Thursday, 30 May 2013

The food feud

There are some things that all of us in the world today still have in common. One of the most important of those is the need for food that will nourish us sufficiently to keep our bodies and minds operating at maximum efficiency. This can only be achieved when we are able to access sufficient quantities of good food.

Herein lies one of the biggest contradictions faced by modern society. Most first world countries and a number of aspiring ones have spiralling obesity rates and increases in diseases which more often than not have their origins in what might loosely be described as ‘lifestyle’.

Now I am not talking about simply eating habits here; lifestyle in this context includes the way we live our lives and the physical environment in which we live them. It seems ironic that many Western cultures are boasting of increased longevity, but poorer health. It seems we have done some kind of pact with the Devil or the Universe or God or whatever wherein we have agreed to trade quality for quantity.

A hundred years ago we had far less money being spent on medical research and finding cures for diseases, yet we seem to have simply swapped the old diseases for a whole bunch of new ones. Westerners are living longer but we are spending more of their lives unwell which begs the question about whether this is progress or not.

That contradiction on its own is pause for thought, but running alongside it is the fact that developing countries are still filled with starving and malnourished people.
Famines are still a part of life in the African continent due to crop failures, wars and weather conditions. 
However far and away the largest reason people starve is the same one that has existed since the beginning of time; their inability to either afford or access enough food of sufficient quality to keep them nourished and able to function at optimum levels.

A hundred years ago we didn’t have all these ‘think tanks’ and NGOs and assorted aid organisations and yet now that we do we seem to have made next to no progress towards feeding those who cannot feed themselves.

So what is the answer? You might think that if I knew that I could make myself a fortune, but you would be dead wrong. I think I do know the answer and furthermore I think we all know the answer if we think about it. The problem is that it is an answer that the power brokers don’t wish to acknowledge. They don’t wasn’t to acknowledge it because it would mean they would have to change the way they go about their business and it would affect their bottom line. It wouldn’t send them broke, but it would reduce the outrageous fortunes the biggest players in the food cartels are currently able to make.

You might think that these people should be allowed to make handsome profits from peddling food and I would not argue with that except to add the caveat that it rather depends on what the cost of that is in human and planetary terms.

For some considerable time big corporations involved in food production have been acquiring competing businesses and growing larger and more powerful in terms of both their market share and the amount of income they are generating. This has led to a position rather like that in the oil industry where a small number of humungous corporations are controlling the production and distribution of most of the world’s food. Some such as chemical giant Monsanto have taken it to a whole new level by getting control of seeds and patenting them along with their attempts to take out patents on actual vegetables!

Many farmers in the USA have been threatened with or found themselves actually facing law suits for what Monsanto has described as violation of their patents. Usually this has been where a farmer has had the misfortune to be the benefactor of some windblown seed from a neighbouring farm. This is bullying of the worst possible kind. The small farmer (it is always a small one because the big ones are all being taken into the fold of the big corporations) has to expend money he can ill afford to defend a spurious legal case brought against him by a large corporation for whom legal fees are a convenient tax write-off.

However the implications of this policy are far worse. Companies like Monsanto are neither scared of losing a couple of market shares to a small scale farmer. The amount he would take even if they allowed it would be less than a month’s salary for one of their top executives. The real reason these actions are being brought is to financially ruin the small farmers so Monsanto can get a firmer hold on the global food chain. Left unchecked these people will literally have the power of life and death over the world. If you control the majority of the food in the world you can then control who gets it and who does not as well as how much you charge for it.

However Monsanto are not on their own in this and there are other players here who are also doing their bit to ensure that food resources are controlled by a small cartel of big players. Furthermore there is another side to all of this and that becomes evident when we consider the quality of the food that is being produced by the major players. In short it is crap and crap that in many cases is doing us harm and very often responsible for those so-called lifestyle diseases that many of us now suffer from.

Companies like KFC, Dominoes Pizza, Unilever and the like are sourcing their ingredients from a select few massive growing operations that have gobbled up most of the tiny food producers and then shipping their wares all over the world. Surely not the most efficient way to do things considering the costs of freight and packaging, not to mention all the additives that must be used to preserve the food for these journeys?

In case anyone in New Zealand thinks this doesn’t affect them, I would draw your attention to the TPPA an agreement which our Government is hell-bent on signing and which would bring obligations upon us to fall into line with various other signatories to hand over control over our own food to external forces. There are various petitions about at present that voice concern over this. While it is a good idea to sign those (if you agree of course), I think we have to recognise the fact that this Government is going to implement this, much as they did with the Therapeutic Medicines body where we gave up our sovereignty to Australia and allowed them to make our decisions for us. That particular agreement could enable outsiders to stop some therapeutic medicines being used in this country so that we are forced to use only those approved by an outside body – a body which is most likely influenced by those manufacturers who want to control the industry.

What’s worse is that there are and ownership arrangements and unholy alliances already between the big players in the food, chemical and drug industries.

So what can we do about it? 

Not a huge amount on the macro level, but plenty on the micro level. Support your local farmers, especially those who farm using natural methods. Buy locally produced and grown food and grow as much as you can of your own. Home produce gardening is one of the most revolutionary and rebellious acts you can do today without getting locked up (yet). But take it further and save your seeds and share them with your friends. If enough of us do it we could bring about a change.Even if we don’t we will still be better off not putting more money into the pockets of those who don’t need it and your health will be better too.

I also recommend a book by Frederick Kaufman called Bet the Farm. It is an entertaining yet scary look at what the global food giants are really up to.


  1. Very timely considering the world wide protests against Monstanto that were held last week. Another factor worth mentioning is the immense cost that our industrial food system has on animals. You mentioned Kentucky Fried Chicken for example. This chain (and Tegel, Inghams and other producers) uses industrially produced genetic freaks, who are so top heavy they are in constant pain from lameness for the last week of their lives. All to feed an insatiable demand for more meat. It was not that long ago that chicken was a luxury item, to be eaten as a treat. Now people can eat it every day from places like KFC.

  2. Thanks for this. There are so many big issues here and I hope the movement towards awareness and the downhill trend away from our current 'peak BS' (as this guy calls it: will only get stronger and stronger.
    Oh and as I'm sure Michael (above) will agree, the animal abuse and wasteful slaughter of far more animals than needed to feed the Western (and Eastern!) World has got to stop!