John James Audubon spent his life in humble observation of the natural world. His ornithological work was revered by scientists such as Charles Darwin and his legacy is a book of drawings that reveal the exquisite complexities of evolution as evidenced in the physiology of birds. I can't help but wonder what he would have thought of the full-page Monsanto ad (above) which appears smack in the middle of his namesake periodical.
Apparently the idea is to froth us up and fuel our ever-present anxieties about food shortages in the year 2050. NOW WHAT? the ad screams, then reassures us that we're in good hands, that the corporation will be there with all sorts of miracle solutions: "That's sustainable agriculture. And that's what Monsanto is all about."
The good news is that on the same newsstand this week's Time magazine ran a summary of why we have got to take things back into our own hands, why we cannot trust corporations with the future of our food production. This piece clearly and concisely describes how we have allowed corporate agriculture to abuse our land and our bodies in pursuit of cheap food and big money. This is a scathing review of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and a call to support small farms.
Reporter Bryan Walsh outlines the "downside of cheap food":
- Unhealthy and fattening grain-based foods are subsidized and therefore cheap compared to fruits and vegetables..."It costs too much to be thin," he writes.
- The use of chemical fertilizers that kill our soil and send toxicity down river and out into the oceans..."When runoff from the fields of the Midwest reaches the Gulf of Mexico, it contributes to what is known as a dead zone, a seasonal, approx. 6,000 sq. mile area that has almost no sea life."... meaning it destroys the fishing industry and "one of our leanest, healthiest sources of protein,"
- Degradation and mistreatment of animals. When you have to pre-cut pigs tails so they don't bite them off each other, you know something is not right.
- Contamination of the local environment by animal wastes
- Loss of farm jobs and demoralizing work for farmers and hands on industrialized farms
- Use of pharmaceuticals which creates resistant strains of bacteria..."70% of antimicrobial drugs used in America are given not to people but to animals, which means we're breeding more of those deadly organisms every day."
What comes through is that this isn't just nostalgia for the good old-fashioned farm days, folks. We're in big trouble the way things are going. Walsh talks about how, yes, we will definitely need more food in the future, and, maybe, in this time of high unemployment, we could employ more actual live people to make that happen, rather than just pouring more damaging chemicals and reckless engineering on the problem.
He goes on to use the local Niman Ranch, where cattle are grass-fed and cared for, as an example of a small farm "getting it right," at least as far as meat production goes. He finishes with this: "The industrial food system fills us up but leaves us empty - it's based on selective forgetting. But what we eat - how it's raised and how it gets to us - has consequences that can't be ignored any longer."
I like to see this type of fed-up coverage in an American staple like Time, but, in the end, the fundamental question Walsh raises can only be answered by individuals. Can we change the way we think? Are we capable of thinking small? Are we capable of supporting those who are truly sustainable? We've got the power - incredible consumer power - but we have to be willing forgo those big mouthfuls of cheap calories, and commit to support small local farmers. Meaning, we must buy their slightly more expensive produce, every single chance we get.