We’re all familiar with the myth: we learned it in school. It goes something like this:I'd encourage you to read the rest. It's brilliant.
Once Upon a Time, in the 1960’s, a crew of brilliant whitefellas in lab coats Saved the World by revolutionising farming and eliminating world hunger. Their new, advanced mechanical/chemical farming methods — vast areas of monocrop, heavy tractors, giant combines, tonnes of artificial pesticides and fertilisers — and their new, improved, superior hybridised crops increased yields tenfold and more. Without industrial farming, billions would starve, even though other billions would be re-sentenced to the short lives of brutal, backbreaking toil from which they were rescued by industrial/mechanised farming. Therefore, anyone who advocates organic or “sustainable” farming practise is some kind of heartless elitist who wants billions to starve and the rest to live as dawn-to-dusk field slaves — for this is what will happen if we do not continue and expand the highly successful [and highly profitable, for everyone except farmers and eaters] model of industrial/corporate farming. There is no other way to feed ourselves. If there are “external costs” of the industrial farming system, we will just have to accept them.
That’s what I was taught in school — and probably you were too, if the subject of agriculture was even mentioned during your school years.
The real story — slowly emerging now into public discourse, in bits and pieces, in a mosaic of books, documentary films, research, nationalist and peasant movements, grassroots efforts — is a lot more ambiguous and complicated. Did agricultural productivity really rise as a result of industrial farming methods? Well, yes and no; it depends how you measure productivity. Was hunger really eliminated by the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960’s? Obviously not, since billions are going hungry worldwide today. How effective were the new artificial pesticides and fertilisers really? And what are the long-term consequences of their use? On what theories was this shift in agriculture based, and who benefited most, and what other agendas were on the table (or under it) at the time? And most urgently perhaps — as we measure the annual loss of topsoil, the reduced nutritional value of industrially-farmed food, and the many risks to food security posed by massively centralised and fossil-fuel-dependent food production — is there any other way to feed ourselves? If the answer is Yes, and any other approach to farming and food is capable of feeding us, then these two (or more) competing models of farming which should be examined and evaluated. But if the answer is No, then we are indeed the captives of an irrevocable choice made sometime in the 1930’s and 1940’s, with no way out.
Hunger is not inevitable. Factory farming is not inevitable. Low-quality, tasteless, contaminated food is not inevitable. Repeated “food scares” are not inevitable. Soaring public health costs are not inevitable. Another and better food system is eminently possible — now, not ten years from now or after some promised, imaginary “scientific breakthrough”. It is possible right now, today — in our own backyard(s).
What are we waiting for?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
"It's Not Rocket Science" by DeAnander
DeAnander has taught me a lot about alternatives to our current industrial food system. I think of her as Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, and Alice Waters rolled into one. Her latest post is a gem.