By Chris Hedges on 06 September 2009 in Truthdig - (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090906_food_is_power_and_the_powerful_are_poisoning_us)
And if we do not build alternative food networks soon, the social and political ramifications of shortages and hunger will be devastating. The effects of climate change, especially with widespread droughts in Australia, Africa, California and the Midwest, coupled with the rising cost of fossil fuels, have already blighted the environments of millions.
The poor can often no longer afford a balanced diet. Global food prices increased an average of 43 percent since 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund. These increases have been horrific for the approximately one-billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—who subsist on less than $1 per day. And 162 million of these people survive on less than 50 cents per day. The global poor spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
The average monthly benefit was $113.87 per person, leaving many, even with government assistance, without adequate food. The USDA says 36.2 million Americans, or 11 percent of households, struggle to get enough food, and one-third of them have to sometimes skip or cut back on meals. Congress allocated some $54 billion for food stamps this fiscal year, up from $39 billion last year. In the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, costs will be $60 billion, according to estimates.
Food shortages have been tinder for social upheaval throughout history. But this time around, because we have lost the skills to feed and clothe ourselves, it will be much harder for most of us to become self-sustaining. The large agro-businesses have largely wiped out small farmers. They have poisoned our soil with pesticides and contaminated animals in filthy and overcrowded stockyards with high doses of antibiotics and steroids. They have pumped nutrients and phosphorus into water systems, causing algae bloom and fish die-off in our rivers and streams.
Crop yields, under the onslaught of changing weather patterns and chemical pollution, are declining in the Northeast, where a blight has nearly wiped out the tomato crop. The draconian Food Modernization Safety Act, another gift from our governing elite to corporations, means small farms will only continue to dwindle in number.
Sites such as La Via Campesina do a good job of tracking these disturbing global trends. “The entire economy built around food is unsafe and unethical,” activist Henry Harris of the Food Security Roundtable told me. The group builds distribution systems between independent farmers and city residents. “Food is the greatest place for communities to start taking back power,” he said. “The national food system is collapsing by degrees. More than 50 percent of what we eat comes from the Central Valley of California.
What happens when gasoline becomes $5 a gallon or drought sweeps across the cropland? The monolithic system of food production is highly unstable. It has to be replaced very soon with small, diverse sources that provide greater food security.” Cornell University recently did a study to determine whether New York state could feed itself. The research is described in two articles published in 2006 and 2008 by the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. If all agricultural land were in use, and food distribution were optimized to minimize the total distance that food travels, New York state could, the researchers found, have 34 percent of its food needs met from within its boundaries.
A barter economy replaced the formal economy. Families could grow food or had relatives to feed them. But in a world where we do not know where our food comes from, or how to produce it, we have become vulnerable. And many will be forced, as food prices continue to rise, to shift to a diet of cheap, fatty, mass-produced foods, already a staple of the nation’s poor. Junk food, a major factor in obesity, diabetes and heart disease, is often the only food those in the inner city can buy because supermarkets and nutritious food are geographically and financially beyond reach.
As the economy continues to deteriorate, the middle class will soon join them. “It is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land,” Wendell Berry observed in “The Unsettling of America.”
“Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our ‘marginal land’ because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.”
It is a revolution that is still going on. The economy is still substantially that of the fur trade, still based on the same general kinds of commercial items: technology, weapons, ornaments, novelties, and drugs.
The one great difference is that by now the revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water. Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution has imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.
“The inevitable result of such an economy,” Berry adds, “is that no farm or any other usable property can safely be regarded by anyone as a home, no home is ultimately worthy of our loyalty, nothing is ultimately worth doing, and no place or task or person is worth a lifetime’s devotion. ‘Waste,’ in such an economy, must eventually include several categories of humans—the unborn, the old, ‘disinvested’ farmers, the unemployed, the ‘unemployable.’ Indeed, once our homeland, our source, is regarded as a resource, we are all sliding downward toward the ash heap or the dump.”