World Food Day

community garden

October 16, 2011 has been designated as World Food Day, and there is no better time than now to think about how what and how we eat impacts both ourselves and the planet.

Hunger is still a problem, not only in poor countries, but in some of the wealthiest countries in the world. Even the most obese of people can be malnourished, their body craving necessary nutrients, not just fat, salt and high fructose corn syrup. These three things are what is helping to raise the rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, government policies subsidize these foods rather than healthy ones, making a McDonalds burger cheaper than an organic tomato.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) were theoretically developed to help feed more people, but it is increasingly clear that not only have they not solved the food problem in poor countries, but they may be damaging to our health as well. But when corporations like Monsanto basically run the FDA, you can't expect them to put any limits on what they allow to be grown. Corporate profits are far more important than human health and the impact on the environment.

Monsanto, the largest producer of GMO seeds, has a near monopoly on what is being planted, not only in the US, but in a number of other countries as well, many of which thought that genetically modified foodwas the answer to the hunger problem. They couldn't be more wrong.

As Vandana Shiva writes in The Nation:

We are in a food emergency. Speculation and diversion of food to biofuel has contributed to an uncontrolled price rise, adding more to the billion already denied their right to food. Industrial agriculture is pushing species to extinction through the use of toxic chemicals that kill our bees and butterflies, our earthworms and soil organisms that create soil fertility. Plant and animal varieties are disappearing as monocultures displace biodiversity. Industrial, globalized agriculture is responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gases, which then destabilize agriculture by causing climate chaos, creating new threats to food security.

But the biggest threat we face is the control of seed and food moving out of the hands of farmers and communities and into a few corporate hands. Monopoly control of cottonseed and the introduction of genetically engineered Bt cotton has already given rise to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India. A quarter-million farmers have taken their lives because of debt induced by the high costs of nonrenewable seed, which spins billions of dollars of royalty for firms like Monsanto.

Industrial agriculture is destroying the planet and is beginning to severely limit how much food we will be able to grow in the future. Soil depletion and monocultures where huge amounts of single crops are grown (many for use as biofuels) make for a very unstable food system. Just one disease or pesticide-resistant insect and an entire year's crop can be destroyed.

By practicing sustainable agriculture, however, the world's food security is increased and genetic diversity will be a deterrent to widespread famine. Also, by utilizing traditional farming methods, where a variety of livestock and crops are raised in a mutually beneficial manner, soil depletion is reduced and farm animals will live a far better life. However, this is not the kind of system that lends itself to large-scale production, so we must rely on an increasing number of small farms to provide healthy meats and vegetables.

potted leafy plants

One way to get cheap healthy food is to grow it yourself. If you don't have your own yard you may be able to join a community garden. Even if you have as little as a window box you can grow some of your own vegetables, such as radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes and a variety of others. And there's nothing like the taste of a home-grown tomato fresh off the vine! It often surprises me that many people will grow houseplants but never consider growing some windowsill veggies. In future articles we will explore easy ways to grow your own windowsill salads.

So while buying healthy, organic, gmo-free food is not cheap, neither is what we and the planet are paying for the cost of the many chronic diseases and amount of environmental degredation that is the result of eating government-subsidized food that puts money in the pockets of industrial agriculture and corporations like Monsanto. If only for one day, think about eating an organic meal and support a system that will ensure the food security of future generations.

Laurel Avery

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Top Photo: United Way of the Lower Mainland
Bottom Photo: Friends of Family Farmers

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