Soylent Grain

SUBHEAD: A talk on GMO corn to be given at the 'Raise Awareness - Inspire Change' GMO conference August 14th, 2010 at noon.

By Juan Wilson on 13 August 2010 for Island Breath - 

Image above: Illustration derived from the original poster art for the movie "Soylent Green".  

I have been thinking about Kauai as at the fountainhead of a river. Rivers are part of natural cycles. But what flows from the river I’m thinking about is the genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup that is now drowning America. It’s corn syrup that sweetens the 3 liter bottles of Dr. Pepper that wreck our health.

High fructose corn syrup has been associated with increased obesity, diabetes and cancer. All big problems here in Hawaii. Over 80% of the corn in the USA comes from GMO plants. The kernels of destruction are created right here on Kauai. They are what sow the massive monoculture cornfields on the mainland. We on this island are trading a handful of local jobs for a planet full of trouble. I call this predicament Soylent Grain.  

PART ONE: Corn! It’s what’s for dinner!
 Besides sweetening everything from cheese dogs to tomato paste, GMO corn is the primary food crop of the United States. Monsanto, and Syngenta will tell you they are developing a wide variety of useful plants.

Yes, there has been some “success” with alfalfa, tomato, potato, canola, rice and (relative to Hawaii) sugarcane and papaya. But in fact, there are only a few crops that have been proven suitable for the genetic manipulation GMO’s are looking for. It’s as hard as training a cat as a junkyard dog. Only two species have starred in the shape shifting roles of all-food-to-all-creatures.

All the potato and wheat grown in the United States doesn’t equal the soybean harvest. And all the soybean, wheat and potato don’t equal half the yield of GMO corn. As a result, the GMO corn industry has replaced just about everything else in America’s breadbasket.

Almost all Americans eats GMO corn daily. How is that possible? Well, corn is what makes our meat, eggs and dairy products. It is the food of our factory raised beef, pork and poultry (that is corn with added antibiotics and steroids).

We feed GMO corn our to our pets as well (that's what dry cat and dog food is - corn with meat like additives). And don’t forget our human cravings for ranch tostada chips and orange cheese doodles (that is corn with salt and artificial flavoring). Can I have a coke with that? King Corn, - The Soylent Grain - the Yellow Meat - is everywhere. Even in your gas tank. The GMO companies argue they are part of the GREEN REVOLUTION.

A revolution that promised to feed the hungry by increasing crop yield and nutrition. What resulted was the spread of fragile, environmentally damaging monocultures with the loss of indigenous farming practices. The Green Revolution that began in the 1960’s also produced a population explosion that made us even more dependent on mechanized agriculture, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers... And that brings us to the fossil fuels. Sonia Shah, in her book “Crude: The story of of Oil” calls it Petrofood.

That’s a foodchain that requires ten calories of oil energy for each calorie of food grown. We are so dependent on crude oil for food that any prolonged interruption of the oil needed for farming could mean mass starvation. In 2008 we saw what happened when oil flirted with $150 a barrel? The world economy crashed. In many places there were food riots.

The GMO business model is to produce not only seeds they sell, but the petrochemicals needed to keep them alive. Genetic engineering has been focused on the patenting of their RoundUp-Ready seeds AND the RoundUp too.

This has shown to be most profitable with farming that requires large scale operations needing massive inputs of those petroleum based products. The result is a farming monopoly for just a handful of industrialized corporations based on corn... Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, ADM, Tyson, Hormel, Armour, Kraft, Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Coke, etc.

The reality is that American agribusiness seeks the control of nature as if it was an industrial process with infinite growth potential. GMO corn is the centerpiece of that agriculture. The corn outlets are the supermarkets where we go to get the stuff from which to make human beings. And more and more that stuff comes out of a blister package or a freezer, sent from a processing plant and genetically designed in a laboratory... Soylent Grain.  

PART TWO: Whirlpools in the stream of life
 Here’s a part of a NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL FEEDBACK LOOP - Turning crude oil into corn syrup into sewage!

The watershed of the Mississippi is the Corn Basket of America. Every year there is massive runoff of topsoil, synthetic fertilizer, and pesticides from those fields down the Mississippi River and to the Gulf of Mexico.

This year it produced an oxygen deprived deadzone the size of Massachusetts - and that’s not counting the deadzone produced by the BP gusher.

But that IS where is our domestic crude oil for producing corn is coming from - the badly regulated offshore oil rigs in the Gulf. In effect, the Gulf is precariously supplying the petrochemicals used to produce GMO corn that creates the runoff back to the Gulf.

This is not a resilient ecosystem. Eventually more people on Kauai will see that the GMO companies are the fountainhead of a business of producing pesticides and synthesized food with no real benefit to our island.

There will be less land and water for farmers on Kauai because Pioneer and Dow are here. Unless... There are two possible ways the negative ecological feedback loops of industrial food production will be broken. PLAN “A” - The Corporations (don’t laugh now) could do it themselves.

At first glance it seems these corporations to have no way out of their mandate to make short run profits. But they are not stupid organizations. They know they’re playing out a game that will end with any serious disruption of our fossil fueled economy.

We saw what happened in 2008 when oil flirted for a brief time at $150 a barrel. These corporations could act on what they must already know. That the continuation petroleum dependent corn is a timebomb that cannot feed the world.
Could, for example, Syngenta turn its sophisticated R&D capacities here on Kauai, towards research on to improved permaculture techniques? Wouldn't they thrive in a such a new paradigm? Could the team at Dow Agroscience find a way to make sugarcane fields support small organic farms profitable that people could live on? Wouldn’t that provide more and better jobs here?
I think these things possible - but we would likely first have to see a deeper disruption to our growth-at-any-cost economy. We certainly should encourage the GMO’s to participate in saving the world. It couldn’t hurt. However they may just decide pump out corn syrup until there is no more oil to be pumped.

 If that’s their choice we’ll have to move on to PLAN “B” - We will have to begin where we can - in our own back yards and kitchens. Here’s a part of a POSITIVE ECOLOGICAL FEEDBACK LOOP.

Transforming earth into vegetables and back into earth again. In other words we use our backyard garden leftovers to feed composting worms to make soil for our backyard garden vegetables. John Michael Greer is the The Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. He is the author of "The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age".

In a recent article, on his website “The Archdruid Report”, he writes: “The humble and lovable compost bin is the template on which the entire structure of any future sustainable society will pretty much have to be modeled.”  

PART THREE: Sustainable Pacific Islands
Besides relying on the backyard garden we should look to the Polynesian culture for ways to live on a tropical islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Polynesians thrived without a fossil-fueled-industrial-society.

They did it without metal, using Stone Age technology, and yet they developed a rich and enduring culture. The Polynesians who landed here practiced what became the unique human expression that is Hawaiian culture.

It was developed from land use geared to what was sustainable on these finite islands. It focused on the bioregions, watersheds and ecological cycles of life here in Hawaii.

Of course, that word “sustainable” is an overused word. It has relative meaning, but the Polynesians who landed here kept their finite-closed-system going for a millennium. They did it with far less damage to these islands than the Ango-Americans inflicted in less than two centuries of whaling, sugar plantations and suburban sprawl.

My background is in architecture and planning. Since 2006, beginning with the Malama Kauai Eco-Roundtable gatherings, and with the help of Jonathan Jay, I’ve been examining traditional Hawaiian land use. I’ve been trying to discover what the land units were the Hawaiian used to manage their lives.

Much has been obliterated or forgotten, but enough seems intact to reveal many secrets of the past. The trick here is not unlike what Woodward and Bernstein were advised to do to the solve the Watergate mystery. They were told “Follow the money!” In the case of Hawaiian land use the key is to “Follow the water!” Where it comes from - what it touches and where it goes.

Regarding HAWAIIAN LAND DIVISIONS - Here are some of the hierarchical levels I have become familiar with:

 One) Hawaii Nei - Islands in the Hawaiian nationstate -

Two) Mokupuni - An individual island of Hawaii Nei - Now this is where it gets more related to water flow.

Three) Moku - A bioregion of an island - Characterized by the ocean currents, rain clouds, wind, soil and topography of the island. Some stereotypical examples: the Moku of Kona, (the southwest leeward side); the moku of Koolau (the northeast windward side); the moku of Puna (the southeast springwater side); and the moku of Na Pali (the northwest cliffside).

Four) Ahupuaa - A watershed area within a bioregion - A land area bounded by a combination of ridges, shoreline and streams that was sufficiently large and rich enough to sustain a human community. Some ahupuaa are dry, some wet. Some are big, others small.

This Spring I was asked by the Aha Kiole Advisory Committee of the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, to map the boundaries of the traditional ahupuaa and moku on the Hawaiian islands.

So far I have submitted six islands to them so far - Kauai, Niihau, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Maui. The results of that effort are here tonight, in the form of six paper maps. These maps results are also available for use with GoogleEarth and are online at the website

It is my hope that this work can be an aid in deeper understanding our Hawaiian backyard gardens, our ahupuaa. We are going to need them healthy. Here, at the Red Barn Gym of the All Saints Church, we are in the ahupuaa of Waipouli in the Moku of Puna. Puna includes all the watersheds between the entrance to Nawiliwili Harbor and Anahola Valley.

To the north of Waipouli, on the other side of the canal near Cost-U-Less, begins the ahupuaa of Kapaa. To the South of Waipouli, a bit before the Coconut Grove Marketplace, begins the ahupuaa of Olehena.

Waipouli means Dark Water. Waipouli has some beautiful farmland but much of its upland forest has been removed. Also, the water from Olehena has been diverted by ditch across Waipouli to the canal by Cost-U-Less.

We all should know more about our own ahupuaa, because we are its fruit. That is what kamaaina means. And I suggest to the leaders of the GMO companies, if they want to last as long as the Hawaiians, that they try to understand their backyards better - My advice - Don’t follow the money. Follow the water!

[Please attend the GMO Conference. GMO Free Kauai will host a two day event, "Raise Awareness, Inspire Change" on Friday night August 13 and Saturday August 14 in Kapaa at the All Saints Church Gym (the Red Barn). for details click here.]

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Raise Awareness • Inspire Change 7/30/10
Island Breath: TGI #24 - Down With King Corn 2/28/08

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