There have just been so many things in the news lately about food - and not about the deliciousness of it, or the versatility of produce, or anything good like that. No, the news is all rotten, and it depresses me.
By now, I'm sure you've heard about Monsanto and Bayer merging. Let me just say at the outset, I don't think these two corporations are the devil incarnate. I think there are an awful lot of people working there that are just trying to make a living. Both of these companies make products that actually make the world a better place. They are not all bad. And them getting together like this is probably really good for some people, good for the bottom line. We're capitalists. Making money is often the goal.
No, what concerns me about this merger is the ownership of seeds. The patenting of life. The fact that our nation's farmers, already stretched too thinly, must grow food a certain way in order to make a living. And that we, as consumers, must buy and eat food grown this certain way, sometimes without our knowledge or permission.
Do we know what we're eating? I mean, really know? When we buy a box of pasta at the store, what are we really getting? (And trust me, I've bought my share of pasta.) Certainly genetically modified wheat. From Round-up Ready seeds from Monsanto? Possibly. We can't really know. That ice cream we're purchasing - is the milk from grainfed cows? probably. What grain was given to those cows? Genetically modified corn, most likely.
My sister-in-law texted me last night, having just watched a movie called "Consumed." (I have yet to watch it, but apparently it's streaming on Netflix.) "It's scary, Elizabeth," she wrote to me. "How can we know what we're eating?"
A smaller news story also has me quite disgusted. Perhaps you've heard of the Heirloom Expo? it takes place every September in Santa Rosa, which is in Sonoma County, a couple hours northwest of where I live. This festival celebrates heirloom fruits, vegetables, and herbs; 15,000 people come from all over the world; vendors from seed banks come to show off their wares; there's music and community - you know, just like a county fair. Sure, there are some pretty 'out there' ideas, but there's also companies like Baker Creek, a world-famous seed house with two locations in the United States. I really wanted to go to the Expo this year, because I'm not working at the moment and it takes place in the middle of the week so I've never been able to before, but I couldn't figure out how to get back in time to pick up the kids at school. I would have loved to go and taste all the varieties of tomatoes, squashes, apples that they had there. I would have loved to pick up some packets of heirloom seeds and chat with like-minded folks.
But guess who did show up on the third day of the event? The Sonoma County Health Department, who fined any booth that was giving away samples of fruits and vegetables, saying it was 'not to code.' This event has been going on for six years. They couldn't have worked all this out before the expo started? The fines were hundreds of dollars, for things like giving away a free apple. Listen, I'm a rule-follower, but this is ridiculous. (The news this morning is that the director of the Health Department resigned. Chalk one up for common sense. You can find the whole story here.) Some people feel this was a direct hit against those who are saving seeds, against the 'pure-food' movement.
All of this leads me to think we need to make a real shift in the way we think about food. How can we take back control?
Growing your own is the ultimate way to thumb your nose at big agriculture. Only by doing it yourself can you be absolutely certain of what you're eating - what seeds or starts you're buying, how the fruit was grown, etc. If I eat a tomato from my property, I know the history of the seed, what's in the soil, the conditions the plant grew in, if there were any chemicals used, etc. I can prepare it the way I want, using the ingredients I want. You can't get much better, or more honest, than that. And it's gotten to the point where growing your own food is a radical act. You're saying 'no' to these genetically modified seeds. Did you know farmers can be fined for growing things like corn and wheat from seeds they have saved? Since when are seeds, seeds that you yourself collect from your own harvest, not your property? Stick up for seeds, saved down through generations. Spend your money at local seed houses who believe the same things you do.
If you can't grow your own, the next best thing is to find a farmer close to you. Go to the farmers markets. Get to know who's growing your food. Ask them about the seeds, how the plant was grown, what tastes best, how to prepare it. They will be absolutely thrilled to answer every single one of your questions, and if they're not, that's not the farmer for you. Start a relationship and see if that farmer doesn't start saving you the best things every Saturday.
The next best thing after that is to buy organic. If something is grown organically, by law it cannot be from a genetically modified seed. It seems ridiculous to buy organic bananas because you're going to peel them, right? Buy organic anyway. Use your food dollar to support doing the right thing. Buy grass-fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken, wild fish. Yes, you will find that your food bill doubles. Do it anyway and give up something else, like your daily Starbucks (are you sure your coffee is grown sustainably?) or HBO. Make no mistake, this is important. If we support the good guys, even in small ways, our food votes will add up. Packaged food is hardest to buy, because there are so many ingredients that it's hard to know where it all came from. Organic always helps. The Non-GMO label tells you something too. Bread and grains are the hardest thing, I've found, to make the switch to. Keep looking, keep searching for the best possible food you can buy.
This is important. This is something all of us do, every single day - buy food and eat. I'm not saying to be militant about it - once in awhile you're gonna want to eat an In-n-Out burger. That's ok. It's what we do the majority of the time that will start to make an impact. Because what's next? Probably not doomsday, no, but it's just one more way in which our choices are being made for us. Take back control. Do it now.