The Next Food Revolution

We have a terrific guest post today, from my friend Joanie.  Thanks Joanie!


The Next Food Revolution 

By Joanie Blaxter

“A farmer friend of mine says ‘I don’t raise hogs any more. I manufacture pork. That’s my business and my buildings are like an assembly line at an automobile factory.  And out of the end of those buildings actually come animals, but I’m not really interested in the animals.  I’m interested in the attributes those animals have.  I’m interested in the chop.  I’m interested in the ham.  The animals are just carriers of attributes the consumer wants.’ ”

Dr. Michael Boehlje, PhD, Professor

Center for Food and Agricultural Business

Purdue University

When you go to the supermarket and pick up those colorful boxes or bags marked “organic,” what images are evoked in your mind?  A family farm with healthy vegetables and happy cows in the pasture lovingly guided by Mr & Mrs Farmer…?  Well, to be honest, even if I don’t consciously believe that image, I still do feel good knowing there are no petrochemicals used in the growing of my food.  What could be better?

Well, unfortunately, a lot…

Supermarkets excel at one thing: moving stuff long distances extremely cheaply.  And supermarkets do this at a profit, a much better profit by the way, than the margin made by the small farmer at your local Farmers’ Market.  Supermarkets can sell the same thing cheaper than a family farmer and still make money solely because their agri-business suppliers are gigantic producers of one single thing: beef, corn, oranges, etc.

Organic or not, by definition every time we purchase from a supermarket chain we have personally lined the pockets of Big Ag.  Along with that organic but cheaper  tomato comes all the problems inherent in a factory food system: increased risk of contamination (sewage sludge on the fields, mechanical harvesting and handling, etc), inhuman labor practices, a much larger carbon footprint due to being transported long distances, and most important, absolutely no sense of land stewardship.  Monoculture, factory farms owned by agri-business have a single bottom line: profit.  And none of this information is included in the lovely graphics on the package. 

Have you purchased eggs at Trader Joe’s recently?  Better check to see if they’ve been recalled due to salmonella contamination.  TJ’s mega-supplier of Sunshine (like those hens ever see the light of day!) eggs is well known in the industry for repeated contamination violations and yet this company has never been shut down.  Meanwhile the FDA is spending enormous amounts of their budget putting small farms out of business for selling clean, safe, raw milk with no record of any problems for their customers.  Have you ever read that the FDA closed a restaurant for serving sushi that made customers ill?  So why focus on one kind of producer and not the other?  Sorry, that’s another story for another time (hint: follow the money…).

Joel Salatin is a farmer, author and leader in the eco-agriculture movement.  And yet his farm is not certified organic simply because he refuses to go through the paperwork.  Furthermore, he will not transport his product more than a 4 hours’ drive, so you’ll never see his superior, grass-fed beef carried in Whole Foods.  Or any supermarket for that matter.  Why?  Salatin refuses to participate in a food system that he thinks is inherently structured incorrectly.  He believes people should personally know who produces their food.  The greatest guarantee of quality is relationship.  If you can visit the farm where your food is grown, what better guarantee is there?

In his book Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Salatin says ““Supermarkets, organic or otherwise, do not do a good job of creating food connections, maintaining integrity, or especially insuring that farmers get a living wage.  Supermarkets are predicated on pitting all their suppliers against each other on price, paying their vendors up to 90 days after product delivery (this finances the store on the vendors’ money), and carrying no loyalty to local producers who must deal with seasonality and cash flow…  Except for a few notable locally controlled exceptions, supermarkets cater to the empire builders.  And any producer who aspires to sell there is starstuck, not customer struck.”

I think we in the Green movement have been somewhat lulled to sleep by the label “organic.”  Back in the 70’s, all organic product came from small, diversified farms and was therefore synonymous with “locally and sustainably grown.”  But for better or worse, that is no longer true.  And just as we began the process forty years ago of educating consumers concerning the health benefits of eating organic, these times now require a new wave of consciousness about the critical importance of sustainable land stewardship designed to support local economies.

As Michael Pollan says, Vote with your fork!  “Cheap” food is not cheap because what’s rung up at the cash register is not the true cost.  The hidden bill is paid by bankrupt family farmers, by migrant farm workers, by our children and our children’s children.  It’s paid by the earth.  Can’t afford to buy direct from the farmer?  Or can’t afford not to?

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