You might say we could have seen this day coming some 11,000 years ago when farming first took root in civilization: A day when competition between growers out-paced the importance of the health of the whole community; a day when the market was no longer about truly feeding the masses but more about feeding the profits of elite insular corporate agendas. We've arrived at a time where most of what we're sold as food is little more than tasty toxins that someone alive just 100 years ago would most likely not even recognize as actually edible. Millions of Americans have now found themselves at a crossroads, ready to make major changes about how to spend their money. And since there is perhaps no greater decision than what we put in our bodies, the most pressing question we can ask about our food choices is: What can we spend our money on that will really have a positive lasting impact on the planet and our health?
Despite the complexities our food and financial systems seem to be weighted with as the Occupy movement has elucidated, multinational corporations still play an enormous role in what, when and how we spend our hard (or hardly) earned dollars. This is especially true of our food system; the most sacred and intimate relationship we have with the natural world nowadays comes seasoned with clever corporate marketing agendas, ubiquitous and patented genetically modified ingredients and the bitter taste of profits instead of foods that promote health for humans and the planet.
But there are ways to opt-in to new paradigms that support shifting to a world that's more representative of the best humans can offer. Food revolutions are taking hold in America and around the globe that are making a difference on several key issues including fair wages, environmental management of our planet's dwindling resources, improved human health and the fodder for any successful revolution: Compassion.
That chocolate you love to nibble on or that coffee that's part of your morning routine, or even the banana you slice into your cereal are rooted in exploitation of resources and people paid unfair wages. Competition of these products found in the developing world has also led to practices such as unsustainable destruction of the rainforest and child labor. Fair Trade programs have encouraged sustainability and better trading conditions by paying higher wages and supporting higher social and environmental standards. And these issues also hit close to home: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers represents 30,000 tomato pickers in the state of Florida and has recommended a .01 cent per pound increase to improve the pickers' quality of life and boost their daily wage by as much as 30 percent. Looking for Fair Trade certified products including beans and grains, coffee, chocolate, honey, nuts and seeds (and their oils), herbs, spices and some fruits and vegetables can help ensure an ethical global economy, higher quality products and the protection of important ecosystems.
There are many health reasons for buying organic, but here's another reason: No corporate pesticides. The majority of pesticides and chemical fertilizers are manufactured by giant corporations—the most common one being Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup. By definition, organic cannot be sprayed with toxic chemicals, nor can it contain genetically modified ingredients—another huge corporate-funded chunk of the American food system. The California Department of Health and Agriculture estimates that 80 percent of all processed food sold in the U.S. contains genetically modified ingredients. Monsanto, the largest manufacturer of GMOs, is also the largest seed seller in the world.
But organic doesn't always mean small-scale or anti-corporate. Lots of organic food companies are owned by larger parent companies including Kraft, Unilvever, Danone, Nestle and Coca-Cola. Activists looking to direct their money to small-scale organic growers can find an abundance of them sprouting up at farmers markets all over the country or through local CSA programs (community supported agriculture). They tend to be smaller, family operations and you're also buying seasonally and locally, which is better on the environment, too.
How long we'll continue to debate the ethics of eating animals is anyone's guess. But if we move past the point of whether or not we're "supposed to" eat meat, we have much bigger issues to contend with. Factory farms use an inexplicable amount of resources including fresh water, energy, grain and land. They're also mostly owned and operated by huge corporations. Two percent of livestock farms now produce 40 percent of all animal products versus the millions of small-scale farmers raising animals just 50 years ago. Because time is money, slaughter lines move faster than ever with greater risk of worker injury, more animals are crammed into smaller spaces, and preventative drugs manufactured by multinational pharmaceutical companies are liberally pumped into your future burgers. Factory farm raised meat, eggs and dairy require excessive transportation, which also supports the giant oil industry.
There are a number of small-scale organic, free-range and ethical producers out there like Polyface Farms, Niman Ranch and others, if giving up animal products is not a reality for you. But certainly the conversation about ethics is reflective of where we're at as a nation. A kinder, more holistic future must include a kinder, more holistic approach to the animals that play a huge role in our diet and economy. Not to be overlooked, a diet high in animal products has been linked to a number of serious heath issues. And as any activist surely knows, being healthy is our greatest resource for advancing a revolutionary agenda, however large or small.
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Image: Jill Ettinger