Monday, August 17, 2009

The End of Food- A Review

I picked up the book "The End of Food" by Thomas Pawlick. I point out the author because there's another book of the same name by Paul Roberts.

What can be said about a book in which the author suggests that gardening can be considered an act of subversion (pp184-185). He writes:
For thousands of years, in every unjust society, those who, from Robin Hood on down, have affirmed life over the version of reality promoted by the 'powers that be', have been seen as outlaws. There is no reason why gardeners should be exceptions. Guerrilla gardeners. It has a nice, allitertive ring to it.

He believes that if we want good food we need to grow our own and doing so can be thought of an act of subversion.

The second thing to enjoy about the book is his review of the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He suggests:
In today's corporate America, Thoreau would likely have been arrested, stripped of his citizenship and shipped off to a cage in Guantanamo Bay, by defying the corporate 'will to power'.

And if they got hold of his writings of "Civil Disobedience", it would have been waterboarding.

The book begins with Thomas recounting a story of buying a tomato that was so red, so attractive but too hard to eat. He bought the ingredients to make a salad but discovered the tomato was impossible to cut. So he left it out to ripe. He waited one week, two weeks, but nothing happened. He got so frustrated he eventually threw it at his fence. He thought he would get a vaudvillian splat, but instead, it bounced back. It didn't break, he described it as a red tennis ball. He picked it up and threw it again, this time it cracked, still no splat. He examined the inside and some of the seeds had started to germinate. In an interview he did at it happened in Windsor, which he reminds us is close to the tomato capital of Canada, Leamington. This started his study of the food industry as it exists today.

As for tomatoes, he discovered there are only a handful of companies involved in the production of the fruit. These companies have had as their motive, to produce tomatoes that are good for shipping. In fact the wish list does not include ripeness, taste or nutrition.

His target is the transnationals that control food production and distribution, their motive is not taste but profit. Feeding people is not part of the equation in their quest for profit. In fact, the food industry has brought about food which over the last fifty years, has had a decrease in nutrition. He gives information on how the vitamins content has decreased and not just by a little, but a great deal. Again, food value is not part of the equation.

But, nature abhors a vacuum and the food industry as well, when the level of vitamin C has increased, sodium and some very nasty chemicals have increased. One of his chapters give us what we can find in our food. One might think that he is talking about meat, but he does bring in vegetables into the picture, so if you think you can become a vegan and miss it all, think again. It's all affected and it is all troubling.

The food industry has changed the relationship between the producers and the markets. He spends time considering how the food industry has impacted the production of pork, chicken and beef. In all three, the emphasis is profit and the animals are commodities to be used, and abusd and then eliminated. He considers the case of mad cow and the source of it all is the adding of beef 'stuff' into the feed of cows. So this is what the industry did:
What could be more unnatural than to turn herbivores into carnivores- and worse, into cannibals of their own kind.

The result was Mad Cow and people got sick. The blame for this can be laid no place else then simple human stupidity, the belief we could do better, cut corners and cost and wring out another penny of profit.

It is this desire for profit which motivates everything and it seems, according to Thomas' writing to bring disaster and potential disaster. He considers how for the millenia, farmers practiced the method of either allowing a field to go fallow or rotate crops. For the latter after one harvest, the next food grown would be one that would restore a balance to the field. Also there was the use of natural fertilizer in the form of manure from only a few cows. The practice of the transnationals is to never take a crop out of production, but to grow the same one over and over- and to compensate for the demand on the ground by dumping a huge load of fertilizer and pesticide as part of the planting regimine. The downside is the killing of the soil, by killing the worms and benigh bacteria that restore the soil. It is also expensive to add the petroleum based fertilizer, which puts the regular farmer into debt and makes the family farm easy picking for corporations looking to expand.

Then he discusses the potential disaster that could come from GE foods. Europe has banned GE crops and food and hearing the initials scares a lot of people. While the industry may suggest all they are doing is making food that is resistent to certain fungus and viral strains, or more robust in dealing with frost or cold weather, many look at this as the food equivalent to Three Mile Island. The concern is there is no controls, the pollen of the GE food can enter other crop fields and become part of that genetics. Also issues such as turning weeds into super-weeds or the potential impact on our health as well as other parts of nature is gotten into. Don't expect Thomas to address the stockholders meeting of Mosanto any time soon.

The question when one reads a book such as this is, are we stuck with the status quo? Is the death of the family farm, with the end of the experience of farmers who treat the environment with respect the reality? Certainly an industry where the average wage is $12,000 there is not a whole lot of motivation to remain in the business.

He sees potential. He realizes that it will be a grassroot movement of people becoming concern with what they eat. It is people getting educated and learning the truth. He sees the change happening with the renaissance of the Farmers Market, where people can again enjoy properly grown food. It can be found in movements which are coming to the fore demanding proper packaging and labeling of food. In most of North America, for example GE food is not labelled as such, this could change and change quickly. Again, its the grassroots, Thomas does not have a high opinion of politicians, calling them political whores for example. He sees the act of gardening, either in a plot behind the house or involvement in a community garden as another means of taking food back. It is campaigns to boycott certain food or food produced by certain companies, after all, if the bottom line is all that matters, then anything that affects the bottom line gets their attentions.

He talks about his own experience in gardening and farming, he has done both, at times he waxes a bit too poetic, but then again, he views food as part of the spiritual existence of humanity. In fact food besides being the way we stay alive, is also part of our calling as social beings. It is not to be gulped down but shared with family and friends.

As an addded plus for me, Thomas is a Canadian so he gives a lot of information as well as facts and figures that apply to the Canadian scene specifically.

I want to conclude with one of his last paragraphs:
We dont need to turn cows into cannibals, or lace our meals with tiny, hrrid molecular machines, or destry the soil, in order to creat a higher quarterly return for some greedy set of imbeciles in hand tailored suits and Gucci ties, sitting smugly around the boardroom table in a highrise somewhere. We dont need to despoil the earth and end up eating soylent green. We need to take back control of our own food supply, our own meals, and our own humanity.

A book to read and to think about.

In fine bookstores and in your local public library.

1 comment:

On a limb with Claudia said...

As a child, I knew a man who was involved in the 'food' movement - in other words, he was involved in making sure everyone had food. Even in his later years, he was opposed to organic food or anything but getting food to people.

It's interesting how such a press can turn into something so nightmarish