Archive for the tag “Industrial Agriculture”

Connecting the Dots: GMOs and Our Food Future


The recent New York Times editorial, which argues against labeling genetically modified foods (GMOs), is shocking in its shortsightedness. The thrust of the argument is that GMOs pose no risk to consumers; the editorial reads, “there is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers.”

But the previous day, the Times published an article noting a startling decline in monarch butterflies — the most in recent decades — which the article attributes to changing weather patterns and changed farming practices. More specifically, the article quotes experts who say that the decline is a result of “the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.” The article goes on to say:

“The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.”

Much like bees, the monarch butterfly provides essential pollination for many of our food crops — this pollination is the foundation of our food supply. According to a study by researchers at UC Berkeley, one third of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollinators. Chip Taylor, director of the conservation group Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas said that, “If we pull the monarchs out of the system, we’re really pulling the rug out from under a whole lot of other species.”

To say that GMO crops pose no threat to consumers when their use is clearly debilitating this vital butterfly species, is a careless misrepresentation of the long-term effects these novel crops are having on our food systems and perhaps the very foundation of a secure food future. With greater foresight we must more thoughtfully connect the dots between harm to our environment and harm to ourselves.


This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Creating Radical Change in the Food System

How much do our personal consumer choices effect change? Within the food movement, personal choice and the food products we spend our money on have been emphasized as the way to create change. But is this a fallacy? Have we all be led astray thinking that we can truly create change with our individual consumer choices? We’ve all heard the mantras: buy local, buy organic. But is this enough?

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and outspoken supporter of Occupy Wall Street, was recently on the Smiley and West show and said that in our capitalist economy we often engage in “low-level, self-satisfying consumerism,” like buying organic versions of food, for example. This might make us feel good but actually undermines any real move towards radical change in our food system. Žižek says we need a more radical rethinking of our entire way of life, not just on an individual level but collectively. He explains this here:

“You know why this difference is important? Did you notice how today everybody wants to recycle, to be ecologically correct? But this is usually translated into small level, lifestyle ecologicalism, ‘Did you recycle your can of Coke? Did you recycle your newspaper?’ And so on and so on. This makes you feel good, ‘Oh my God, I am doing something to help the Mother Earth,’ but at the same time precisely because it makes you feel good, it prevents you from asking for more radical changes which obviously will be necessary.The problem is not, Did you recycle the can of Coke? The problem is our entire economic system. The danger that I see — I like to call it, ironically, the Starbucks Syndrome. You enter Starbucks and it is a little more expensive, but one percent goes to Guatemalan starving children, and one percent goes to bring water to Sahara or whatever, this is this low-level self-satisfying consumerism. You can go on consuming and the paradox is that your good conscious is contributing towards solving economic problems — helping the poor is included in the price of a commodity — so the deal is pay a little bit more and you don’t have to worry, you are a good guy — but that is not enough.”

What is needed is more organizing on the part of the food movement, more collective actions to force radical change in our food system. Taking a cue from Occupy Wall Street, the food movement needs to unify and act together. When Molly Katchpole created a petition to stop Bank of America from imposing more fees on its customers, she engaged in a collective action. Had she simply written one letter to Bank of America or even switched banks, she could not have effected as much change. Rather, she organized a collective and unified movement to address an injustice. This may seem like a small victory in the face of a patently unjust financial system but we must begin to chip away at these power structures.

Similarly, when it comes to making food choices, if we act together we can force more radical change. Individually supporting local foods has been important and the dramatic increase in farmers markets across the country is a testament to that, but the time has come to act collectively and call for more radical change. When it comes to the food movement, most everyone agrees that factory farming must come to an end. In the pages of the New York Times, columnist Mark Bittman has been drawing attention to the many calamities of factory farming and he brings this awareness to a mainstream audience. Ending factory farming should be the food movement’s first coordinated effort. Factory farming ties together all the issues many have been working on individually: environmental destruction, food safety, farmers rights, farm-workers rights, food service workers rights, animal welfare, health and nutrition, food justice, and access and affordability to good foods.

So let’s do as Katchpole did and begin by petitioning one company on one issue. Individually, we may not be able to make a difference but all of our voices in aggregate clearly can. Since Thanksgiving is upon us, let’s unify our voice in telling Butterball — the world’s largest producer of turkey — that we will not support the factory farming of turkeys this year. Let’s hit Butterball where it hurts, the bottom line. Please tell Butterball that you will not buy its turkeys nor support the environmentally destructive, unsafe, and inhumane practice of factory farming turkeys this Thanksgiving. As Žižek advises, let’s join forces and present a unified, collective voice to force radical change. Join Occupy Big Food and sign the petition here now.

Eat Wild is a great resource with thousands of listings nation-wide for responsibly raised meat and animal products. Slow Food USA has information and resources for heritage breed turkeys. And from Meatless Monday, 10 tips for cooking a meatless Thanksgiving.

“Folks, This Ain’t Normal”

Joel Salatin was in Union Square yesterday talking about his new book, appropriately titled, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” and passionately spoke about the state of industrial agriculture and its effects on our soil, our health, and our culture.

When I asked him what we could do as activists to align ourselves with the Occupy movements and combat Big Food he said, “The beauty of that is you don’t have to wait for a government regulation, you don’t have to wait for a program, you don’t have to wait for an agency.” Rather, Salatin said that all cultural movements are started from the bottom-up with real grass-roots activism. He went on to say that we all need to get into our kitchens and get cooking. He said, “Get in your kitchens, buy unprocessed foods, turn off the TV, and prepare your own foods. This is liberating.”

Salatin also advised us all to start growing something — anything, even on a small patio or windowsill. If we can’t grow anything, he said, then we should come to the farmers markets and buy from our local farmers. “Know you food, know your farmers, and know your kitchen. Start building up your larder! We don’t even use that term any more,” he said. “It used to be, 100 years ago, if I came into a town and said, Where’s the food? People would take me to their houses and show me their larders. Today if I ask, Where’s the food? The food is 1000 miles away in a Costco warehouse. It’s very vulnerable, very insecure. And at a time when many people feel insecure and feel like the culture is heading off a precarious precipice, we will absolutely return to some of these normal practices that our forbearers did but we will continue…to take the best of our technology into these normal structures.”

I really like Salatin’s use of the term “normal” when discussing local and sustainable food and food production. At a time when industrial agriculture has taken over what is perceived as “normal” and has largely succeeded in making Americans believe that packaged, processed foods are indeed normal, Salatin suggests a real normal — one that humans have been practicing for thousands of years — not the 60 years or so years of industrial practices. Salatin is talking about a real shift in our understanding about food and agriculture. And this shift is indeed going to come from the bottom-up; we need to address these issues in new and innovative ways. Join us in Occupying Big Food.

Heritage Radio Newtork Interview

Erika and I were on Heritage Radio Network this afternoon with Katy Keiffer to discuss the motivation behind Occupy Big Food, our first rally, and what our next steps will be. Please take a listen and leave your comments and thoughts! Special thanks to Jack Inslee of Heritage Radio for covering the rally — we will be posting more audio clips from the rally soon.
Straight, No Chaser – Episode 3 – Occupy Against Big Food

First Aired – 10/30/2011 01:00PM
Hosted By
On this week’s edition of Straight, No Chaser, Katy Keiffer is joined by food activists Erika Lade and Kristin Wartman to discuss yesterday’s Occupy Against Big Food Rally. Tune in and find out more about the growing movement to change our food system in this country. Can things be fixed by venture capitalists and corporations or do we have to take things into our own hands? Tune in and get inspired!

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