(Rubbing hands together, deep breath) As I begin to start a series of entries on food politics, I realize it’s a sensitive issue–not all that different from the birds and the bees talk your parents might have given you. “Well, honey, the truth is, you didn’t come from a stork,” it starts. “You see, when mommy and daddy fell in love…”
And you know how gruesome the truth turned out to be there.
So, brace yourself. Here comes the story of the broccoli and the beets, as it were. The story of where your food really comes from.
Your food didn’t really come from a happy little farmer named Old MacDonald. You see, back in the ’40s during and after World War II, a chemical company called Monsanto fell in love…with profit.
Monsanto was a company that had its hands in a little thing called the Manhattan Project, and was doing well for itself during war times making all those chemicals. It even started manufacturing the insecticide DDT to help kill a lot of typhus- and malaria-carrying insects in areas where soldiers were fighting. However, once the war was won, Monsanto needed to do something with all their chemicals, so they started selling DDT as an agricultural insecticide to farmers back in the US. As we know now, DDT is toxic and negatively effects reproduction in many animals including humans. Fortunately, DDT is now banned from American soil. However, Monsanto has continued creating products with similarly scary stories ever since.
In addition to inventing Agent Orange (of Vietnam War fame), rBGH (bovine growth hormone for dairy cows), and aspartame (artificial sweetener) over the years, Monsanto kept experimenting with chemicals that could be used on crops–culminating in what is today the world’s top seller in weed-killers: Roundup. This herbicide, it turns out, is so good at killing plants that it takes a toll on the crops themselves, which is why, finally in 1996, Monsanto found some scientists to genetically modify soy seeds so that the plants could withstand Monsanto’s own toxic chemicals and keep them in business.
In 1996, they patented the genetically modified (GM) soy seed, and in 1998 patented GM corn seed as well. Monsanto has done such a good job marketing itself (and patenting its products) that it is now responsible for selling 90% of the world’s GM seeds, each with a side of chemicals (that they also sell and have patented) to go with. And now you can pretty much guarantee that if you’re eating soy in the US, it’s been genetically modified and produced with lots of chemicals, with Monsanto selling 98% of all US soybeans. With such success, Monsanto has quickly moved on to genetically modify as many other crops as it can get its hands on, pushing chemical use higher and higher all the way.
Sadly, the bad news does not end here. It seems that with Monsanto and many big agribusiness corporations, the more you learn, the deeper the rabbit hole gets. From chemical dumping, to bullying small farmers with bogus lawsuits, to monopolizing the seed market, and causing third world farmers to acquire massive debt and commit suicide, the list of Monsanto’s evils goes on.
But for now, the point I want to get across is: farming with chemicals is not normal farming, nor is it necessary for agriculture to prosper. Humans had been farming just fine for 10,000 years before the last seventy years changed that. Chemical pesticides and herbicides, vast monoculture industrial farms of soy and corn, and food jacked full of processed filler ingredients are not normal. And they only happened because of a love of profit. Not sustenance, not health, not saving the hungry in Africa. They happened because of the capitalist benefit of an over-abundance of chemical production during WWII.
So I know that organic food is expensive, and I know that it’s hard times, but what I want you to know is that organic food is really the normal food, the food made for eating. All the other food is the food made for profit.
But don’t worry–this is good news! Because now you know, you can do something about it. For your own health, for your loved ones, for your culture, and for your planet. Now you know the truth about your food. And you can celebrate eating real food whenever you can and fighting for the right you have to some day be able to eat only real food all the time.
The first step in this fight for me has been supporting local, small, organic farmers as much as I can by buying their produce. Even if it’s just a few apples from the farmer’s market every week, that is a contribution. The beginning of a commitment to start working back to real agriculture and real food. And to righting what was made wrong for all of us.
[This bedtime story has been told to me several times, so much that I consider it common knowledge. But it also happens to be well-documented on Wikipedia's entry on Monsanto, and any dates or figures or details here were acquired from that page.]