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Is Corporate-Free Food in Danger of Annihilation?

I am becoming increasingly concerned by the level of corporate control over our food that we are now experiencing.  There have been a number of news items this week that have really brought this home.  First, earlier this week the CBC did a short segment on Project Water, an initiative in Toronto with the focus of getting drinking water to the homeless during the heat of summer.  Apparently dehydration is one of the leading causes of death in this population.  Getting water to them is a laudable undertaking, but the project is doing so by distributing bottled water donated by several large corporations.  This makes the corporations look good (helping save homeless people), and is a cheap and effective way to accomplish the goals of this project.  A win-win situation, no?

No!  First of all, water should be FREE, and available to all citizens of this country.  Canadians pride ourselves in our vast supplies of water (which are not as vast as we believe, but that’s another discussion).  So why are citizens of Toronto dying of dehydration?  And why can only corporations come to the rescue? There’s something seriously wrong here.

Furthermore, by the end of this summer, the byproduct of this undertaking is that over 1.2 MILLION plastic bottles will have been distributed across Toronto since the project’s inception.  As only 7% of plastic is ever recycled (and in fact it’s only ‘down-cycled’ into lower grade products), this means 1,116,000 more plastic bottles in our land fills.  This system also creates (perpetuates) a dependency in the homeless, who must wait for corporate donations and then volunteers to have time to pass out these bottles.

I wrote to this project and asked if they would consider fundraising for water fountains as a means of providing a much more environmentally and socially sustainable system of keeping the homeless hydrated.  I was pleased that they responded promptly, but disappointed by the reply.  They plan on continuing with their project (after all, Nestle is investing heavily in recycling) and that if I want water fountains, I should lobby politicians.

I don’t mean to denigrate this undertaking as it’s goal is most definitely worthy.  I wrote hoping that, over time, others will voice similar concerns and eventually they may reconsider their approach.  Perhaps Nestle (which seems to be the real driving force and control behind this water project) will build the water fountains in a true act of Corporate Social Responsibility.  But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Another news item that caught my attention this week is this article on the sugary drink ban taking effect in San Francisco.  Mayor Gavin Newsom has banned the sale of “non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water” in vending machines on city property.  Furthermore, “juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered” and there should be ‘ample choices’ of “soy milk, rice milk and other similar dairy or non dairy milk.”

The purpose of this directive is to combat obesity and improve health in the population.  Once again, a laudable goal.  So what’s my concern?  For one, soy is just as unhealthy as well as socially and environmentally damaging as soda-pop.  This is a great article on the ‘dark side of soy’, which explains how – unless eaten in traditional fashion, i.e. small amounts of fermented (organic) soy – soy has a “deleterious effects on thyroid, fertility, hormones, sex drive, digestion, and even its potential to contribute to certain cancers.”  Huge portions of the Amazon are being destroyed to grow soy, not to mention the hundreds (thousands?) of square kilometers of it that surround my house, forcing out small organic farms and toxifying the environment and local water system.

Second, the juice sold will be pasteurized which turns it’s natural sugars into monosaccharides, or simple sugars.  Additionally, most of the enzymes and vitamins are long gone in industrial fruit juices.  Effectively these juices are not much different than drinking pop.  Here’s an interesting little article that summarizes this nicely.

Replacing pop with soymilk is essentially replacing GMO corn with GMO soy.  Replacing it with juice is again switching from one industrial process to another.  It’s a win-win for the corporations, while we are the losers.  And possibly most disturbing of all is that every one of these products comes in non-biodegradable, single use packaging that will end up in landfill within minutes of being opened.

Once again, what about installing water fountains?

The problem is that water fountains make a publicly owned commodity (water) accessible for free to the public.  How can corporations make a profit from this?  They can’t.  And politicians rely on corporate donations to stay in power.  If Mayor Newsom tossed the corporations off city property, I’m sure you can guess who the next to be tossed would be!

Have you noticed that all the water fountains have disappeared, along with public phone booths?  I have only just recently become aware of this, and what it means.  It’s hard now to get a drink without corporate “help”.  Try it in a public space.

The final and possibly most disturbing piece of news I heard this week is this case of Major Mark Tijssen who butchered a pig on his own property and gave half to a friend.  After being tipped off of this “plan” by a neighbour, the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) hid in trees – yes, you read correctly – and waited for Tijssen to finish butchering the pig.  As his friend left the property with her portion, the MNR arrested her.  They also arrested Tijssen for “illegally distributing un-inspected meat.”

I cannot believe that the Canadian government can put time, energy and resources into arresting one person for butchering one pig for his own consumption on his own agriculturally zoned property, when our entire food system is falling apart.  When Canada only has 30 days of food stored should we face a national emergency.  When farmers earn a below-depression era income and farms are foreclosing in record numbers.  When Canadians are suffering industrial food related chronic health problems in epic numbers.

While all this is going on, MNR officers are hiding in trees outside people’s homes making sure they don’t eat without the intervention of corporations.

I find myself more and more concerned about events like these. I love how I eat and I want to move more in the direction of self-sufficiency and, more importantly, of natural eating.  I want to consume animal products from animals that live happy, stress-free lives, and I want to eat fruits and vegetables grown as close to biodynamically as possible.  These foods simply cannot be produces on a large-scale, or shipped long distances.  No corporation is going to make money doing that, and as such they are doing their best to make this kind of food production illegal.  Indeed, our entire lifestyle is completely dependent on fast, cheap food.  Dismantling industrial food would bring capitalism to its knees.  By recent corporate and government actions, apparently even having a small section of the food system independent of the agro-industrial complex threatens to do the same.

In his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Joel Salatin warns that despite “all the foodie fluff and eco-local buzz, in the final analysis the imbedded, heritage, transparent, truthful food system is in danger of annihilation.”  And as I watch Obama appoint Monsanto agent after Monsanto agent to his administration, I worry that we are indeed headed in this direction.

7 Responses

  1. I’m certainly with you, both in my concern over these individual issues and in the opinion that our food systems in general are in serious trouble (which these issues are a symptom of). I try to do a fair amount on my own – local food, farmer’s markets, whole foods, preserving, and so on (although it’s not anywhere near as much as I’d like) but do you know if there any initiatives going on right now for more system change?

  2. Very well written, and I love Joel Salatin!

  3. One of the best books I have read is Surviving During Challenging Times by Cam Mather. He discusses how to achieve independence from the madness in our current economy, food production, housing, petroleum dependancy,…..
    I have taken food production to new levels for myself. I started some laying hens that are thriving in a free range rearing, I planted a graden albeit limited, and I have started an orchard in the backyard with two new apple trees and two new plum trees (one already has 21 plums!!!) to join the pear tree that has lived and thrived on its own for 8 years.
    I do not waste time pondering the motives and decision making of others and I don’t need positive re-enforcement from others to know that gradually working towards independence in supplying my own food and eventually my own energy needs, is the right course in life for me.

  4. After some time to think I’m not sure that water is ever ‘free’. When I open my tap it runs freely but it requires a pump which runs on electricity to bring water from the well to the surface and maintain pressure in the pipes. The old well ran dry so I had to pay to have a new well drilled at the price of almost $3000 plus the cost of a new pump to run the new well. My water has enough iron that it will eventually stain my white clothes so I had a iron removal system installed for $700. So even though the water is sourced on my own property it will be a long time before it is ‘free’.
    The same principals can also be applied to municipal water supplies.

  5. Yes, the corporations (with the rights of people but not the responsibility) are still growing in power.

    In England they just won a major concession from the government (essentially just a corporate department) by getting the Food Standards Agency scrapped.

    See here for more information and links:

  6. Sorry for the long absence – I’ve been in South Africa – and hopefully I’ll get to share off line some of my experiences with you sometime (and also, mea culpa, I realize I still owe you some good sanitation references for your teaching – hope it’s not too late!) But, the bottom line, is that I’ve never been so aware before of water and sanitation issues as in this environment where services are hugely contested and desperately needed. You probably know about this already, but in case not: one of the big concerns is the way water has been privatized in SA, part of Mbeki’s general neoliberal economic policy, as an expedient means of improving services, but one which many feel has led to a denial of basic human rights (exemplified, for instance, by the aggressive cutting off of people to poor to pay their water rates.)

    The situation in SA is so complex I hardly feel in a position to judge, but if my own historical research/experience has taught me anything, it’s that this tension between public service and profit has always been there – right from the beginning – when infrastructural systems were first being constructed. (Joyce, above, is right to question whether water is ever free. Someone always does have to pay – even for drinking fountains which, in the UK at least, were financed by philanthropic initiatives of a temperance bent: in an age before concerns about dehydration, they wanted to offer water as an alternative to the demon drink!) This info comes courtesy of a former student of mine who is writing a book on London’s drinking fountains, motivated precisely by her horror of the waste of plastic bottles. I’ll direct her to your blog post. Interesting to see what she thinks.

  7. If you want to split meat with your neighbor, you need to make sure you both go in on the live animal. That is, you both sign a written agreement that you have split the cost of the live animal, making you both joint owners of the live animal. Then, you are both entitled to meat from your own animal. The physical transfer of meat to its owner does not constitute distribution.

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