Going against the genetically modified grain
Food meets politics during Berkeley City College event
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 19:02
“How many farmers do we have here tonight?” asked Bob Baldock at KPFA Radio, the first major radio station to ever discuss the topic of food politics. Several hands raised.
A few more went in the air.
The food and political enthusiasts in the Berkeley City College auditorium on Jan. 23 laughed and cheered while it became clear that since food is relevant to every human being, the process by which it is received must also be.
The host of the event was Claire Cummings, whose curriculum vitae includes farming in both California and Vietnam as well as working as an attorney on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of General Counsel.
“It’s time for us to get politically active,” she said.
Cummings suggests that ever-present resources linked to food production (e.g. international relations, politics, trade practices, economics) should be used to the advantage of the people to amplify awareness of the importance of ethical food production and subsequently spark positive change in the food world.
Cummings then introduced the guest of honor, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch and author of “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America,” a pithy, meticulously crafted cross between “The Jungle” and “1984”.
Hauter is a long-time advocate for the environment and has organized extensive research and grassroots work in the name of US farmers and consumers alike. She even owns and works on a farm in Virginia. Her passion for the issues of America’s ailing crop industry is only matched by her encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.
By way of a small-framed, bespectacled woman with a thick Virginia accent, the audience learned about several factors to blame for the possible leading of the country’s food industry to a processed, genetically modified grave: voracious capitalism, production of unhealthy foods, and mass overproduction. Hauter’s speech, not unlike her book, was rife with well-researched facts and statistics.
There are fewer than one million full-time farmers in the United States. Eighty-two percent of these workers receive government subsidies. Hauter once heard someone at a conference refer to these people as “welfare queens.”
Despite this ostensibly generous contribution from the government, each full-time farmer makes 19 percent less than the national average U.S. income.
This is largely due, according to Hauter, to the “take it or leave it” approach coming from the financial leverage that large farms carry; food conglomerates such as Monsanto are focused far more heavily on profit than product, which results in cheap labor and mass production.
Hauter observed that when overproduction occurs, prices are driven so far downward that it renders the added labor superfluous. There must be balance between growing the correct amount of food in proportion with a price that benefits farmers without emptying the pockets of consumers.
Unfortunately, groups like Monsanto thrive off of the method of high volume and low prices. One way this is facilitated is by genetically altering foods to mitigate cost.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the unstable creations of biotechnology. Many of the nation’s crops are products of this still experimental method.
In “Foodopoly,” Hauter writes: “No one knows what could occur when synthetic organisms are…let loose in the environment.” The lack of security in this method is usurped by the small price tag. GMOs largely comprise the all-too prevalent unhealthy foods that have “hijacked the American taste bud.”
The ubiquity of processed junk food, Hauter notes, has negatively altered the health of many a U.S. citizen. With obesity at record-high levels in both children and adults, the corresponding rise of this inexpensive, easily accessible type of food is certainly no coincidence.
Big-time junk food companies like Nestlé and PepsiCo, by way of big-budget advertising and reckless injection of excess fat, sugar, and salt into their products, hope to suck consumers into their money-grubbing vortex, regardless of long-term health effects. Meanwhile, for every large bag of corn chips sold in the U.S., farmers only make 2-3 cents of every consumer’s dollar spent.
Hauter is not only an advocate out for the small farmers that grow healthy, organic foods, but for the American people whom she feels deserve to have these foods as more than just an expensive, less practical option.
She has found that GMOs and junk food are destroying the health of U.S. citizens while simultaneously making billionaires of those at top, at the expense of those getting their hands dirty—the farmers.
Hauter and Cummings both believe action must be taken immediately in order to avoid a food-pocalypse—contacting politicians at local, state, and national levels without feeling futile against both the system and potential backlash is essential for any social change.
Ronald Reagan may have removed Jimmy Carter’s White House solar panels in 1981, but Wenonah Hauter would be damned if anyone were to force-feed her a Dorito.