“No one would choose the food system we have today,” said a food industry executive in a policy meeting last year.
The words rang true.
And when the daughter of a farmer quietly raised her voice in an auditorium this week in Montana, his words came to mind again.
I had been invited to speak to a group of 400 that included farmers, parents, foodies and agriculturalists.
And as I opened the night to questions, a farmer’s daughter spoke hesitatingly at first about seed companies and global banks. As her voice quivered, she spoke of her children eating corn that contained something called a “Bt toxin” and how her father had little choice when it came to growing corn now engineered to produce it. She spoke of marketing campaigns and salesmen, of industry pressure and of the lack of choice for farmers. She spoke of the power of seed and chemical companies and of persuasion that these industries had over her father and farmers like him.
She spoke of the same issues that had been investigated in recent years by the Department of Justice.
And as we listened, silenced by her courage and profound concern, she spoke about “GMOs” : “That’s genetically modified organisms for those of you that don’t know,” she said. And she again spoke about the corn that had been hardwired with the Bt toxin designed to kill anything that tried to eat it in the field.
And as the information poured out of her, her voice shook as if her mind was purging the information that she did not want to know. And while her body stood strong, the entire room felt the vulnerability.
And as she finished, we paused. All of us.
And again, the thought came to me: “No one would choose the food system we have today.”
So I shared the words that had been expressed by a food industry executive, and she nodded in agreement.
And together, we acknowledged that truth, knowing that it will take all of us to change the food system.
We have a system that subsidizes farmers for growing commodity crops like corn and soy, yet charges them to prove the safety of crops grown organically, the ones that have not been hardwired to withstand increasing doses of toxic weedkillers. We have a system that benefits the insurance companies who offer crop insurance to those who choose these genetically engineered crops, while offering little incentive or risk management mechanisms for those that might choose to grow crops like apples or carrots.
And we as taxpayers subsidize this system. Our collective taxpayer resources fund a system that “no one would choose.”
It is going to take our collective talents, the talents of farmers, families, foodies and financial analysts who understand that our federal budget is structured in a way to promote the growing of commodity crops, through payouts, crop insurance programs and marketing assistance programs in such a way that it makes the option to opt out of this commodity program exceedingly unappealing to the farmers who must put food on the table for their families.
It is going to take dedication and devotion. Because with little to no financial protection in place for those who might want to opt out of commodity farming (and with so much financial protection in place around the commodity crops, as the farmer’s daughter and most recently Bloomberg News have both highlighted), farmers have little incentive to risk growing crops that would help make our families healthy.
Consequently, the default becomes the crops that are heavily subsidized and then bundled and traded by Wall Street in the form of collateralized commodity obligations. Crops that earn commissions and trading revenue for the banks on the backs of our farmers who are caught in a system in which they have little control.
“No one would choose the food system we have today.”
The farmer’s daughter knew this. She had spoken with complete clarity about the banks, the big firms and the chemical companies. She had spoken with courage and conviction, shedding light in a way that only someone who has been part of feeding our country for generations could do. And we paused. We paused at the gravity of the issue, the enormity of the scope of the problem and the heartache that was so apparent in her message.
And as I thanked her for her commitment, for the commitment of her father and grandfather for having fed our families, others spoke out, about soil quality, toxic chemicals and the rates of conditions like autism.
And towards the end of what had proven to be a profoundly moving event, an audience member raised her hand and said, “You’ve inspired me to stick my neck out.”
And without hesitating, I said “That was never my intent," and thought of the farmer's daughter and said, "Stick your heart out instead.”