A ‘Locally Grown’ Thanksgiving

“Locally grown” is developing the cachet of wholesomeness that “organically grown” once carried.

Harry Truman said: “No man should be president who doesn’t understand hogs.” The problem with our recent presidents, however, is that, while they certainly don’t know pig stuff about the four-legged varieties, they are expert on the care and feeding of those two-legged oinkers who are the CEOs and lobbyists of global agribusiness corporations.

With an oink-oink here and a ton of campaign cash there, agribusiness giants are able to dictate America’s food and farm policies in both Republican and Democratic administrations. This is why our present policies are so bass-ackwards, discombobulated … and stupid.

Ag policy is not written for farmers and consumers — the two groups whose well-being logically would be the rationale for having any policy at all — nor is it written in the interests of workers, sustainability, small business, rural communities, good health or even good food. Instead, it’s written for the profit and global expansion of names like JBS, Cargill, McDonald’s, Nestle, Phillip Morris, Tyson, Unilever and Walmart.

These powers have none of the dirt and grease of honest farm toil and locally grown food under their fingernails. They’re well-manicured, soft-handed people who work in faraway executive suites, genetic-engineering labs, banks and the backrooms of governments. With the complicity of our presidents and Congress critters, they’ve industrialized, conglomeratized and globalized food — a substance that, by its very nature, is agrarian, small-scale and local.

Here are some products of this perverse policy:

  • Out of each dollar you spend on groceries, only 16 cents go to the farmer, with corporate middlemen grabbing the rest.
  • Thousands of efficient family farmers are driven out of business each year by rising costs and falling commodity prices.
  • As farm prices continue to fall, consumer prices keep going up, creating windfall profits for conglomerate shippers, processors and retailers.
  • Agribusiness dumps billions of pounds of pesticides on farmlands each year, as a result, America’s groundwater is dangerously polluted, while farm families, farm workers and people living next to the fields suffer poisonings, cancers, birth defects and death.
  • A handful of corporations monopolize each and every aspect of the food economy –from seeds to chemicals, grain shipping to cotton trading, processing to retailing.
  • Workers in fields, processing plants and supermarkets are routinely paid poverty wages, exposed to injury and death, harassed, fired without cause and denied the right to organize.
  • Food itself has become a clear and present danger, as quick-profit agriculture has given us fecal contaminants, irradiation, infusion of hormones, genetic manipulation, a toxic stew of chemical additives and an epidemic overdose of fats and sugars.
  • The typical food product in any supermarket has traveled more than 1,500 miles to get there, wasting tanksful of energy, destroying both freshness and nutrition, and denying shelf space to local producers.

That’s the bad news about dinner — but there’s good news, too, and it’s beginning to outweigh the bad. As we gather around Thanksgiving tables this month, we can be thankful that, while the profiteers and politicians are headed one way with our food system, We the People are headed in quite another direction.

Whether it’s called “sustainable,” “organic,” “beyond organic,” “pure food” or just plain common sense, there is a mass movement and a growing coalition among consumers, farmers, workers, entrepreneurs, communities, conservationists, nutritionists, chefs, food activists and others to take back control of America’s food economy and food culture.

Despite ongoing, big-money assaults to kill this movement, I believe that it’s unstoppable. After all, it’s food we’re talking about, not widgets or just some other consumer “product.” Food is essence; corporations that mess with food mess with the inner us.

There is a cornucopia of good news. All across the country, grassroots pioneers are broadening America’s organic possibilities by developing successful models for the common good.

“Locally grown” is developing the cachet of wholesomeness that “organically grown” once carried. These days, there’s hardly a city of any size that doesn’t boast a handful to a few hundred farmers selling directly to local grocers, restaurants or individual consumers. The main appeal is the good-and-good-for-you freshness of having local goods delivered to you right from the field at prime ripeness. But a close second in appeal is knowing these farm families personally and realizing that buying from them makes you part of an economic loop that sustains your community.

This can be a happy Thanksgiving — and next year’s even happier — if we commit to using our dollars and activism in support of a food system geared to the common good, rather than corporate greed. Bon appetit!

Jim Hightower