I’m thinking about opening a specialty food business, specifically a line of gourmet spice blends. As someone who loves to cook, preparing pre-blended spices is a great way to help people get the flavours they love from the food that you cook for them. It’s also fun and creative and interesting to come up with new ideas and test recipes.
I bring this up because it has me reading an old article from The Independent called Gourmet Gamble: Could you make it as a food entrepreneur*. Some of the information stood out to me, the outline of how basically after WWII much of Europe rebuilt through local subsistence farming, which has kept their food system local, whereas Britain adopted the North American model of producing large fields of subsidized grains, selling that wholesale to be pumped into every processed prepackaged food and buying all the real food from outside of the country.
The result of this is most of the time you can only get local food from farmer’s markets, rarely is anything local sold in your closest big box grocery store, and the systems these foods are coming from destroy the soil, take over the land for big agribusiness, put small farms out of business and exploit immigrant labour, as well as making the food available to us less healthy and less diverse.
Why does this happen? In short, it’s done in the name of efficiency. To go off on a tangent, think about the GMO arguments. One of the big pro-GMO arguments that people like to make is that modification is necessary to feed starving African babies, as if being against GMOs means you’re against feeding starving African babies.
And I’m just like, “Aww, honey, Monsanto doesn’t care about feeding African babies.” That’s just an argument exploiting those very same African babies so they can justify pushing more GMOs on the market for the sole purpose of making money for themselves. Because there are many other political issues when it comes to starvation in Africa, unfortunately it’s easier to think the solution is science than to take a look at our own words and actions, the colonial past in Africa and where our political will lies in helping others and solving their problems, not exploiting Africa for its natural resources.
This is the thing, I don’t deny that GMOs are more efficient. I don’t oppose GMOs in the abstract and I have no problem eating them myself. To me some anti-GMO arguments come off a Luddite hysteria and I see Genetic Modification as the 21st century version of the selective breeding our ancestors did to get the crops and characteristics they wanted.
Which makes the question, if we’ve dealt with the other major issues surrounding the GMO brouhaha, efficiency to what end? Studies show that we throw out an incredible amount of food. That our food system is incredibly inefficient in some ways and it would be completely unsustainable for the whole world to live to the same standards as we do in the Corporatized West. So why are they trying to create more crop instead of addressing inefficiency within the system in ways that actually benefits ALL the stakeholders in the system, from field labourers, to small family farms which want to stay afloat, to local markets and food security? Because the current big business agricultural system is built on sending profits to the top and enriching shareholders not stakeholders.
And it’s not cheaper either. The only reasons the industrialized food system can provide heads of lettuce for under a dollar and your farmer’s market sells it for $3 is because they don’t have to pay for all the inefficiencies their system has, such as pollution, unfair labour practices, shut down of small family farms, and the death of old farming communities. The rest of us pay for all that, while they enjoy the economies of scale because they have big pockets, pay big lobbyist and get big subsidies.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love bananas and mangoes and coffee. I believe in globalism and building up poorer countries in the world until we all enjoy the same standard of living. But I think the majority of the food we eat should be local. Why on earth would we, as Nova Scotians, ever eat a potato which came from farther than PEI? There’s no good reason. And not only do I think unnecessarily importing food is bad for the NS economy, I also think it creates a bad system. We don’t see the living and working conditions of the big factory farms where we get most of our imported food. We don’t see if and how the environment is hurt to produce it. We can see our own communities shutting down because of big businesses, but we don’t see it happen to them.
So ask yourself, who, exactly, is this system more efficient for? Who benefits from the efficiencies? In the big picture, is being able to walk into any grocery store and get a head of lettuce for under a dollar worth it? Is it worth it when it happens to you and your job goes away because someone has found a way to make it more efficient and send more money to the top?
I’m not saying eat local and give up on delicious foods you can only get from abroad. I’m not saying become insular and stop supporting economies and food production from other countries. I’m saying you should be able to get the majority of your diet and live and eat off of the food you’re able to produce in your region. Your diet should be augmented by specialty items which can only be grown elsewhere. Likewise, you should export the specialty foods which can only be produced in your area.
What would the system be like if instead of profit accumulating at the top it was spread out at the bottom, to provide more people better jobs and wages? Instead of big box stores and monocrop agribusiness in the name of efficiency where the money made off of efficiency goes into the pockets of investors and CEOs it went instead to local farms, local producers, local stores and developing a strong local economy?
Finally, ask yourself, what do you think the future of food should look like? Is it possible and desirable to develop a local and regional food system which supports the people, businesses and environment in your area? Shouldn’t the majority of your food be grown near you? And when you’re making up your mind consider all the variables, not just the price and look of lettuce at the grocery store.
*I Googled Scared Gin and they seem to still be in business!