Voicing our rights

Over the last week, two particular op-eds have caught our attention. While they approach the subject of food security from different angles, their basic concerns each shed light on the other.

John Rockefeller of Pacific Rivers wrote a guest editorial for the Oregonian last week, in which he laid-out a fairly sobering scenario for how our increasingly consolidated food system could be threatened by an environmental collapse or terrorist attack.

Rockefeller writes:

We also live in the most centralized zone of corporate food control, with a shrinking group of producers and distributors consolidating our nourishment into market shares through the efficiencies of vertical integration. [...]

In practical terms we are living in a time when a single failure in our food production and distribution chains could eliminate a large percentage of our available foods, while driving costs up on the remaining options.

Simply put, the issues that face our agricultural systems are similar to the problems that have exacerbated the recent financial crisis. Greater and greater centralization of farming has alienated many Americans from the sources of their food and has made the remaining connections very tenuous. We are left with food systems that are propped up with subsidies and cheaply accessible only because of their abandonment of sustainability and fairness.

Meanwhile, on the Huffington Post, Frances Moore Lappe noted the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the sad statistic that one-in-four Americans disagree with a central premise of the Declaration: that food is a basic right that should be protected by our governments. Ironically, for all of their concern over government interference in how we eat, these individuals fail to recognize the pervasive government involvement in the current system of food production and distribution.

Lappe continues on to argue for a new vision of how the government could support access to good food. In her view, we need to re-open democratic process up to the populace, rather than just the few private interests and consolidated firms that currently wield such large influence on how our food is grown:

It can mean redefining the “free” in “free market” as the freedom of all to participate in it and the freedom of new businesses to enter, unblocked by global oligopolies now dominating every major sector. [...]

[Americans can] recommit to democracy by removing the power of private wealth over public decision making — consider the $16 million a day spent last year lobbying Congress — and opening new avenues for the voices of millions of citizens to be heard. Only then will new rules emerging from today’s economic ruins get shaped in the interests of all, including our interest in eating.

As both Rockefeller and Lappe see it, basic human needs have been left out of the equation in the mad rush to efficiency and centralization. Our food security is now jeopardized by an unsustainable and undemocratic mentality. For us to reclaim our right to food will mean re-embracing the value of diversity and acknowledging that every individual has a voice in what they eat.

To read both articles in their entirety, visit the Oregonian and the Huffington Post.

Thanks for sharing

  1. Harriet
    Harriet12-12-2008

    Of course I am always encouraged by the degree to which each one of us can deal with the issues of productions, consumption and distribution or, more specifically, the notion of it’s diminished trajectory of travel, when we pick up a shovel and grow some food in our own backyard. That and truly preserving the bounty throughout the year is a mighty good way toward personal activism and solutions. Will it solve the larger macrocosm dilemmas? Not immediately to be sure but it will certainly go a long way towards transitioning our frustrations with non-functioning systems by creating functioning systems within the microcosm of our backyards. If nothing else, it will remind us over and over how much work it takes and how much we have forgotten about the needs of the soil – not in the abstract but by direct action.