Tag Archives: Politics

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?

March Against Monsanto : Finally some mainstream media coverage!

You don’t get much more mainstream than CNN.

I’m Canadian, and cancelled most of my cable, and frankly find CNN kind of hilarious on most days anyway, in a weird, sort of sad parody on American culture kind of way . . . but heck, it’s what most people watch, or so I’m told.

And here, finally, is their coverage of Saturday’s March Against Monsanto. Three days late, but hey, better late than never, right?

Supporters of the March Against Monsanto bombarded mainstream media with complaints about the lack of coverage and looks like someone listened. Is it the best coverage? No, but hey, we’ll take what we can get.

We all gotta start somewhere.

better goals start with better questions

Lately I’ve been looking at the issues I write about here with a wider lens, trying my best to see the forest for the trees.

I’ve realized that in our laser precision focus on the topic of food – debating the proper definition of “organic” for example – we are asking the wrong questions. We aren’t going to get where we want to go by rolling in the muck of semantics with our adversaries. I’m sure they love it – it keeps us from the real issues.

We need to find our compass again. From that the right questions, and perhaps even answers, will flow.

We need to ask ourselves

What kind of world do we want? What is life for? What do we value? What is success? How do we measure it?

Big questions, yes. But ones we always need to be asking.

Our culture today is everywhere concerned with the minutia of a spectacle designed to distract us and keep us placated. Jessica’s weight and photos of  Harry’s bare bum shouldn’t be news.

We are potentially on the cusp of another great depression and a third world war, but after the Republican National Convention the news waves were buzzing about Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair, not the threat of nuclear war, famine, climate change, the worst drought in living memory, the implosion of the world economy or the atrocities played out daily in grainy unverified video clips from Syria.

The absurdity of it seems to escape us. That frightens me.

These are signs of a culture caving in on its own hollow core. We are Romans before the fall; fat and arrogant, drunk on our own greatness.

So.

Where do food and my Big Questions fit in to all of this?

First of all, whether we are talking about food or farming or anything else, we have to remember that despite of all the problems in the world, we have the power to create change. Yes, I’m talking to you. Us little guys have the power if we can find the courage to use it. However, in order to make use of this power, we have to know what we want. We can only figure that out if we ask ourselves the Big Questions.

The issues I write about in regards to food and farming are all rooted in issues of economic (in)equality, social justice and an ecological world-view. The folks on the agribusiness side will tell you that the solutions to my concerns about food and farming can be provided by industrialization, scientific advancement and global free-trade. They also tell me I should shut up about it and leave it to the experts. I’m just a mum who should stick to gardening.

The “shut up and leave it to the big boys” attitude is pervasive in our culture and makes me think about the leaked Citigroup documents in Michael Moore’s movie Capitalism : A Love Story. The documents were to their wealthiest clients, and basically said (I’m paraphrasing because apparently Citigroup has been diligent in keeping the documents off the internet) that the only threat to the power of the ruling class is the fact that we still have a one person, one vote system. If we all actually used our democratic rights, they’d be screwed.

Thankfully for them, we don’t. This is shameful.

The folks Citigroup were writing to also have a hook in us that we need to shake – the American Dream. As long as every working schmuck thinks, Hey, maybe one day I’ll be one of those guys! We’ve taken the bait, hook line and sinker.

Here’s what one of the memos had to say about that:

Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto-participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the “American dream”. But if voters feel they cannot participate, they are more likely to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to being truly rich.

Could the plutonomies die because the dream is dead, because enough of society does not believe they can participate? The answer is of course yes. But we suspect this is a threat more clearly felt during recessions, and periods of falling wealth, than when average citizens feel that they are better off. There are signs around the world that society is unhappy with plutonomy – judging by how tight electoral races are.

But as yet, there seems little political fight being born out on this battleground.

The first step is to carefully decide what we want. We have to pay attention, look look look, listen and then ask questions. Lots of questions, hard questions. Questions of ourselves, our communities, our governments.

We have to reevaluate our current economic system. We have to ask – is this serving us, or hurting us? I think many people understand the underlying sentiment of the Occupy Movement; our economy is not serving the majority of us. It is harming us for the benefit of the few.

Wendell Berry has some salient points on this topic:

Here we come to the heart of the matter – the absolute divorce that the industrial economy has achieved between itself and all ideals and standards outside itself. It does this, or course, by arrogating to itself the status of primary reality. Once that is established, all its ties to principles of morality, religion and government necessarily fall slack.

But a culture disintegrates when its economy disconnects from its government, morality and religion. If we are dismembered in our economic life, how can we be members in our communal and spiritual life? We assume that we can have an exploitive, ruthlessly competitive, profit-for-profit’s-sake economy, and yet remain a decent and democratic nation, as we still apparently wish to think ourselves. This simply means that our highest principles and standards have no practical force or influence and are reduced to merely talk.

– Wendell Berry A Defence of the Family Farm (1986)

We have to ask – What is the economy for?

Should it be divorced from outside standards and ideals? If not – what standards and ideals do we hold it to, and how? The Occupy Movement provided an outlet for our feelings of helplessness and anger, but it has not provided a map for a way forward. We cannot simply sleep in the streets outside the halls of power raging our discontent. We have to take up our rightful place inside those doors.

How do we do that? How do we reinsert ourselves in the democracy and economy that is rightfully ours?

landowner rights vs. community rights

I got a ping-back on my blog yesterday on a post about the Agricultural Land Reserve that reminded me just how important it is for folks like me to buy into the ALR if we can.

The ALR is hotly contested here in BC, for good reason. Even the goofballs over at the Fraser Institute have weighed in. (You can read what I had to say about that nonsense here.)

Most folks on both sides of the fence would say overall, it’s not working.

Ok so, basic premise of the ALR is to reserve prime farmland for – gasp – FARMING!!! What a novel idea.

Seems simple enough, right?

Not so much.

So here we are, a young couple in our early 30s with a family. We’re lucky enough to have bought into the ridiculously expensive Vancouver housing market in our mid-20’s. Since then, housing values in the city have continued to soar.

You’d think we’d have enough equity to easily purchase a nice little farm out of town on the ALR. Surely prices for land reserved for farming would be reasonable.

Nope.

Thing is, there’s a few problems with the ALR system.

  • Monster houses with acres of manicured lawns are just as common as actual farming operations. Folks price their land as “rural estates”, not farms.
  • Even if you’re not actively farming, you still get the tax break provided by the ALR zoning.
  • The ALR is slowly being eroded. Developers and speculators purchase property under the premise (sadly, probably correctly) that eventually the ALR will be rezoned and they’ll be able to develop it or sell it at a premium price. Prices reflect this speculation.
  • It seems all too easy to rezone property. When developers do move in with intent to rezone, the community has to fight tooth and nail, just to try to keep the land zoned AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO REMAIN.
  • There seems to be little real protection for the land itself. Two five acre parcels near the farm we’re looking at have been allowed to be used as junkyards for who knows how long. I can only imagine what is leaching into the soil on these properties.
  • Landowners in the ALR argue that it limits their right to do what they want with their property and realize the economic benefits of their property.

The last point is probably the most pivotal of them all, and one where I have some weird shared values with those who hold opposite points of view on the matter.

I believe that overall, when it comes to farming, government is a hinderance, not a help to small farmers.

Regulations and legislation are shaped by industry lobbyists and well (or not so) well-meaning bureaucrats. When applied equally across the board, from huge agro-industry giants to tiny Mom and Pop shops, the result is the big boys get away with murder, and Mom and Pop lose the farm.

I exaggerate a little, but not really.

To put my views in context, my political views lean to the left. (No kidding, you say.)

BUT – I’ve also worked in both provincial and federal levels of government. I know how inefficient and nonsensical it is from first hand experience. The longer I worked for government, the more I was convinced we could do with a lot less government in many areas in our lives.

Unfortunately, it seems we’re getting more government in areas we don’t need and, and less government in areas where we do.

As I write this our Parliament is involved in a marathon vote for one of the most undemocratic documents in Canadian history, the ridiculous C-38 Omnibus Budget Bill. A perfect example of too much government with too much power.

(For my non-Canadian readers – the ironic note here is our government currently has a Conservative majority. They’re our (slightly) toned-down version of the Republicans. Surprising, yes, being that most Canadians still cling to our semi-socialist identity. Go figure.)

However.

This is one area where more government would do us all some good.

When it comes to curbing individual freedoms, I think I’d rather see the freedom to make money off of the sale and destruction of prime farmland curbed before the freedom to EAT is curbed.

Just as we all value freedom of speech (ok, maybe not the Harper Government, but most Canadians do) we also agree that there must be limits to that speech. We agree that it is better for everyone if that fundamental right is curbed to prevent the spread of hate.

The common good comes before the individual’s right to act like an asshole.

I think about that Mark Twain quote often :

Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

I would argue access to good, clean and fair food is equally important as free speech.

A strong statement, yes.

However, in a world where the law has declared that we do not have a fundamental right to grow and consume food of our choice, I think it’s necessary to say so.

To demand so.

We only have the rights we exercise.

We can’t defend and claim our right to good, clean, fair food unless we have good, clean land to grow it on.