“What’s your major?”
“Food Studies – Culture, Spaces, and Systems”
“Oh! I LOVE eating food!”
What goes on with food? What goes in your body? Where’d it come from? Who made it? Who is suffering or died for it? Do you know what kind of system your food went through to get to your plate? How did it affect your food? Who is in charge of this system? Why? And how is it that we don’t know the answers to these questions?
During my class on “Food and Agricultural Stories” with Michael Pollan, in which various speakers from all different realms of food visited – including meat packing, food politics and farm bill writing, agricultural practices, restaurants, bee experts, food lobbyists, food marketing, childhood obesity, so on and so fourth – I experienced something almost like an awakening. Every class, I was taken aback by how much actually goes on in this world with food, it’s history, the current situations and issues, how big the scale of operations is, and how much I DID NOT KNOW, and still don’t know about what I consume 3-10 times daily (including snacks and stuff 😉 heh)
I, a food major, am still constantly (like, literally every day) being taught, and realizing, what goes on in our food system and how the food system is one of the MOST important sectors of life. It seems so evident to me now, but I can only imagine what other people think about our food system…or if they even think AT ALL.
There’s all this hype about improving our lives and well-being with technology. We have an instrumental relationship to nature, in which we use our tools and “intelligence” to control and manipulate natural resources and habitats, rather than taking the time to be knowledgeable on the natural systems of our environment and understand how nature works, so that we can work WITH it. And with this “modern tech and agriculture”, there is a FOOD CRISIS.
I say “crisis,” not because we don’t have enough food to feed the ENTIRE world to stable health (because we do), but because the food system is dominated by huge commercial, international players who have somehow gotten the cloak of invisibility from Harry Potter as they pass under the radar of the public, and lobby their way through government. In my classes, I constantly hear “the Big 3,” or “the Big 4” because it’s typically only a few major companies that dominate the market in different sectors of agriculture and food products. No surprise, they’re mainly American companies, or from other power nations of the global North (the “Developed nations”).
Most of the agriculture here has become a cold, capitalist venture, rather than an action of survival or service to FEED the people of this world. Monocropping, genetically engineered seeds, chemical pesticides, huge & centralized slaughterhouses, metabolic rift, runoff pollution, diseases, antibiotics, factories, machines, shitty workers’ rights … (I will get into each of these in depth in their own posts later)… are ALL made for, or aimed to, increase YIELDS of food products to SELL in the MARKET.
But who benefits from these increased yields? And who suffers? As I was re-watching some scenes from the documentary Food Inc. *highly recommended*, generally three major groups were negatively affected by modern agricultural (Ag) practices:
1)Animals – y’all know probably know the story b/c it’s one of the most publicized issues of our food system.
2) Us, the consumers – that’s YOU, you are taking in all those chemicals, diseases, toxins, obesogens, meanwhile the food production system is kept ambiguous from us, so much so we don’t even know that there’s a mystery to solve
3) The farmers and food workers themselves – they don’t get paid much for their labor – most are in debt – and they are THE most exposed, and therefore vulnerable, people to all the chemicals and other crap of our food system. This issue is almost never publicized.
So, while consumers do benefit in some way for saving those extra few $$ bucks, basically everyone except the TOP DOGS are getting the shit end of this system.
As I sat next to a person I had just met today, who was talking about a researcher who is looking into how our cells absorb nutrients, fast food naturally came up. Past describing how processed saturated and trans fats and fructoses get absorbed differently than natural nutrients, he went on to note that all these fast foods are addictive and cheap. They’re all a part of the larger capitalist complex to get people to buy, no matter the consequences. And then he said something that impelled me to write this story into my post… “People keep eating the cheap burgers, but no one actually thinks about what they’re biting into.”
One thing I like to think about/metaphorically relate eating food to is breathing. Both are vital to our survival, and we (being people privileged enough to have any sort of food available to us) do them all day, everyday. But we don’t necessarily consciously or proactively think about it. (Note: Using “we” in an admit-tingly very generalized way) We don’t actively think “breathe,” and we don’t actively stop to think about what we’re eating, where it came from, or who did what kind of work to it, myself included (still). And we don’t REALLY notice these actions until there’s a problem, such as being out-of-breath, asthma, emphysema, or death.
Should we have to wait until death to notice our food system?