaries, I think I’ll leave the details to the movie, which I recommend you see. What I will talk about is the farmers and the hell that many have been through, and are going through still.
I am not a farmer, nor have I ever been one. My parents were not farmers, but my grandmother grew up on a farm, as did her parents, and theirs on back. There must be some sort of recessive farming gene that skipped my parents and landed squarely on me because I seem to have that pragmatic farmer mentality. During the movie that recessive gene was stimulated into overdrive. While watching, again, what Monsanto has been doing to farmers and our food supply over the last few decades is appalling, down right criminal in some cases.
If the name Monsanto sounds familiar, you may remember it from the movie Food Inc., another great documentary about the business acquisitions that are centralizing our food supply and some of the criminal actions the Agri-MegaCorps are getting away with.
Centralization is the heart of what I wanted to talk about in this article. Centralization in food production is very much like centralization in the financial industry. We have recently seen what happens when a diversified economy gets bought up and conglomerated into a small number of financial institutions; a small hiccup or a minor disaster in the economy can cascade into a full scale depression turning the local, national, and global economy in turmoil. Our food system in the United States is following the same path that the financial institutions have followed, centralization. Would we be able to weather a Food Crash better than the Financial Crash? I don’t think so.
The problem is compounded in one sense because in a financial crash, the government can jump in with a bail-out. Money problems on the large scale are more a matter of shifting ones and zeros than a physical solution, they eventually tie to something tangible, but it takes a long time for it to manifest in a physical sense. In a Food Crash we aren’t just pushing ones and zeros around, it is about getting food to people, it is a product based problem. The government is just not in a position to provide that kind of help. There are any number of scenarios that could cause a Food Crash and the only solution is taking preventative measures and restructuring the system.
Localization and independence are the only real solutions for these problems. It’s the age-old adage “never put all your eggs in one basket” but that’s exactly what companies like Monsanto, Philip Morris (yup, they own Kraft Foods Inc.), ConAgra Inc., and other Agri-MegaCorps are doing. They keep consolidating and it is estimated that if things continue the way they are, within the next ten years 90% of all US food production will be traced to just six companies, oh, and one of them is Wal-Mart. Did I forget to mention them earlier?
So what do we do? First and foremost as consumers we need to be more knowledgeable about where our food is coming from, and what is in it. Another thing is that as consumers we have to realize that we are the only ones that are really looking out for us. The federal government can only do so much and lobbyists for agri-business have massive resources that we just can’t compete with. Our power is as consumers and voters. When we take the time to read labels and buy local, organic when possible, and in general pay more attention to where our food is coming from we are telling Agri-Business that they can’t sneak things past us.
Rebuilding the small local farm industry is better for the economy, better for the environment, and provides healthier food. It is also a more sustainable food supply chain. The distributed food chain is much harder to break than the the conglomerated one. Its not just a matter of taking control of our food industry, it’s also about national pride and security.