So many of us truly believe that our choices can’t really change things because the Big Guys are just too big. They, the ‘Big Guy’, have hijacked our thoughts. We have collectively agreed that they are right and we have collectively given them control. We shop in a box, eat from a box, farm in box-like parcels, take our medicine from a box and die in a box. It is time to change the way we think and the way we eat. Power structures can shift when we change our thinking and take back our choices.
Over the years, we have made choices that have brought us to where we are today. The lie: the cheaper, the better. This lie has sent production and wages to foreign lands, increased the imports of cheap products and spiraled control of our food system out of our hands and into the grasps of large agri-businesses such as Monsanto, Potash Corp, Syngenta, Deere & Company, Archer-Daniels Midland Company and many more. Most Americans are completely unaware that large corporations and special interests groups such as steel, dairy, wheat, corn, etc. are actually given subsidies by our government. Why do food industries need subsidies? They are given money to produce a lot, so Americans can have affordable food. This is part of the spinned story. The real story is that most large crops go to waste as they are kept off the market to control food costs. The other part of the story is that Big Ag is given all kinds of tax breaks and incentives to produce a lot, flood foreign markets with cheap crops and food in order to kill off competition. In the end, other countries have no choice but to import from the U.S. What happened to good old fashion capitalism? Come in, sell cheap, kill the competition and then jack up the prices.
Large agri-businesses have the heaviest lobby and need small farmers to disappear both on U.S. land and abroad. Americans want cheap. Cheap comes at a scale small farmers cannot compete. Slowly small farmers are saying adios and cashing in their debts to Big Ag. Many ‘Mom and Pop’ shops said goodbye long ago with big box stores stepping in with one-stop shop. Big stores, where you can drive your SUV to and get everything you want, nice and cheap. If we continue to shop and eat the way we do, all our small farmers will be history. Unfortunately, in some cases from big box stores to mega agri-business, they are the same ‘Guy’. One of the ‘Big Guys’ is Cargill. They are one of the world’s largest privately held corporations. Not only do they control a huge portion of the global grain business, they also have a near monopoly over entire regions of American grain elevators, where farmers sell their crops. Their little fingers are in a lot of American pies spanning from food industries, agricultural, financial to industrial. Amongst their offerings are pork, beef, turkey, oils, shortenings, salt, sweetners and various dressings and sauces. They own brands such as Crisco and GoodNature. Cargill is only one example of how lost our food system is in the shadow of Mega Corporations.
What we eat and how we eat is literally killing our planet. Millions of acres across the nation and around the world are being ripped apart to create pasture land for cattle. In fact, 60 percent of deforestation is due to cattle grazing. And in the United States, livestock production is responsible for 55 percent of erosion, 37 percent of all applied pesticides and 50 percent of antibiotics consumed. One of the most precious ecosystems, the Amazon rain forest, is being chopped back to make way for the cattle industry. In Brazil, 70 percent of deforested land is used as pasture land. Not only is land being leveled to create grazing pastures for cattle, but we are losing land to raise feed for the factory farming of animals. Cows directly consume 95 percent of U.S. oat production and 80 percent of corn. The cattle industry is the largest consumer of land and feed. However, farming in general, from the factory farming of animals to our agricultural system, is striking a hefty blow to our planets capacity to sustain the feeding nature of the human species.
The dust bowl is getting larger. Rivers and lakes are drained to water farm land. The land cannot sustain the way we farm. Globally, irrigated farming takes up 60 percent of available fresh water. The Colorado River Basin alone, lost almost 16 cubic miles in less than 10 years. In Kansas, farmers are irrigating at a rate that the entire Ogallala aquifer will be lost in the next 50 years. In order to get the land to keep producing what already kills us, we are dumping fertilizers and pesticides which become our new rivers and lakes. Each year one billion pounds of pesticides are dumped on American soil. This year, another Ag Giant leading the seed industry, Mansanto, put in a $45 million bid to buy out Switzerland’s Syngenta who commands the world market in pesticides. Together, these two companies would have controlled 98 percent of the world’s seeds and pesticides. Seed and pesticides are already dangerously intertwined with seeds being genetically modified to withstand pesticides and herbicides. The environmental footprint of our food system is out of control. Our food travels thousands of miles to be warehoused and distributed. The amount of land and energy to grow, distribute, warehouse and sell our food is not even close to being sustainable. And then, factor in things like packaging and waste as well as costs such as media and marketing. Our food system falls out of the world of rational and into the realm of absolute insanity.
Our choices to buy cheap have made a difference and the difference we now see is luminous indeed. We created what we have and we have the power to create something different. Cheap is not better and it comes at a very high price. A price we are now paying for on the back end or should we say hind-end. When talking about the costs for cheap food, we also need to take head to the impact of the way we eat on our health. Obesity and a plethora of other physical ailments that plague this nation such as diabetes, heart disease, and so many types of cancers which keep the ‘Big Guy’ fat and the ‘Little Guy’ cash poor. While Americans pour high fructose corn syrup down their throats and pump Red #40 in their veins, food giants such as Nestle, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Pepsico, Unilever, Coca Cola, Mars and Danone, etc. are banking on the hopes that Americans will drink the coolaid for years to come. We are literally giving food giants all our money and having them poison us with industrial by-products and other chemicals that are developed to taste good, prolong shelf life and are turned into marketing gimics to sell new products.
Collective agreements can be made to undue what has been done. Just as easily as we have collectively agreed to buy cheap at high costs, we can collectively agree to make other choices that can hit the ‘Big Guy’ where it hurts. More and more Americans are waking up to things such as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), the benefits of eating organically, looking for labels such as ‘no antibiotics or growth hormones’, ‘grass fed’, etc. More Americans are demanding all ingredients to be listed on food products as well as demanding the transparency of GMOs in our food. Box stores such as Walmart, Costco, Target, etc. are offering more organics and natural food products to keep up with the current trend of Americans choosing healthier foods. We still have a long way to go before the ‘Big Guy’ feels the weight of our consumer power, but it is possible.
Local First or Buy Local movements are also on the rise. Even if many Americans don’t eat organically, an increasing amount of consumers are getting behind local businesses and choosing to put their dollars back into their local economies rather than in some offshore accounts or in the location of corporate headquarters. Some cities do not allow franchises or box stores in the town center or city limits. We need the return of Mom and Pop shops and small farmers in order to create healthier, more sustainable and vibrant local economies. Big box stores, chain restaurants and franchises may not go away entirely. Nonetheless, if we want to be more in control of our food system, we must support small businesses, local markets and our local farmers. Another good example of how the shift is possible can be seen in the ‘Occupy’ movements. If the blatant inequities and imbalances in the U.S. eluded most Americans, the ‘Occupy’ movements made it loud and clear that imbalances do exist and are not acceptable. It brought to the forefront the power of grassroots activism and demonstrated the power of the masses. The movement activated many Americans who were otherwise not involved in politics. They were examples of how collective agreements can be made amongst the masses and how power structures can begin to shift from the elite 1% back to the 99%.
Our buying choices, where we shop, how we eat and what we eat can tip the table back to local people, local farmers and local businesses. Think ‘Big’, Act ‘Small’ – smaller is better when it comes to putting power behind our dollars. Supporting local farmers, shopping locally and purchasing as much as we can from local farmers markets are some of the ways we can make choices that take back control of our food system and build community. Americans must take full responsibility for the reality we have created in handing control over to corporate giants and we must make pro-active choices in creating the reality that we want. Power structures can shift from the ‘Big Guy’ to the ‘Little Guy’.