Tag Archives: food security

on liberty : food and freedom

On May 25, 2013, as we marched through the streets of Vancouver protesting Monsanto, we chanted:

“Our food, OUR choice”.

Seems simple, right? We should have the freedom to choose what we put in our bodies. And yet . . .

In Canada and the USA, we do not have the right to know what is in our food. That, apparently, would be too much trouble for the marketers. They might not make as much money. They might actually have to ensure that their products are safe.

Should food be a human right?

You wouldn’t know it from the current state of affairs, but food and health are protected under national and international human rights conventions.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides us with the right to freedom of conscience and the right to life, liberty and security. Article 25 (1) of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides everyone with “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food ” [. . .] (emphasis mine)

Before I became a full-time mum and farmer, I worked in a government human rights agency. All sorts of wild and wonderful things are covered and defended by government under the umbrella of “human rights”. Some are incredibly important and worth fighting for, some well,  not so much. I saw everything imaginable in my career there, and some things you most certainly couldn’t imagine.

Looking back, it bothers me to know that I was required to administer complaints that were frankly completely flippant, self-absorbed and absolute wastes of tax-payers dollars, while something as important as the right to food has been deemed not worthy of the same protection.

Freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination – what do these mean if you’re hungry?

Our current fetish with political correctness merely distracts us from a real and devastating attack on our most basic rights and freedoms.

The fact of the matter is we do not have a democracy; we have had a corporate coupe d’etat.

It has been this way for some time. When a corporation’s right to poison us and profit from it, and do it with the full protection of the law, comes before the people’s right to safe, clean food . . . well then. Our governments don’t work for us anymore. They work for the lobbyists, the corporations, the marketing boards, the elite and the powerful.

They do all these evils under the guise that A rising tide lifts all boats.

Look around you. We aren’t rising. We’re drowning.

In North America, not only do we NOT have the right to a clean, safe food supply, we don’t even have the right to know that our food isn’t safe. We don’t have the right to choose because we are actively denied the information required to do so.

Corporations control the seed industry to such and extent that one of our Canadian seed companies has been blocked from shipping seeds to the USA. His beautiful, organic, heirloom (actually EDIBLE) soybeans were confiscated by customs, claiming that his seeds threatened the US soybean crop.

Over 90% of that crop is GMO, owned by Monsanto. This is the same crop that makes it nearly impossible for farmers to grow soy organically with traditional seeds, because of contamination from GMO fields and fear that Monsanto will then sue the owners of the contaminated fields for patent infringement.

Read that again.

Now think about what that means, what that says about the state of our food system, the state of our freedom, and the role government is playing in it’s complete and utter erosion.

For a culture that holds the Free Market System as the new religion, the Laws of Supply and Demand beyond reproach and above all else – that seems odd, doesn’t it? There is demand, and there is supply. And yet, the very same corporations who cry bloody murder when they are asked to be held accountable to anything but the almighty Free Market, aren’t so keen for those very same principles to be applied against them, no matter how small the scale.

These companies and the government change the rules of the game whenever they see fit, to suit their own greed and power-lust, not the common good.

Our culture provides us with an illusion of freedom and choice; we can vote for our favourite Idol, express our most mundane thoughts to the world a million times a day via social media . . . but this is nothing more than a palaver, a stand in, a replica of real freedom. It is hollow and meaningless, a mere distraction.

If we cannot even choose what to feed our children, what to put in our own bodies, how can we claim to be free?

The March Against Monsanto : Who is Monsanto and why should you care?

This coming Saturday, May 25, the March Against Monsanto gets underway in 36 countries around the globe. Yes, 36. I am excited and worried and hopeful.

In my circle of experience, I take for granted that most people know who Monsanto is and why they’re bad news. I realized this week that I shouldn’t.

So.

First of all, let’s get a look at the lay of the land, so to speak.

What are GMO’s?

Continue reading

food advocacy goals : decentralizing our food-system

Food Advocacy Goal #3 : Decentralizing our food-system

If you study ecology, you’ll quickly learn that nature loves redundancy. (Corporate culture, not so much.)

Redundancy in ecosystems breeds resilience and forgiveness. If one system fails, there are endless others to fill the gaps. A failure or breakdown in one element of the system is a lot less likely to bring the entire thing down on your head.

Our food system is the opposite, as is pretty obvious by the lovely little info graphic below:

inforgraphic which major food companies own which food brands

Centralization of our food system leaves us vulnerable as consumers.

Small mistakes have big implications:

Contamination at a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods meat plant ended in 22 people in 7 provinces dying from listeria-related causes.

When salmonella was found in eggs on one of the farms involved in the recent outbreak in the US, 170 million eggs were recalled from that one farm alone. The eggs from that farm were sold under five different brand names in 14 different states. And that was JUST ONE FARM.

You can see how it can get tricky, and scary, in a hurry.

Gobs of Money = Gobs of Power & Influence

Then there is the issue of lobbying. Companies and industry councils have lots of money and lots of motivation to keep it by making sure government legislation works for, rather than against, them.

All that money and power also gives them the opportunity to go after private citizens if they talk out of turn. I mean, they had the cahoonas to go after Oprah. Seriously. Any industry that has the prairie oysters  to go after Oprah on the matter of free speech is an industry I’m afraid of. (Oprah – and free speech – prevailed, by the way.)

A false sense of choice

When one beverage company has multiple flavours of pop, it gives the consumer a perception of choice. We think we’re making a choice, but really, the choice is the same insofar as where our money ends up.

When it comes to the food industry, its Same sh*t, different (WAY BIGGER) pile.

Its often impossible to know who or what you’re supporting when you purchase everyday products. Even when you think you’re making a good choice, your money can be going where you least expect it.

For example, my hubby isn’t a fan of Nestle because of the controversy surrounding their promotion of baby formula in developing countries.

And yet   . . .  he supports me using Body Shop products because of their company values . . . A little digging and I find that some of those profits end up in Nestle’s pockets by way of L’Oreal, which they own part of. How can consumers truly make informed decisions when this is the corporate reality?

How do we as individuals decentralize our food system?

Easy. Stop shopping.

The more we source our food from small, local and independent suppliers, or better yet – grow and make it ourselves, the more we will weaken this broken system to we can begin to dismantle it and rebuild it anew.

Simple. Powerful. Effective

More and more as I educate myself about both the industrial food system and alternative systems, I am increasingly convinced that the best option is to opt out.

I don’t mean stop eating.

I mean, whenever you can, wherever you can, choose a different way.

You don’t have to have a cow and pig in your backyard to opt out, either. Something as simple as cooking your own meals or growing herbs on your windowsill can add one more layer of resiliency to our food systems.

Critics will say, a pot of basil on the windowsill isn’t going to make our system any more secure.

To that I say –

Of course not, silly.

We have to see that pot of basil as what it is – a symbol of awareness. Of wanting to do better. Mindfulness. A first step.

One thing I know from experience: Choices like the windowsill basil grow exponentially. They are also contagious.

One little pot of basil can become an urban farm, a scratch-cooking queen, a community veggie plot, a neighbourhood grocery cooperative, a whole food advocate, a stronger community, a more resilient food system . . .

a revolution.

preaching to the choir

I’m suffering a mild, perhaps major, attack of self-doubt at the moment.

I found myself pissed right off this morning at some ding-dong I don’t even know. And then I got pissed at myself for being pissed at him. And then I yelled at a guy in traffic, and may have made a gesture . . . Or three.

Not good.

I have so many other worries right now . . . Getting this darn house sold, raising my boy.

Big worries, little worries, everyday annoyances. There are plenty. Such is life.

So why do I keep insisting on taking on the worries I write about in this blog? I have to wonder what, if any, difference its making?

I keep running into folks who seem to think that you don’t have the right to talk about or question our food system unless you are running a humungous industrial agricultural operation or are publishing in Scientific Journal or some other baloney.

I was actually asked today

How do you know what to eat or drink if you don’t trust science???

First of all, I never said I didn’t trust science in and of itself, I said I don’t trust the system that sees scientific papers published.

Since when does a mother need to read scientific journals to make sane decisions about what to feed or not feed her family? Have we fallen that far????

If we have, things are even worse than I thought.

Maybe we should just all give up now.

Soylent Green, anyone?

What has happened to our common sense? Our ability to make informed decisions free from all the rhetoric and red herrings? Why can’t I question the practices of companies like Monsanto or confinement farming methods without being drawn into some irrelevant (and untrue) argument about my being anti-worker? Why on earth does it have to be so complicated????

And I realized today, I’m just as much to blame for complicating matters. I spend so much time reading and writing about these issues, that I forget that most folks don’t do the same. I’ve fallen victim to jargon and have allowed my outrage to make me vulnerable to baiting by morons.

I’m questioning whether I’m actually helping people make change, ask questions and improve our food system, or if I’m just preaching to the choir . . . A choir that can’t be heard over the big-money blowhards of the other side.

I wish I could just say to the Monstanto’s of the world

Give your head a shake! Cut it out!

But I can’t.

I keep telling myself that that shouldn’t stop me. That we don’t need to be scientists or factory farmers or CEO’s of major agricultural corporations to make change. That we can make change at home, one meal, one seed at a time.

Today that just feels childish and naive.

All I am is a Mama who wants the best future possible for her son. For him to be safe and healthy and have access to safe, nourishing food that doesn’t hurt him, the environment or the workers who produce it.

I don’t think that’s too much for a mother to ask.

a secure food-system : keeping seeds in the public domain

Food Advocacy Goal #2 : Keeping seeds in the public domain

From the very beginning of my interest in food-security, I realized that this was the scariest element of the assault on our food system. A handful of corporations control the majority of our food system.

For example, Monstanto alone owns:

  • 17 agricultural seed brands
  • 4 “traits, technologies & partnership” companies (whatever the hell that means)
  • 18 weed control brands
  • 2 vegetable seed brands
  • 4,000 individual vegetable seed varieties representing 20 species of vegetables

As if that’s not scary enough, they are aggressive about protecting their business interests.

Monsanto has sued farmers for patent infringement when pollen from their GMO crops CONTAMINATED the farmers field.  Monsanto also sues farmers who save seeds. You can see Monsanto’s explanation for why they sue here. Here’s some more scary details about Monsanto’s policies to protect their patents.

Why do they have the right to patent the seeds of life?

We’re not talking about owning a chicken or a backyard full of tomato plants. We’re talking about genetic code, the very building blocks of life.

The arrogance is staggering.

Thank goodness there is a bit of light in this insanity, right here at home in Canada! Percy Schmeiser took on Monsanto and won!

What can I do to keep seeds in public hands?

Although the patenting of seeds is one of the scariest assaults on our food security and food sovereignty with the widest, most serious implications, it’s also one of the easiest problems to address.

Simple.

Grow heirloom varieties. Save your own seeds. Plant them. Enjoy them.

Share them.

Sharing is the most rebellious, political act you can undertake in a paradigm in which sharing is on par with treason. Really, I guess sharing IS a kind of corporate treason.

See, don’t you feel rebellious??

heirloom tomato

Heirloom seeds are essential to our food security for a ridiculous number of reasons.

Open-pollinated seeds, unlike hybrid seeds or GMO seeds, can be saved year after year and have the plant come true to the parent.

Instead of splicing frog genes or something equally ridiculous into the seed’s genes to “improve” them, a farmer can select for the tastiest, strongest, healthiest plants and gradually improve his crop year after year.

It doesn’t take any money, or a degree in bio-chem. All it takes is observation, patience and little bit of practical knowledge.

Saving seeds from your garden selects for a crop that will become uniquely suited to your particular location and micro-climate. We grow tomatoes from seeds saved by my mum’s neighbour, Ed, and his tomatoes are invariably the last ones standing in our damp fall garden. They are strong, productive, healthy and most importantly – delicious.

In our own little garden here in Vancouver we have a virtual Noah’s Ark of genetic material. From critically endangered Chantecler chickens to two dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, we are saving and sharing that genetic information for future generations, and enjoying some wicked toasted tomato sandwiches in the meantime.

Who knows what cancer-fighting compound might be found in the genes of these tomatoes? What health benefits, what pest-resistence, disease-resistance . . .

We can’t know. Isn’t that worth saving?

If you really want to get serious about saving seeds and being a local genetic diversity hero, keep an eye on your local community centres for seed swaps in late winter, find your local Seedy Saturday event, or join Seeds of Diversity. Don’t have one close by? Start your own! All it takes is a few seeds changing hands between neighbours to help keep our invaluable seeds in the public domain.