[Instead, for now, I'm applying for government jobs -- but that's OK, I'm lucky enough to have a pension ahead of me, at age 55, at which time I will be able to do all the hobby farming my little heart desires. Meanwhile, I have my garden and my chickens and my kitchen. Anyway, the job and money situation is outside the "scope" of this post, as we bureaucrats like to say. This one is about food.]
I am also pretty passionate about food, where it comes from and how it's produced, beyond my own kitchen and back yard. This morning I checked out La Vida Locavore (added to my blogroll at right), and found this post about a letter from the big chemical ag industry (MidAmerica CropLife Association) to Mrs. Obama complaining about her organic garden. I love this:
Starting in the early 1900's, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities.
In other words, the decline of the family farm is a good thing, see? Concentration of farming in a few very rich and government-subsidized hands, the same hands that wrote this letter, is a good thing. Oh, and:
Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.
And a very visible backyard food-producing garden at the first family's home, the White House, also involving school children, is part of the problem? not the solution?? Mega-farms, on which few Americans "have to" work any more, are the solution to kids not knowing the agricultural origins of their food and other products? And get this, this paragraph makes my head spin:
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.
Strawberries are one of those foods that are really not at all "tasty" when shipped out of season. And wholesome?? The conventional ones carry a very high pesticide load, rated 6th out of 47 by the non-profit Environmental Working Group. Even EPA recommends peeling fruits and vegetables to reduce (not eliminate) pesticides -- mmm, peeled strawberries, anyone? Speaking of storage, though, strawberries (easily home-grown!) freeze beautifully. And "local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive", as if "Mrs. O -- you can use chemicals on your White House garden, too!"
What's the big deal about some pesticides on those California strawberries? FDA says they're safe, USDA says they're safe, so who is Regina Terrae to tell you to avoid them like the plague? Regina Terrae is sceptical about FDA and USDA assurances. But About.com says that "pesticide exposure may increase the risk of birth defects. However, that elevated risk is typically due to occupational or environmental exposure to pesticides", NOT to eating the strawberries while pregnant. And we've already seen how conventional farming uses "less human labor", and how "Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming." So no worries about "occupational exposure", right?? Ha -- of course that's not true. Even the seemingly plasticized, juiceless strawberries bred for shipping long-distances are too fragile to be mechanically harvested. Strawberries are one of the most labor-intensive crops around. As I googled around trying to find a link to post to back that last point up, finding it mentioned over and over but always in passing, I got drawn in to this 1995 article (note, the link is a PDF file) in the Atlantic Monthly, detailing working conditions damn close to slavery in some cases (in the form called "debt peonage", in which the worker sells his or her "soul to the company store", in the immortal words of the coal-miner's lament, 16 Tons). And then I also found this NIH study showing that even when they follow all the government-mandated safety regulations perfectly, strawberry farmworkers go home with "significantly higher levels of exposure" to pesticides, and that they carry at least some of that home to their families.
But they're not Americans, by and large. No, "Americans [have been] able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming." They're mostly Mexicans, mostly undocumented. The Mid America CropLife Association may not recognize that as "human labor" (or else how could they bring themselves to treat the laborers so miserably?), but I do. And I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suppose that the kind of folks who read my blog, by now are about ready to sit down and write their own letter to our First Lady, begging her to please plant some organic strawberries in the White House garden, and maybe one to the President asking him to see what he can do for our migrant farmworkers -- immigration policy and health & safety standards. And to keep pushing back against poison farming!
If you need a little more food for thought before putting those letters in the mail, consider the "Ethics of Eating" as laid out by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and the U.S. Bishops' "Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers". My church has its faults, God knows, but we do have a strong social justice tradition, and it is well reflected at those two links. Also, fellow blogger Acooba has started a series on The Alchemy of Love that explores the mind-body-heart-soul connection with some emphasis on how what we eat affects more than our bodies. I invite you to reflect on eating as a moral act.