What do you know about the food you eat? Who grew your vegetables? In which
country were they grown? Do you have any idea what chemicals were used to
protect your fruit during its production and long-distance shipping?
Is your cheese made from the milk of hormone-injected cows? Is your pasta
manufactured by the corporation connected to the deaths of 2000 infants every
day? Is your turkey grown by one of the world's largest oil companies in huge
windowless buildings, or your chicken by the business which destroys global
fisheries? Was the beef in your hamburger raised in the rain forest or in four
different countries? What portion of your food dollar goes to the world's
largest tobacco pusher? Were the soybeans - a major ingredient in processed
foods - genetically engineered? Was your garlic exported from China and then
irradiated at sea? Or was your sugar produced under slave-like conditions
somewhere in the Caribbean?
This is a grim list of questions, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg
regarding what we don't know about what we eat. And, if we're good consumers,
we'll go on just caring about brands and buzzwords: diet, light, low-salt,
low-fat, high-protein, high-fiber, new and improved!
There are many questions we should ask about each food item we eat, but don't.
How much did the manufacturer pay to put a product on the supermarket shelf?
How much fossil and nuclear energy was used to manufacture and market that
processed and packaged food? What are the hidden costs? How much do we pay in
taxes to provide the energy, agricultural, manufacturing, advertising and waste
disposal subsidies which make supermarkets and fast-food outlets possible and
profitable? What will our health-care costs be in the future?
These are very hard questions and frequently, the answers are really depressing.
Knowing the conditions of the people who actually touch our food in the global
system, and the arrogance and greed of those who distribute and market it, would
be equally depressing.
Part of the reason we don't know more about food is that our ignorance is good
for the global food system's owners. They want us to choose based on brands and
standardized categories. Whatever we want is okay as long as we don't ask
questions about genetic engineering, food irradiation, farm laborers' working
conditions, or the environmental and social effects of giant industrialized
The surest course to knowing more about food - where it comes from and how it's
produced - is to bring our eating closer to home. Start with a garden. It will
provide a great education in food and plants, soil and sunlight, seeds and
weeds, insects, cover crops, mulches, and varieties as well as in real flavor
and nutrition. In caring for the garden we learn about the Earth's productive
capacity, and the importance of balance and restraint. Eating directly from the
garden teaches us about cooking and preserving delicious fresh foods.
Find the farms or farmers markets in your community or nearby. Purchase what
grows locally and learn to make simple and delicious meals from food that is
fresh and in season. At the Old Solar Farm, a week before the solstice, we're
still harvesting potatoes, parsnips, turnips, Brussels sprouts and coldframe
greens. Just growing sprouts on your kitchen counter throughout the winter is
a good beginning. For what you can't grow or find locally, buy whole, organic
and minimally-processed and packaged foods. Support the smaller businesses that
you would like to keep in your community.
One of the major differences between the corporate/industrial/global food system
envisioned by agribusiness and the USDA, and the local, community-based,
ecological food system that we're creating, is what we need to know. For the
big boys, our ignorance is their bliss. We become more dependent, and ignorant
with each expensive development in food technology.
To recreate a local, just and sustainable food system, however, we all need to
know more about what we eat, perhaps even know how to produce and prepare a
complete meal. This is one of the reasons that home, community, school and even
college gardens are popping up like mushrooms.
For gardeners and sustainable farmers, the process of feeding local communities
builds a growing and joyful knowledge of the workings of Gaia and our essential
and sensuous relationships with the Earth and with each other.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
C 1996, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. This essay first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and essays since
November 1995 are available there.