Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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Cary Fowler writes regularly for The Sun on food-related issues. He is co-author, with Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, of Food First.
The money saved by corporations from producing food on cheap foreign lands, with cheap labor, and with pesticides banned for use in this country, is not passed along to the consumer. It simply serves to increase the profits of the corporations.
The world’s hungry people are being thrown into ever more direct competition with the well-fed and the over-fed. The fact that something is grown near your home in abundance, or that your country’s natural and financial resources were consumed in producing it, or even that you yourself toiled to grow it will no longer mean that you will be likely to eat it.
Consumers foot the bill for the supermarket monopolies. And what a bill! A 1975 government report found that 41% of the increase in food margins in a nine-year period was the result of rising advertising and promotional expenses — money spent not to better our diet but to manipulate us as shoppers.
Every week, hundreds of farms go out of business. Only half the farms that were viably operating in 1950 exist today. In less than thirty years, three million farms have disappeared. The story of their demise is one of America’s greatest tragedies.
Initial decisions about what we will eat are made by the supermarket chains when they divvy up their shelf space. And these decisions are based on different values than we would apply. More often than not, the result is one row of fresh fruits and vegetables and ten or twelve rows of boxes and cans.
When plant varieties are lost, their genetic material is lost — and lost forever. Without existing seeds which carry specific genes conferring resistance, it may not be possible in the future to breed resistance back into corn or any other crop.
Four years after the Chiquita campaign had been launched, United had captured nearly a third of the country’s market at prices 10 to 15% higher than other bananas. Through brand name promotion, United had convinced consumers to pay more for Chiquitas than other bananas and to like doing it.
The “fresh” tomatoes we buy in the supermarkets are picked while they are still green and firm — and then taken to be gassed. (The industry prefers to call this “de-greening.”)
The question is not “How can we get them to feed themselves?” How paternalistic! People will feed themselves unless they are prevented from doing so. The fact is that the poor of this world are engaged in feeding us and trying to feed themselves.