Rising food prices and shortages have joined the energy and climate crisis, economic recession, and the war in Iraq, as headline news. While consumers struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table, Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland rake in billions from taxpayer-subsidized biofuels. Monopolizing markets, polluting the environment with genetically modified organisms, and hoarding future reserves of crop seeds, wheat, rice, soy, corn, and other grains, the food and gene giants profit from global crisis and misery. Adding fuel to the fire, Wall Street speculators have shifted their greed from sub-prime mortgages to food and non-renewable resources.
The public are becoming aware of the causes of the food crisis: millions of acres of corn and soybeans diverted into biofuels; corporate-driven free trade agreements that discourage nations from maintaining grain reserves and becoming self-sufficient in food production; massive subsidies for industrial agriculture and a misguided export model that have forced millions of family farmers off the land; sharply escalating oil prices, farm inputs, and transportation costs; commodity speculation; population growth; a growing demand for feed grains for meat consumption, and, most ominously, a destabilized climate spawning deadly droughts, pests, floods, and unpredictable weather.
Fortunately, there are hopeful signs that we can move beyond crisis to positive solutions. Connecting the dots in our food-climate-energy crisis, millions of green consumers are voting with their dollars for foods and products that are healthy, locally produced, energy efficient, and eco-friendly. A growing number of politicians, mainly at local and state levels, are also waking up.
Organic food and farmers markets are booming. Chemical-free lawns and gardens, green buildings, solar panels, wind generators, “buy local” networks, and bike paths are sprouting. A critical mass of organic-minded Americans are waking up to the fact that we must green the economy, drastically reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas pollution, re-stabilize the climate, and heal ourselves, before it’s too late.
For 10,000 years locally based family farmers and ranchers managed to grow and distribute healthy food, and ample feed and fiber, largely without the use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, animal drugs, or energy-intensive irrigation, processing, and long-distance transportation.
In 1945 most of the U.S.’s six million family farmers were still rotating their crops and cultivating a wide variety of fruits, grains, beans, and vegetables organically, fertilizing with natural compost, and generally practicing sustainable farming methods they had learned from their parents and grandparents.
By 1945, as part of the war effort, Americans were growing a full 42 percent of our vegetables and fruits in our backyards, schoolyards, and community Liberty Gardens.
The nutritious, primarily non-processed foods that people cooked for their family meals were purchased from locally owned grocers who stocked their shelves with a wide variety of items — typically grown or raised within a 100 mile radius of our communities.
In the 1950s the average American household spent 22 percent of our household income for fresh, locally produced food. Currently we are spending 13-15%, though low-income households are spending 30-35%.
By today’s standards the post-war generation was relatively healthy in terms of low rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, food allergies, birth defects, and learning disabilities.
Sixty years later we have a Fast Food Nation, living in denial (at least until recently), gorging ourselves on the industrialized world’s cheapest and most contaminated fare, allowing out-of-control politicians, corporations and technocrats to waste our tax money on corporate welfare, destroy the environment, starve the poor, wage a multi-trillion dollar war for oil, and destabilize the climate.
The good news is that there is a solution at hand. Turning back to the time-tested practices of local, eco-friendly, organic food and farming will go a long way toward restoring our health and the health of the planet. Revitalizing democracy and bringing our politicians to heel will guarantee that these organic and green alternatives become the norm.
Organic and local farms dramatically reduce energy use in the agricultural sector by 30-50 percent while safely sequestering in the soil enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Decades of research have shown that small farms produce far more food per acre than chemical farms, especially in the developing world, and that organic farms outperform chemical farms (by 40-70%) under the kind of adverse weather conditions that are quickly becoming the norm. Buying local and regionally grown organic products means food doesn’t have to travel 1500-3500 miles before it reaches your kitchen.
Crisis demands change. We must continue to buy local and organic foods and green products. Patronize farmers markets. Start or expand your garden. Move your diet away from restaurant fare and over-consuming meat and animal products. Buy in bulk and cook your meals at home with healthy whole foods ingredients–vegetables, fruits, beans and grains. If you’re going to eat meat or animal products, make sure they’re both organic and grass-fed or free range. Most important of all, get political. Demand an end to the war. Demand healthy and sustainable food and farming, energy, and climate policies from your local, state, and federal elected public officials—or else vote them out of office. Don’t panic go organic.
To press the politicians on these burning issues, go to http://www.grassrootsnetroots.org
RONNIE CUMMINS is director of the Organic Consumers Alliance. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.