On Food and Freedom
"The food system, like nature, is a dynamic system. Those of us who wish to eat regularly need to understand food system dynamics within our own bodies, within our households, within our communities, across our nation and around the world."
Here I've clipped a few paragraphs from the excellent talk Return to Slavery: Will you be eating China's dust for breakfast? by Billie Best, Executive Director, Regional Farm and Food Project given on April 19, 2006 to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Ecologic Club - Troy, New York, On the occasion of Ecologic Club launching a campaign to get more local foods into their campus food system.
As you know, democracy depends upon the education and free participation of the people. Nothing is more socially disruptive than hunger. Chronically hungry, sick people are not free. Think of the images you saw of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or of the Kashmiri people after the earthquake a year ago. Once the calamitous event was over, people scattered in search of food. People left loved ones behind to find food. People took up arms to protect their food. And people waited, and waited, and waited for their government to bring them food.
Nothing is more socially disruptive than hunger. That means that whoever controls the food supply controls the people. Governments are formed to manage the food supply. Armies stand to protect the food supply. Countries go to war over access to food. Stalin moved people by force onto collective farms to manage the food supply. The Berlin Airlift was about getting food to people isolated by war. The story of the settling of America is about people following the food supply, digging for gold to ensure their purchasing power, and building railroads to move food to market. ...
The food system, like nature, is a dynamic system. Those of us who wish to eat regularly need to understand food system dynamics within our own bodies, within our households, within our communities, across our nation and around the world. A stable food system depends upon sustainability and food security, both of which are more of a process than an end state. We don't know that something truly sustainable until it becomes unsustainable, that is until systems veer out of balance and need to be re-balanced.
Food security is the process of balancing the supply and demand of food. We don't know for certain if we are truly food secure until we know when we are not. The diabetes epidemic is an example of us believing we have enough food, and then finding out that the food quality is so poor it makes us sick. Obesity is easier for our society and culture to sustain than hunger, because obesity is less socially disruptive than hunger. So for the time being, we live with obesity as a solution to food security. That is we feed the poorest among us cheap food filled with empty calories to maintain social order, then we pay the true price of their food with our healthcare dollars.
The industrial food system is designed to give the appearance of cheap food while the real burden of low-nutrient/high-toxicity food is born by the healthcare system. Food is our connection to nature. We need to consume a certain amount of nutrients every day in order to maintain optimum brain chemistry for bodily functions, thinking and moving about. To do our personal best, we need to metabolize those nutrients a few times a day. Otherwise we get slow, sleepy, stupid and cranky. Hunger is very social disruptive. Hungry people are controlled by whoever controls their food supply—whether that's your mother, your country or an airline stewardess.
The quality of your food bares a direct relationship to your quality of life. Food is the source of life. Food is the measure of wealth and poverty. Slavery is all about where your food comes from and what you have to do to get it. Since the beginning of recorded history, people have enslaved each other by controlling the food supply. The pharos of Egypt enslaved the Jews, the Japanese enslaved the Koreans, the English enslaved the Irish, the Europeans enslaved the Africans, and the Indians invented the caste system so they could enslave each other. It's easy to tell who the slaves are. They are the ones without food, without the access to food, without the economic power to procure food, and without the resources to produce their own food.
Slavery is the complete absence of choice. Slavery is economic powerlessness. Modern slavery is on the rise as more and more people on the planet migrate from rural self-sufficiency and subsistence farming to urban ghettos, refugee camps and sweatshop labor. Why? Because, we westerners are gobbling up their resource base as fast as we can take it away from them: soil, lumber, minerals, oil, coal, water, a longer growing season, cheap labor—we want it all. ...
Without land to tend and food to grow, these agrarian people tend to move to the nearest city to look for work, work for which their rural skills may not be well suited, in cities that already have large populations of unemployed hungry people. These newcomers are entirely dependent upon the job market to provide them with the money to purchase food. Their ability to grow food for themselves has become worthless. No skills, no job, no money, no food. You could call it the World Trade Organization's farm-to-squalor program. It's happening in countries all over the world. Millions of people are slipping into economic powerlessness because they have lost their capacity to produce their own food.
Could it happen here?
It is happening here. In the United States we move farmers off productive land to develop subdivisions, office parks and shopping malls. The farmer may make money in the deal, but the community loses the resource base essential to its food security. How do we move farmers off the land? By supporting an industrialized food system that extracts natural resources from wherever they are cheapest. Cheap food requires cheap labor, which means farmers can make more money selling their land than they can selling the food they grow.
In the United States, we are in the midst of a grave strategic error. We are developing our land based on patterns of consumption rather than on patterns of production. What happens when we can no longer afford to consume and we don't know how to produce, or we don't have the capacity to produce? Our way of life collapses. As a nation, we are shopping our way into slavery. Every time a farm becomes a shopping mall we reduce our capacity to feed ourselves and we become more dependent upon imports for our survival. Yet, we remain clueless.
Here in the United States there is a popular misperception that food comes from factories, not from farms. We don't see farms as a vital link to our food security, to our democracy, to our nationhood. Oddly, we no longer seem to value our factories either. Our factories are moving offshore where labor is cheap, environmental standards are lower, social justice is someone else's problem, and having an export economy is the dream of an indebted nation.
Without farms and factories to produce the essentials of daily life, we are dependent upon the kindness of other nations to make the stuff we need and sell it to us at a price we can afford. Today, we have an import economy. That is we buy more stuff from other nations than they buy from us. The U.S. economy is based on our continuous consumption of cheap stuff made in other countries. We are a nation of stuff junkies hooked on shopping. Our addiction to cheap stuff makes us quite vulnerable to a nation of ambitious producers hooked on the idea of being just like us.
Enter China, and the question 'Will you be eating China's dust for breakfast?" I believe the answer is yes. Yes, you will be eating China's dust for breakfast, and so will I. We all will, in every sense of the word. China will control the cost of living in our country by controlling both the cost of money and the cost of goods. ...
Return to Slavery: Will you be eating China's dust for breakfast?, Billie Best, Executive Director, Regional Farm and Food Project From a talk given April 19, 2006 to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Ecologic Club - Troy, New York, On the occasion of Ecologic Club launching a campaign to get more local foods into their campus food system
clipped May 3, 2006
Collection: Food and Cooking