My goal in this essay is to start us on a path of remembering, so that we can build an energetically sustainable food system that can feed and nourish us far into the future. We’re far from this ideal today.
The old logic of the slave plantation is still the logic of our industrial food system, 500 years in the making. There’s a new way of thinking, and it’s taking off.
As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets sprouting up across the nation.
Are genetically modified (GM) foods making you sick – I mean really sick? Up until recently, all that we could say was thank goodness you’re not a lab rat; GM feed messes them up big time. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) appear to trigger the immune systems of both mice and rats as if they were under attack. In addition, the gastrointestinal system is adversely affected, animals age more quickly, and vital organs are damaged. When fed GM foods, lab animals can also become infertile, have smaller or sterile offspring, increased infant mortality, and even hair growing in their mouths. Have I got your attention?
Being a modest man of humble origins, it’s difficult to glean from Jere Gettle just how he came to be something of an apostle for a pure food movement, or, according to a New York Times magazine headline, one of “The Evangelists for Heirloom Vegetables.” Lacking in bombast, not given to hyperbole or self-promotion, much less sermonizing, the seedsman from Missouri seemed pleasantly surprised by all the fuss when asked recently about the meteoric growth of the business he began just 14 years ago, when Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds sent out its first mail order catalog. That was 1998. He was 17.
There is nothing inherently environmentally damaging about human participation. Yes, I admit it and repent in sackcloth and ashes for all of the human devastation that has been caused throughout history. It has been caused long before the USDA, long before America, long before a lot of things. It does not have to be so. In fact, we are not only the most efficient at destroying it; we are also the most efficient at healing it.
Local food systems are an antidote to the profound ills of today’s international, homogeneous, industrial food system. These networks of independent, founder-owned companies care about the people they employ and the communities they sustain. They provide wholesome and nourishing food that’s absent of the chemical byproducts, hormones and antibiotics used by industrial food producers that make people unhealthy. But local food producers still face big challenges as they struggle to compete with grocery store prices and navigate atrophied distribution channels.
This has been a brutal summer. Record drought across the Midwest has forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to slash its forecast for 2012 corn production by 12 percent. Corn prices are already 90 percent higher than in July 2010. They’ve gone above 2007-08 levels, when soaring food prices sparked riots in more than 30 countries. On July 25 the U.S. government reported that corn prices may push the cost of meat 4 percent to 5 percent higher next year. And there’s good reason to believe that the upward trend is a taste of worse things to come—in particular, for the world’s poorest people, who spend 60 percent to 80 percent of their limited incomes on food.
The drought that is affecting much of the Midwest is scary enough but what makes me even more nervous is the way speculators in the grain futures market are sending grain prices gyrating all over the place as they bet on what will happen next. Betting on the future supply of food is risky business. There’s too much chance for mischievous manipulation. It is risky enough to gamble with banknotes of one kind or another but they aren’t edible no matter how much good steak gravy you sop on them. Food, however, is everyone’s essential necessity and I wonder greatly about the wisdom of gambling with it especially when many of the gamblers can barely tell a stalk of corn from a hoe handle.