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The View From The Country

By Sam Fisher

As most regular Pathways readers know, I have a keen interest in food and agriculture—two peas in a pod, in my opinion. Not only do I find the husbandry of food-producing animals captivating and fulfilling, but I also enjoy reading up on government food policy and conventional food-industry practices. It is both scary and exasperating how entwined “Big Food” is with the governing bodies in charge of food policy. The more I read about the history of food politics and follow current policy changes, the more I realize that if our generation misses the opportunity to push back against status-quo food and agriculture, our children and grandchildren may have no other choices except heavily processed, federally sanctioned supermarket food and fast food, both of which are already laced with chemicals, synthetics, GMOs, and antibiotics.

The question that often comes to mind when reading about food and agriculture is: “How many problems could be resolved by improving agricultural practices with the aim of improving food nutrition, ecological sustainability, and local sources?” If that were to happen, I firmly believe that many issues that politicians keep throwing federal funds at would simply disappear.

Food is one thing all humans need. Acquiring and producing food has been a common necessity of mankind since the beginning of time. Most of us in the United States know nothing other than living in a land of plenty, and consequently do not give food acquisition much thought. That may be why our food production has become so heavily regulated and subsidized. If we could see behind the push for regulation, we would find none other than “Big Food.” Never before has a government attempted to regulate what its people can or cannot eat. Regulation not only favors industrial food, but also allows it to be produced under unsustainable practices, using harmful substances.

Most individual sectors of industrial food are monopolized by a few large corporate players and are highly centralized in a few geographical areas, causing them to depend heavily on gasoline-powered transportation to distribute the end product. This, in part, causes industrial agriculture to be the single largest user of petroleum (to the tune of over one-fifth of national consumption), which has an unprecedented lack of ecological and environmental sustainability. The tentacles of most industrial foods reach the oil fields of the Persian Gulf, and are defended by our national military (a cost never factored into the retail price of food).

“Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world—and what is to become of it.” —Michael Pollan

But back to the question: How many problems could be resolved if we were to strive en masse toward a nutritious, sustainable, and local agriculture system? We don’t know, but many of our problems could at least be made smaller. I don’t foresee this happening anytime soon, but a grassroots movement for change has already begun and is well underway. It is driven by consumers like you, armed with more information and knowledge than our grandparents ever had. It’s a growing army of eaters on a mission to take back our land, our children’s nutrition, and true culinary pleasures. And at the end of day, it really doesn’t matter what “Big Food” or the FDA or the USDA does. What matters is the choices each of us makes in our own kitchens and with our own food dollars.

To conclude, allow me to quote Michael Pollan, from The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world—and what is to become of it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting.” What a fundamental truth! Well stated, Mr. Pollan.

Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food system, without a thought in the world. That’s OK—knowledge and instruction might ruin their appetites. But ultimately, knowledge is responsibility— one that translates into the genuine pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.