The Boulder in the Road or Kellogg Drives Pringles Deeper into AsiaBy Bill Duesing
Forty years ago, I already had read enough to know that food is a critical issue and that how we grow our food and what we eat have important effects on human and environmental health and on the sustainability of civilizations.
I responded to that knowledge in what seemed like simple and sensible ways. I bought a little piece of land and started raising plants and animals and planting trees. I connected with like-minded people through the just-formed Northeast Organic Farming Association, sold produce to a store in New Haven and eventually meat and eggs to neighbors and beyond. I found ways to recycle food waste from restaurants and produce markets for animal food and compost. I invited children onto our Old Solar Farm to learn about natural cycles and farming.
With a bit of time taken out for promoting solar energy and energy conservation, I found other ways to try to advance the local and organic food system. If that kind of system made sense in 1970, it made even more sense with each passing year. Every new understanding of human and environmental health piled on the positives of local and organic food.
Eventually, working with wonderful colleagues, we started CT NOFA to educate and advocate for a more local and organic food system, began an educational program at a New Haven High School that became the farm-based Common Ground High School, for a decade gardened weekly and sometimes cooked with Bridgeport fifth graders. I produced radio programs, wrote essays and gave talks about how and why we need to go local, organic and healthy.
We started an organization to protect farmland, an organization to get money to protect farmland, an organization to train farmers and grow food for the needy, sat on countless committees and attended numerous conferences to explore and generate ideas of ways to change the food system.
Looking back over 40 years, it is impressive how far we have come in some ways - more consumers interested in local food, more organic food in stores, many new small farms, more farmers markets, great Connecticut cheeses, wines and grass-fed meats, more school gardens, community farms and CSAs. Whew!
And yet, how has the dominant paradigm, the Industrial Food System changed? It has gotten even more voracious in its appetite for destroying human and environmental health in the name of profit.
This said, I was very primed for the "boulder in the road" metaphor Valentine Doyle used at the fourth gathering of the Connecticut Food System Alliance in November. The meeting was brimming with young people as enthusiastic about making positive changes in the food system as I've been for the past four decades.
The Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) "believes that the predominating food system has harmful impacts on human health and the environment, and shifts economic benefits away from our local communities. These negative impacts affect all of us, but are disproportionately borne by historically marginalized communities. For these reasons among others, the predominating food system, as it currently operates, is unsustainable – it literally cannot continue as it is. We as a group are invested in imagining and implementing a viable alternative that minimizes harm and creates real community benefits by relying more prevalently on local systems to meet much of Connecticut’s food need, and by holding all food system stakeholders, whether local, regional or global, accountable for their impacts."
"Together we can build a better food system. We envision a Connecticut where everyone has access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food; where the food supply chain supports many vibrant and varied businesses that provide sustainable livelihoods; where there is broad public awareness and passionate public support of a robust local food system; and where stewardship of soil, water, air and energy resources is institutionalized as an integral part of a resilient and robust regional culture of food, health and community."
Among the energized young people were
• Food Corps members who are working at 12 sites around Connecticut to improve the school food environment,
• Young adults growing food in New Haven with and for people at risk for diabetes and other chronic, diet and lifestyle-related diseases.
• A college class studying public health at our host the University of Saint Joseph.
• Other folks who created local Food Policy Councils to engage residents in food system change, or who support a network of community gardens.
There were also a few of us old timers who have been at food system work for decades. Valentine Doyle, whose foundation funds good food system work, provided a cautionary image for the enthusiastic young folks that really resonated with me.
She mentioned the large boulder in the middle of the road from here to the future envisioned by food activists. She feels that just doing the good, community-based food work isn't enough to move or dislodge the boulder. I later asked her what the boulder represented. She declined to say, but permitted me to use her metaphor.
The Great Give, 2013
A month or two before, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven was holding its "The Great Give, 2013" fundraiser for the many non-profits who provide needed services in and near New Haven.
In the food arena, donors could choose to donate to
• Common Ground High School which is using its farm and gardens to educate environmental leaders, turn abandoned and abused land into productive farmland to feed its students and the community,
• New Haven Farms which is turning abandoned land into places full of healthy food and activity in order to address diabetes and the other chronic long-term, diet-related diseases prevalent in poor communities there.
• Massaro Farm which grows certified organic food for its CSA members, provides educational services and in 2013 will donate over 8,000 pounds of certified organic food to those in need.
• CitySeed which has created impressive economic development through its farmers markets benefiting suburban farmers and urban consumers while also providing healthy food and important education to those in need.
• New Haven Land Trust which operates a network of community gardens where people can grow food.
Based on the reputations of these organizations, I know that the money received was put to very good use, although it probably provides a very small fraction of their operating budgets.
For the food system we envision, we need all of these organizations and many, many more doing this kind of work. They are addressing multiple, complex problems in health, environment, education, justice and food access, nearly perfectly in line with CFSA's vision and the path to a healthy and sustainable future. Yet they are begging for funding.
This should NOT be a competition!
At about the same time, the headline "Kellogg APAC President; We're ready to drive Pringles deeper into Asia" appeared in my inbox from bakeryandsnacks.com. (Cultural research.) http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Manufacturers/Kellogg-APAC-president-We-re-ready-to-drive-Pringles-deeper-into-Asia
Besides the blatantly aggressive language, one has to ask: Does Asia need Pringles? Pringles, a highly processed and packaged snack food, is designed to be very addictive. It is available in dozens of different flavors. The ingredients, certainly not local anywhere, include potatoes, between one and four kinds of oil (three of them from genetically-engineered plants heavily sprayed with Roundup herbicide), corn, also likely GE, wheat and other ingredients depending on flavor. Most include artificial flavors and colors. (Didn't we learn ages ago that artificial flavors and colors are not good for us?)
Could there be a more perfect example of the CFSA's belief about the predominating food system?
Kellogg has so much money it could buy the Pringles brand for $2.7 billion from Proctor & Gamble. Now it's going to spend millions more to drive the brand deeper into Asia.
Where is all that money coming from at a time when organizations that are solving real problems in our communities need funding?
Of course it comes from us. From our purchases, where we have some control and from our investments, where we have less.
Investors, or their advisors, have the hope or belief that by driving Pringles deeper into Asia they will make lots of money. And they will, unless something changes.
In other words, our economic system allocates lots of money to drive Pringles deeper into Asia, but relegates what are effectively "the crumbs" to those who are solving real problems.
McDonalds drives Quarter Pounders deeper into Litchfield County
It is not just Pringles in Asia. This may be more perfect example of what CFSA is working against. This fall, our wonderful local paper, delivered free to every house in this area, carried a large full-color flyer advertising McDonalds' foods and providing coupons for free sandwiches and other food.
Compared to Pringles, a Quarter Pounder provides even more connections to environmental destruction, for example, large monocultures of genetically-engineered corn and soybeans that are fed to pigs, dairy and meat cows in factory farms. This in turn produces enormous quantities of manures laced with antibiotics and hormones.
What is going on?
A Forbes article about sugar being responsible for $1 trillion in health costs in this country provides a name and a description that fits these situations.
“Food undergoes the equivalent of a leveraged recapitalization designed to suit the financial goals of its creator. Consumption of junk food (for example a Twinkie or a sugary drink) is akin to a financial exchange where short-term gains are privatized and long-term costs are socialized in the form of horrific health outcomes. The metabolic donkeys – consumers – pay relatively little money and turn a blind eye to the health consequences of their food choices – instead hoisting the fantastic profits of companies like Monster and opting for a shortened, diseased life.” Simons Chase – 2 Perspectives On Food Innovation: Sodastream vs. Monster Beverage MNST +0.32%
This statement helped me understand why double bacon cheeseburgers and sodas are the most advertised foods. They provide enormous, privatized short-term gains, while socializing the serious long-term human and environmental heath costs. This also explains venture capitalists' desire to open 8,000 new Dunkin' Donuts stores by 2020 and the profusion of double bacon everything. The greater the long-term health costs, the greater the opportunity for short-term privatized gains.
For almost all industrial food in the country, it helps that many of the inputs such as grains, water and energy are subsidized with our taxes. Furthermore, we all wind up paying for the costs of pollution such as dead zones, greenhouse gases, loss of biodiversity and dead bees.
CFSA is "invested in imagining and implementing a viable alternative that minimizes harm and creates real community benefits by relying more prevalently on local systems to meet much of Connecticut’s food need, and by holding all food system stakeholders, whether local, regional or global, accountable for their impacts."
Shifting the dominant paradigm
I believe that most of the folks who are talking about how we have to produce 70 percent more food to feed the world in 2050 (almost always involving GMOs and large monocultures fueled by lots of energy and distant inputs) are planning for the Pringles and Quarter Pounder food system; planning for a system which allows leveraged recapitalization to flourish.
It is fortunate that so many people in Connecticut, New England and around the country are planning for more local food systems.
However, there's that boulder which I view as a metaphor for our current economic system. The investors and corporations most able to privatize short-term gains and socialize long-term costs also exert the most powerful influences on government regulation.
Perhaps you see the boulder differently. If so, let me know how you understand the metaphor. I welcome your thoughts.
Let's be sure the industrial food folks see the growing movement for GMO labeling and local organic agriculture as their boulder on the way to food system hegemony, rather than as an annoying little gnat.