Thursday, March 09, 2006

Food, Labels, Democracy and Life: A Note to Congress

Congress passed a new label law for food today. It is a travesty of state rights and it is dangerous for our physical and mental health. As always, what these people do is a threat to us and to our democracy...

Our “Representatives” have blessed us with The National Uniformity for Food Act, H.R. 4167. Unfortunately,

H.R. 4167 would shift the balance of power between the states and federal
government, critics say. They object that the bill would undermine states'
ability to prepare for and respond to terrorist threats to the food supply;
prevent states from requiring consumer notifications about health risks
associated with certain foods; and create a new federal bureaucracy to
review and, potentially disapprove, new state food safety laws.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer says the bill specifically targets
California's voter-approved Proposition 65, a 1986 law requiring businesses
to provide "clear and reasonable" warnings when they expose consumers to
known reproductive toxins, such as mercury.

Note to U.S. Congress: Food is not supposed to be uniform, and neither are the laws that govern it. Every fruit, vegetable, leaf, stalk, seed and pit should be a work unto itself, not the cold, tasteless, uniform, factory products that they have become and that you may be used to.

Your law will certainly ensure profits for Wal-Mart, Kroger, Ralph’s, Von’s and Safeway, but, in the long run, it will undermine the health of millions of individuals, not only because these laws will allow companies to bring even more contaminant-laden food to market, but also because such food and such a food system is detrimental to our local and national economy.

I probably do not need to make an argument here about the importance of safety in our food (I know how seriously you take “security”). I would like you to know a few things, though: mercury in fish is rising and it is dangerous to our health; we have so depleted the soil that it now takes perhaps as much as 10 calories of fertilizer to produce 1 calorie of food; got milk? well, then you probably have very toxic rocket fuel too; many softdrinks and juice-drinks contain chemicals that can combine to form benzene, a well known carcinogen...I haven’t even gotten to mad cows or hormonally doped poultry, but I hope you are getting the idea that the ability to accurately and fairly label food is a necessity. Consumers should have rights too.

Perhaps the pervasive nature of contaminants listed above shocks you. I hope so, for all of the problems are related. It is impossible to talk about any of the above without talking about government policies (ones you seem so eager to continue), and government subsidies, about corporate misdeeds. Government subsidies pay for the seeds that are planted by the corporate farms that in turn sell cheap corn syrup to soft-drink companies. These same corporations use subsidies and thus use more fertilizer, fertilizer that is made from oil that is subsidized by our military actions. And the rocket fuel in our milk and our lettuce, well, that comes from a long history of defense subsidies.

But let’s get back to labels and why they are important. I live in L.A. and have travelled all over the place. To some I may seem cosmopolitan, though I’m not sure I want to run with the Travel and Leisure crowd. (Ah yes, poor folks are lazy; rich folks have leisure. Story for another day.) What I’m saying is that you folks need to start treating the U.S. with some respect, you need to be more like farmers, like my grandparents and my mom, who, if they did not respect the laws of nature and treat their animals well, didn’t make it through the winter. If abusive farming does not work on a small scale, what makes you think that it will work on a large one, even with all the technological prowess we put into vaccines and hormones and fertilizer and irrigation and genetic modification. Labels will help us ensure that our food is safer and that it uses techniques that mean there will be good food here next year too. Your solutions to corporate marketing “problems,” will only mean more problems in the long run. Your labels will not create an informed, knowledgeable consumer, but an ignorant one. Wendell Berry writes:

“Between these two programs--the industrial and the agrarian, the global and the local, the most critical difference is that of knowledge. The global economy institutionalizes a global ignorance, in which producers and consumers cannot know or care about one anothers, and in which the histories of all products will be lost. In such a circumstance, the degradation of products and places, producers and consumers is inevitable.” (Citizenship Papers 121, my emphasis)

Knowledge is vital for our physical health, because what we eat can make us sick. It is also vital for our more general health, because this knowledge relates us to other people upstream and downstream from us (literally and figuratively). Why then do you choose to make us more ignorant and sicker? I can think of only one reason, and, again, Wendell Berry explains it very well:

The idea of people working at home, as family members, as neighbors, as natives and citizens of their places, is as repugnant to the industrial mind as the idea of self employment. The industrial mind is an organizational mind, and I think this mind is deeply disturbed and threatened by the existence of people who have no boss. This may be why people with such minds, when the approach the top of the political hierarchy so readily sell themselves to ‘special interests.’ They cannot bear to be unbossed. They cannot stand the lonely work of making up their own minds.
The industrial contempt for anything small, rural, or natural translates into contempt for uncentralized economic systems, and sort of self-sufficiency in food or other necessities. The industrial ‘solution’ for such systems is to increase the scale of work and trade. It is to bring Big Ideas, Big Money, and Big Technology into small rural communities, economies, and ecosystems--the brought-in industry and the experts bein invariable alien to and contemptuous of the places to which they are brought in. There is never any question of propriety, of adapting the thought or the purpose or the technology to the place.
The result is that problems correctable on the a small scale are replaced by large-scale problems for which there are no large-scale solutions.” (Citizenship Papers 145).

I read those words and I look at the actions you took in writing and passing your food labeling law and I see contempt for America and Americans. You worship money, and you are subservient to those who have it. You lead us into wars to get the oil to make the food. You lead us into ignorance and contempt for ourselves. Uniformity of food, of people, of ideas, of places. What will be the next uniformity you ask for?