This is a summary of a talk I gave last weekend at the Food Not Bombs event held at Veteran's Park.
The way that we eat today, our current food system, has its roots in World War II. Before the World Wars most families raised their own food or acquired their food from small local farms within a 50-mile radius of their home. These small farms produced a variety of goods and were similar to our ideas of Old MacDonald's Farm. A cow here, a pig there and chicks everywhere. During World War II, American men were called to war resulting in a labor shortage for these small farms. German U-boats also sank many merchant ships resulting in a loss of imports. Rationing of food was the most obvious solution to food shortages. Imported foods like sugar and tea were of course rationed but also foods that were considered vital to health: butter, eggs, milk, bacon, meat, and cooking fat. In Europe meat was rationed to one pound per week while eggs were rationed to only one every two weeks. Imitation foods like dried milk, powdered eggs, vegetable oil and margarine were cheap to produce and replaced many common foods.
After the WWII, the US military put forth the "Atoms for Peace" program where technology advancements during wartime could be utilized and applied to the strained food system. Commercial agribusiness rose to "end world hunger" and small family farms sold out to larger farms as the government told them to "get big or get out". Variety gave way to large mono-crop farms, battery farming, and Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Quality was sacrificed for quantity in the race to produce as much as possible as efficiently as possible. The Green Revolution helped by promoting chemical fertilizers to increase crop yield. Rock dust containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium replaced slower methods of soil building. While the crops did grow faster at first, trace minerals in the soil were soon depleted leaving crops susceptible to disease and insect infestation. Pesticide use increased like DDT created from the company Monsanto, the same company that created Agent Orange that was used during the Vietnam War. Monsanto is a giant bio-tech company that promotes genetically engineered foods and the weedkiller Round-up.
As distance from farm to market increased food additives were required to increase the shelf-life of modern foods. Many of these food additives were never adequately tested for safety although the few that have are linked to many modern degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, ADD, and more.
Our food system is being run like a corporate war machine. It was supposed to end hunger but now people are well fed and starving of nutrients. The average American has forgotten how to grow their own food, save their own seeds, and even cook their own meals. With a booming economy and disposable incomes, we asked for convenience and got it. Now restaurants, super markets, fast food, and convenience foods have replaced the traditional methods humans used for thousands of years. And we have traded our health for that convenience. Think about that. Do all of these modern technologies make you feel any less stressed?
No our soil is depleted of nutrients so the food grown in it lacks vital nutrients as well. We eat the devitalized food and so our bodies lack nutrients as well and so they are sold back to us in the form of a pill. Meanwhile cheap subsidized food from large mono-crop farms like GE soy and corn are found in every product on grocery store shelves. Overconsumption of soy and corn leads to obesity, diabetes, food allergies, and digestive disorders. Conventional medicine and the Pharmaceutical companies benefit greatly from the rise in degenerative disease. These corporations influence government regulation and only focus on disease management instead of disease prevention.
Our food safety is compromised. Animals in Confined Animal Feeding Operations are stressed and diseased from poor nutrition so they are fed antibiotics which have the added benefit of increasing weight gain and shortening their time to go to market. These antibiotics in our food supply affect our own internal gut bacteria. Genetically engineered foods are coded with an antibiotic resistant gene in their DNA which can transfer to bacteria creating antibiotic resistant superbugs like MRSA. As our own gut bacteria population becomes out of balance we become more susceptible to food poisoning. Meat from one cow infected with e. coli can end up in thousands of different hamburgers across the country with our current food system. And yet the FDA targets small producers of natural food products like raw milk. The same type of milk that was rationed during WWII for its importance in human health and vitality. Raw milk is illegal to purchase in most states within the US and any farmer providing raw milk can be raided at gun point, thrown in jail, and subjected to costly legal battles.
Here in Michigan, a supposed wild pig problem has prompted the DNR to label heritage pigs from small family farms as invasive species. These hogs used for gourmet charcuterie can be slaughtered on site without renumeration to the farmer. One could argue that the DNR is stepping outside of its normal regulatory capacity and siding with large scale pork producers. If it isn't a hog species used for industrial hog farming, it doesn't count.
During WWII, families were encouraged to grow victory gardens and chickens, rabbits, and even pigs were raised even within city limits to ensure food security. I think we need to get back to these types of practices. Why do we have beautiful city parks that are meticulously maintained with city tax dollars and yet soup kitchens struggle for donations? Why not plant apple trees and blueberry bushes in the parks? We need community gardens on every block. We need to grow fewer ornamentals and more herbs and food. We need to allow chickens, rabbits, and maybe even goats to be raised within city limits. Why not? My neighbor's dog is noisier than a chicken. We need to take back our food system, get our hands in the dirt and take charge of our own health.
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.