It’s for my own good. It’s in the national interest. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the magic of the marketplace. The experts know best. This mantra is foisted on us not only in the fields of business and politics, but also in the very conduct of our lives. The reigning ethos of America’s corporate cultureits official religion, reallyis consumerism. Kids, for example, no longer just go out and play. They plug in to their electronic gizmos, buy expensive brand-name outfits, get booked for playdates, and learn from an early age that life’s reward is buying stuff. Consumerism is not a “life it’s a substitute for life. To elevate it to the level of a predominant social goal demeans the human spirit, restricts our potential, distorts our society, and endanpeople these days are questioning this superficial ethos, looking for something deeper, and, in essence, asking, “What is life?” After all, we Americans are not condemned to be passive recipients of whatever is doled out to us. We’re a stronger people than that, possessing both the individual fortitude and the collective rebelliousness to make big changes in the economic and social terms of how we live. It’s not the metaphysical that people are exploring, but the practicalities and the personal aspects of living in a way that can be at once more satisfying and more suited to our moral beliefs than what the shallow consumer system dictates. The basic question is this: Will we let greedheaded profiteers determine the boundaries of our lives? Or will we take charge, blazing new paths for ourselves and our country? It’s in our character to question authority. After all, that’s how America came to be. And, periodically, We the People have had to make a hard assessment of where we were headed as a society … and make important corrections to the course. Over generations, it has been this questioning instinct of grassroots people that has sparked a continuum of progressive changes. Corrections such as ending slavery have been huge moral shifts. Such others as public education have profoundly altered the way we live, more closely reflecting our egalitarian values. Every important change began with commonsense people having doubts about the status quo and asking questions aloud, which emboldened others to say, “You know, I was wondering about that same thing.” When enough people spoke up, a social awakening spread, and multitudes of people started to take action individually and in groups. At this point, the people became a movement … and change began to happen. THE UPCHUCK REBELLION This is not a phenomenon you find only in history books but is a living, integral part of our society. In fact, right now, we’re in the midst of a dramatic revolt over something that touches each of our lives every day in the most basic way: dinner. During the last fifty years, control over America’s food policies quietly shifted from farmers and consumers to corporate executives, shortsighted bureaucrats, and economists. These are people who could not run a watermelon stand if we gave them the melons and had the highway patrol flag down customers for them. Yet they took charge of the decisions that direct everything from how food is grown and processed to what our children eat in school. They were not good deciders, because their interests are not ours. Agricorps don’t see food as a juicy, luscious, nutritious product of nature but as a profit center to be conglomeratized, industrialized, and globalized. We’re not talking about the making of some computer gadget here, but about our dinner! The natural state of food production is that it’s small-scale, agrarian, and local. This is because plants and animals are living creatures. Economies of scale are achieved at a surprisingly small level, with both productivity and quality being enhanced by the ability of farmers and artisans to be personally involved with their crops and livestock. But the agribusiness powers perverted agriculture production from the high art and science of cooperating with nature into a high-cost, high-tech process of overwhelming nature. To say that they take shortcuts with food in their mad dash for profits understates reality. Let’s be blunt: they torture food. They apply massive doses of pesticides and artificial fertilizers to these living organisms. They inject animals with antibiotics and sex hormones. They turn lab technicians loose to alter the very DNA of organisms, manufacturing mutant “Frankenfoods:’ They force grass-eating cows to become carnivores and even cannibals. They blast fruits and veggies with ripening gas and zap them with radiation. They dose the finished foodstuffs with assorted sugars, artificial flavorings, trans fats, and chemical preservatives. What we’re left with is “food” that has lost all connection to our good earth and America’s well-being. \(A long aside: In 1971, DeMarco and I were writing our first book. Titled Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, it was an expos of how tax-paid agriculture research schools were using public funds for projects that benefited corporations at the expense of farmers, workers, consumers … and food itself. The title referred to those hard, pale tomatoes wrapped in plastic that supermarkets used to sell. Remember those tasteless nuggets? They were thrust upon us because California’s agribusiness powers wanted to harvest their crop mechanically, rather than hiring farmworkers. Thus, in the late 1960s, the agriculture school at the University of California, Davis, dutifully produced a tomato harvester. There was only one small problem: the machine crushed the tomatoes. So, the plant breeders at Davis, ever dutiful to corporate interests, returned to the lab, andvoila!they designed a hybrid tomato that was hard enough to withstand the machine’s grasp. Even then, it had to be harvested green. But, hey, no problem. Just gas those babies with a ripening chemical and they’ll turn pink enough to fool consumers into thinking the packages contain real tomatoes. What a deal! Agribusiness got its machine and a machineready hard tomato at taxpayer expensebut within a couple of years after this technological “achievement” was introduced, five thousand small tomato farmers in California were put out APRIL 4, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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