Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pet Peeves

I try really, really hard not to let this blog become my personal venting ground. Yes, I bring up a lot of issues, but I try to examine them rationally, to develop arguments, and to use this forum as a way of educating myself and growing. I try not to let my political opinions or the ups and downs in my personal life to color what I share with you. (Well, maybe the ups...)

But there has been way too much bad news from the realm of industrial food production lately for me not to blow off a little steam. After numerous product recalls, starting with E. coli tainted spinach last summer/fall and going through a handful of processed food items recalled this winter, you'd think the industry would clean up its act, right?

Oh, silly, silly me. Now there are hundreds of cases of pets suffering from kidney failure due to pet food contaminated with a rat poison banned in this country (follow stories at the Ethicurean if you're not up to speed). How is this possible? Why do I even bother asking that? Given agribusiness's history of using scrap pieces of meat to make pet food and fodder for farm animals, sometimes even turning those animals into cannibals (remember how mad cow disease got started with scrap parts from diseased cows being included in the feed given to... cows???), why should we be surprised when toxic chemicals are found in the food we and our pets eat?

Lest you think I'm getting worked up all out of proportion to this latest case affecting "just" animals, let me state here and now that I do not now have, nor have ever had, a pet, and while I abhor cruelty to animals, I am not an animal rights activist of any sort. I'm not in any ways saying that animals are more important and more deserving of outrage than people. But I'm also not going to say that they are any less important, because they have their place in creation, and their lives are so intimately connected with ours that we should be concerned with their well-being as much as with our own. Our health depends on their health, and so we should be concerned with what we feed our pets or with what food farm animals get.

So why not feel outraged at how cavalierly these big food producers and processors seem to approach our general health and well-being? Sure, they'll make some effort to make "healthy" food, but I don't see how you can fully succeed in that goal when you produce food on such an enormous scale for the sake of efficiency and profit.

For crying out loud, where will this pursuit of the Almighty Profit end? What won't Big Ag do to rake in the bucks? We already know what they will do:

--treat workers poorly through low wages, no benefits, and harassment;
--consume ever more land, water, and chemicals to support industrial monoculture;
--alter the genetic code of plants and thus throw the entire life cycle out of balance;
--deplete the land of rich topsoil and vast amounts of water;
--undercut the farmers who do the work to produce the food;
--avoid inspections whenever possible;
--add more and more junk to create greater varieties of processed foods;
--spend wicked amounts of money marketing the latest convenience foods to an astonishingly gullible public (and yes, I include myself in that);
--ignore the health consequences of their decisions;
--and use their influence and big bucks to influence the government to do their bidding.

Did I forget anything? Oh yes, let's not forget the livelihoods destroyed as small farms are bought out and taken over by agribusiness. It happened all over America without much effective resistance over the past few decades, turning many farming communities into ghost towns, and it continues to happen in other places around the world. (This recent post on Grist reveals the fight of Indian farmers against the government's seizure of their lands to make room for big industry, including agribiz.)

Thank goodness the movement for local, organic, sustainable agriculture is gaining strength and media currency... but will it be enough? The agribusinesses have a lot of money behind them, not to mention spin doctors and influence in the halls of power.

If you value good-tasting, fresh food... if you value your health and the well-being of the Earth... please find a way to incorporate more local, organic, sustainable whole foods into your diet. I know it's not easy -- certainly it's not often "convenient" -- and maybe it's not even cheap for some of you. But the cost of the alternative will be higher in the long run. And if Big Ag no longer finds it so profitable to continue business as usual, maybe they'll change.

Maybe. Maybe not. But we won't get anywhere if we don't try.

(Tip of the hat to Mr. Clean for bringing this story more fully to my attention.)

UPDATE 4/4/07: Here's an excellent follow-up on the ongoing situation from the Huffington Post: "Does FDA Spell FEMA?" This could get even bigger, and yes, what animals eat should concern us very much indeed.

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