Once upon a time we all obtained our food from a local farm, if we weren’t farmers ourselves, that is. The farmer lived in a modest cottage, with an adjacent barn or two. A humble amount of land gave pasture to some animals, perhaps cows, goats and sheep. There were field crops; bushes full of wild berries, and an orchard. Chores were shared, and no one begrudged getting up at the crack of dawn because it was a wholesome way of life, almost enchanting.
It sounds dreadfully romantic and, to this day, when people think about where their food comes from they often conjure up this image of a quintessential rural farm. In fact, when walking up and down the aisles or searching the shelves it is still common to see produce labelled with “farmer” brands, but is that what we’re buying into?
Our diets and food consumption habits have evolved drastically over the past 20, 50 and even 100 years, while over the same period of time the global population has grown from one to seven billion. The growing number of people to feed, coupled with changing consumer demands and interests, puts an increasing amount of pressure on suppliers to provide a colossal amount, and variety, of food. It is perhaps then not entirely unthinkable that the process by which our food is farmed, grown or produced has also changed.
For a long time consumers didn’t ask pertinent questions about their food. As a result we have become completely disconnected from something as intimate as what we eat, not stopping to think about how it is produced and, in turn, how this process affects the environment and other living beings. Regrettably, the general population didn’t notice the huge shift in our food system, which has been industrialised to produce everything bigger, cheaper, faster and fatter. The situation may have changed now, as consumers are choosing to inform themselves about such critical pieces of information and demanding that suppliers and stores provide it, but what of this farm…? These days our food is coming from factories, not farms, and in fact the whole industry from seed to supermarket is controlled by multinational corporations.
We’ve all heard of “factory farming,” a strange term which used to be an oxymoron and seems only to have negative connotations. The word factory commonly refers to a building where goods are assembled or manufactured in large quantities, while farming refers to the growing of crops and raising of livestock. The words have different meanings but now, put together, describe the new way in which our food is produced: agribusiness. Considered to be synonymous with corporate farming, i.e. large-scale food production, the sad reality is that it’s responsible for the food in our stores.
Nowadays, everything is supplied by multinational corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland Company, Monsanto, and Tyson, whose sole purpose is to make money. Changes and decisions made by these corporations don’t come from an ethical or moral standpoint, but an economic, viewing everything as a commodity to be bought and sold. This industry is directly responsible for the systematic exploitation of animals, the environment and workers, globally. Moreover there is now widespread concern that agribusiness is a significant cause of global warming.
The problem extends further, however, due to the rise in biotechnology. With money taking precedent over everything else, corporations such as Monsanto are producing our food in a completely unconventional, unnatural and most importantly, unnecessary way. In one laboratory there are engineers working to mix the genes of bacteria, insects, viruses, as well as animals, with our food. In another, technicians “create” food such as high fructose corn syrup. Of course, we must remember that despite countless studies, there is no scientific research which can categorically prove the safety of genetically engineered or modified food.
The average consumer believes that we’re the recipient of whatever corporations put out for us. While it’s true that we don’t have complete freedom, being forced to choose between whatever is available, there still exists “consumer power.” Food corporations are controlling and exploitative but it is important to remember that we can exert power by voting with each meal and purchase. Be it local or international produce, organic or GMO, vegan or otherwise, these votes do count, as corporations exist to make money and will respond to consumer demand.
There are several ways in which we can lift the veil, seeing our food for what it really is. The bonus is that we will begin to take better care of animals, the environment and our own bodies:
Read the label: the ultimate aim is simple: knowing what is in our food and where it came from, and the easiest way to do that is read the label.
Bake and cook: it is a lot easier to moderate what ingredients go into each meal if you bake and cook, from scratch, at home.
Grow your own food: if you can, grow herbs and vegetables, plant a garden, or sprout legumes.
Choose ethical: purchase from companies who treat animals, the environment and workers with respect.
Support local: it is wiser to purchase from a local farmer or supplier with whom you can build a direct relationship, obtaining food that is produced honestly.
Vote organic: organic food tends to come from smaller companies and is better for one’s health.
Stay in season: in selecting food which is in season it doesn’t need to be flown in from elsewhere or produced in an artificial environment.