Self-reliance is not a bad thing. While Emerson's thoughts on "Self Reliance" were controversial enough to get him banned from Harvard University, it seems that most Americans have willingly ceded their own self-reliance and therefore their right of choice into the hands of corporate America. They have given up choice in media, health care and even food.
Granted, not everyone can or wants to raise their own food. I guess, as a farmer, that's good for my business but I do want them to care, to take part in the decision on what they eat and how it is grown. Just as it is wrong for the corporate media to only offer part of the news, it is also wrong for the corporate food industry to basically say "shut up and eat."
When nearly 75 percent of the U.S. market spinach crop is grown in one valley in California and repeated bacterial contaminations ensue, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.
When millions of pounds of beef are recalled due to bacterial contamination and when, by the count of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 73,000 cases of E. coli infection and 63 deaths occur in the United States each year, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.
When large numbers of U.S. adults and many American children are obese, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.
When scientists from around the world tell us the vitamin and mineral content of our food has fallen significantly over the past 60 years, we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.
When ground water nitrate levels climb year after year because industrial-size farms raise too many animals producing too much manure on too little land, we must question the industrial concentration of our food system.
When the World Health Organization blames the increase of infectious diseases in part on the "industrialization of the animal production sector" and the emergence of H5N1 (avian flu) on "intensive poultry production," again we need to question our reliance on the corporate food system.
We are told this is the safest food system in the world, but is it? Is high-tech, high-production, industrialized agriculture the way to feed the world? It seems not - millions still starve, the United States is obese and we still have tainted food.
We are comforted by a virtually unlimited choice in how to spend our food dollars, but is it really a choice when, of the nearly 40,000 food items found in the average supermarket, 50 percent of them are produced by 10 companies? Do we have choice when three companies control more than 75 percent of the beef produced in the United States?
Sadly, we as consumers have allowed this to happen. We have become complacent and dependent on this industrial food system. We must remember that the vast majority of contaminated food has come directly out of the industrial food system, not local markets.
We can seek out local alternatives and safer alternatives. While the cost for local or organic food may be slightly higher, we need to remember the highest cost food items are the most highly processed, least nutritious, and account for the highest use of chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients.
Because they are the big cash cows of the corporate food industry, they also return less income to local farmers and communities.
Several years ago, Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Africa, shared with author Anna Lappe an analogy she used to help Kenyan women reclaim their power to choose. She asked them what they would do if they got on the wrong bus, going in the wrong direction? Well, of course, they would get off.
So why would anyone stay on the wrong bus? Perhaps you had the wrong information, you didn't think you had enough money to get on the right one, or you didn't even know there was another bus. All valid reasons, the same basic reasons farmers continue to follow the industrial production system and the same reasons consumers continue to eat the food it produces.
Well, it's time to get off the bus - it's taking us down the wrong road.
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