Food: a locus for the hope part

Posted September 19th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Food: a locus for the hope part

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

When I speak to all sorts of groups, I usually get asked about the hope part of the challenging future we are now encountering, that future – already upon us- when the impacts of Homo sapiens sapiens on the Earth’s ecosystems begin to manifest themselves in things like looming scarcities, toxic contamination of the basics we need for life (like air, water, food), breakdown of eco-communities and human communities, conflict around resources, etc.

I deliver the information regarding the planet and what this suggests about the necessity of change: If toxic chemicals are making our planet and our bodies sick, for example, we need to stop putting them into the environment, which means we need stringent enforceable regulations and a willingness to take on big corporations.

Credit: Fish and Wildlife Service

It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning if all you are facing are the difficulties. The difficulties are real enough, but so is the fact that we are still alive in the midst of them, still are human, still have longings for life, still make babies which means still having a strong investment in the future quality of life.

So the question inevitably arises: What can we do? Right here, in this place, with my seemingly small capacity to contribute to planetary realities, what can I do? This was asked again in a class on sustainability that I was invited to address at Marquette last week. The question reminds me of that passage from the New Testament in which we are told that we must be prepared to give reason for our hope (1Peter 3:15).

For me, the first response is to go right to the roots of our very existence. What is happening to the planet is not happening ‘out there,’ but right here. It is happening also to my own life, to my own body. If we have contaminated the air we breathe, the soils in which we plant the food we eat, the processing of that food, the additives put into it, and also the water we drink and the soda waters we create, etc., etc., then we are contaminating our very bodies every time we take a breath, eat, or have a glass of water (and don’t think that evil bottled water from natural springs is not adding to the contamination, not to mention the plastic waste).

What will we defend if not our very lives and the lives of our children? Know anyone with asthma? I have several in my own family and their suffering is increasing with the rise in air pollutants inside and outside, from ozone and particulates from cars, factories, and refineries, to chemicals in cleaners, insulation, and carpets. Know anyone with cancer? The cancer epidemic we are experiencing is not because we are living longer (bogus science), it’s because of what we are taking into our bodies. Want to lower health care costs? Attack asthma and cancer by getting toxic chemicals out of our air, water, soil, and food.

Try that in the corporate-dominated US Congress!

On Saturday, NY Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote about the Congressional assault on the Food and Drug Administration (Killing Jobs and Making Us Sick). Part of me had to smile cynically, aware of how much the FDA exists to protect corporate interests rather than protect citizens from them when they are a danger to us. Still, we do have regulations (like basic conditions for meat-packing plants or food inspection or drugs that do more harm than good) and they do sometimes catch really bad stuff and get it off the shelves.

But that regulatory environment is just way too much for corporations which now want to use their ownership of electoral politics and many members of Congress to practically threaten the very existence of the FDA. As Nocera points out, Obama signed a new law to strengthen food safety, and now the Repubs want to deal with that by slashing the FDA budget.

So it goes.

Mississippi runoff - NASA photo

I often start with food because you can draw a direct line from what we put in our bodies to almost every ecological threat we face: industrial agriculture and its impact on biodiversity, destruction of topsoil, spewing of greenhouse gas emissions, use of fossil fuels, inappropriate land usage, growing foodstuffs for fuel, corporate control over the things we need for life, the dangers of bioengineering (in this case most especially with our growing dependence on genetically modified organisms), and on and on. If we can get scared enough about what we are taking into our bodies, we might be more willing to follow that thread through to the fundamental question of  who controls the economy and our politics, and then get a pretty clear picture of what is wrong with the way we are living on the planet.

We can also get pretty easily into the conversation of what we could be doing differently – like removing all tax subsidies from industrial agriculture, banning GMOs, and supporting a return to real farming, most especially organic farming, or as near to that as possible. We could look at ways to reinvigorate a local food economy, increasing demand for healthy foods outside the corporate mega-chains which would help develop an alternative food sector, which steps would also greatly decrease the use of fossil fuels in agriculture through reduction in use of fertilizers, pesticides, long distance food transport, and use of gas-guzzling mega-machines in sowing and harvesting. You would also greatly reduce agricultural runoff, a major source of pollution of our waterways and groundwater.

Follow this food thread and you will arrive very quickly at the crisis of corporate control of the political agenda in regard to food and the food industry when you meet the massive resistance that comes inevitably when these corporate interests are challenged. Great way to raise the consciousness of citizens who now begin to realize why politics matters and why corporate influence of our elections has become so dangerous. Remember that lesson we all learned recently with the Citizens United case (see video below), that corporations are said to have the same rights as ‘persons’ under the Constitution’s Bill of Rights? It is hard to imagine substantive, fundamental change of this economic system that is doing so much harm when left to itself unless we remove this fiction – and start defeating the politicians and judges who defend it.

So choosing to live a healthier life leads inevitably to engagement with the big ecological issues of our time – because we cannot live in a healthy way in isolation from them, as if we could just cut ourselves off from these threats. We need to come together in these broad ever-growing movements built around the desire to restore health to our bodies, to our children’s bodies, to our neighborhoods and communities, joining in a conscious way to global movements working towards these same principles.

This path of hope is not only possible, it is already happening – everywhere. And that is how I give reason for my hope.


If you loved the video, The Story of Stuff, you will love this video on Citizens United, brought to you by the same fabulous bunch!


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