DRAFT: an appeal to eaters in the city

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The flip side of the "appeal to farmers" flyer.

Robert Waldrop,

Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City


Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where tomatoes taste like mushy water, mostly because they were picked while still green in a foreign country and then gassed so they would turn red. Chances are it is a special hybrid tomato with an extra tough skin so it can be harvested by machines and withstand lots of rough handling while boxed in warehouses. It might even have been genetically modified to produce its own pesticide. Yum! I'll have seconds, you bet. Just what I always wanted, a genetically modified factory processed food product disguised to look like a real vine-ripened tomato. (It works with cheese, doesn't it?)

Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where we buy a loaf of bread for $1.75, and "generously" give the farmer who grew the wheat and thus made the bread possible One Penny. We pay no attention to the consolidation of the agriculture industry, even though one consequence of "fewer farmers, fewer but larger processing plants, bigger corporations" is a tremendous increase in food recalls and food poisoning due to contamination. Most food consumed in the United States passes through at least 1 of 6 giant transnational corporations, which are rapidly aligning themselves into 2 monopolistic, vertically integrated cartels. Remember what happened to the price of gasoline when the OPEC cartel was organized?

Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where we studiously ignore the plight of the vanishing farmer, even though the last generation of family farmers has been born. We willingly sacrifice the birthright of our cousins and family in rural areas on the altar of the false gods of economic rationalization and corporate greed. We eagerly embrace the politically correct economic superstitions that are encouraged by the public relations departments of rich and powerful corporations (as well as by the think tanks and university laboratories that they finance), whose deadly fruit is the destruction of rural life. The nation is currently experiencing the third massive wave of farm bankruptcies and consolidations since the 1970s, but judging from the news and the opinion polls, few of us in the city realize or care about what is happening in rural areas. The stock market may have bubbled up to historic highs, but prices for wheat, corn, cattle, and pork are at all-time lows (you wouldn't know this looking at the prices in your supermarket, especially in the meat department, hmm, what can this mean?). We have so surrounded the farmer with laws and regulations and debt that many of them feel trapped and see no way out of the present impasse. We encourage them to do more of the same, to reach for new "efficiencies," even though the price of "more of the same" seems to be "more of the same". After 3 waves of bankruptcies in 25 years, wouldn't you think we were down to the really efficient farmers anyway?

Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where everything seems so stable and secure, even though the grocery stores only have 3 days inventory, the warehouses that supply them have one to four weeks inventory, and the entire food processing pipeline has only about 60 days in it. After that, we are down to livestock on the hoof and grain in the bins of our country cousins. Not that we would know much about what to do with a whole wheat kernel anyway. This just in time inventory corporate factory food system is vulnerable to power and transportation failures, terrorist attacks, and regularly is afflicted with food safety problems. But the corporate officers assure us, "Everything is fine, don't worry, be happy, don't ask questions. Ignore the man in the corner behind the curtain manipulating the controls!"

Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where our tables are filled with foods from all continents, which we eat with relish and to excess. Meanwhile, we close our eyes to the hungry and starving of other lands who are hungry and starving because the food they used to eat is now being exported to the United States. Or the land that grew their food now raises cash crops for export  at the demand of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the bankers and Congress of these United States. Your own personal banker may be one of those making these demands of these poor people.

Oh the joys of life in the city. . . Where our kids think that food comes from the farm in shrink-wrapped plastic. They don't know  and most of us have forgotten  the sweet taste of freshly harvested corn on the cob, the rich taste of a home-grown and vine ripened tomato (you wouldn't think it was in the same vegetable family as its corporate-grown cousin). We close our eyes to warnings about the chemicals and additives, pesticide residues and genetically modified crops in the corporate machine food system. We try not to think about the chemical stews we are feeding our children or the tanks of chlorine and feces that "fresh" chicken is soaked in before being packaged for sale in the local supermarket. We prefer not to think about the factory chickens laying the eggs we buy  who spend their entire lives in a cage, with their beaks cut off. The chickens in the lower level cages are encrusted with the feces of the chickens above them (don't forget to wash those eggs you buy in the supermarket real good with soap and water before you crack them!). We don't think about these things because when we consider the corporate food system, we have been taught to see the Jolly Green Giant and the Keebler Elves, as though these fictitious advertising gimmicks were real! ("It's on TV, it must be real, the ad guys say it is so! And when were they ever wrong?")

IF YOU ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ALWAYS DO, YOU WILL ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU ALWAYS GET! If we think we ought to just give in and live with this situation (the "Do as the corporations say!" option), all we have to do is keep doing what we are doing right now. We should just shut our ears to the cry of the starving poor whose food we steal to add pounds to our waistlines and dollars to the dividends of Del Monte and Chiquita, among many who could be mentioned. We must close our eyes to the tragic demise of the family farm and sell our birthrights for a handful of beads dangled before us by glib corporate PR departments. We shouldn't ask questions like: "Mr. Produce Manager, how much of these vegetables are from this area, how much from elsewhere in the US  and how much is imported from overseas?" Or, "Why isn't this produce from foreign countries labeled as to its country of origin? Manufactured products imported from abroad must be labeled, why not produce?"

WE START SMALL OR WE DON'T START AT ALL Here's the most radical thing you can do to help this situation: buy products directly from farmers. There are many options: (1) Traditional farmers markets and roadside stands. Many areas have them, but nowhere has enough of them. Look for them and spend at least some of your grocery dollars there. (2) Food circles. These programs unite urban eaters with rural farmer. They will often publish a directory or guide. Call your local "cooperative extension" office (look in the government blue pages in your phone book), such offices may be associated with a state university or the USDA, another possibility is the direct marketing program of your state department of agriculture. (3) Produce deliveries. Make a phone call, turn in your order, have it delivered right to your home. (4) Buy shares of a market garden. Some direct marketing farmers sell shares in their crops in advance to urban consumers. You pay up front, or with installments, and as the garden comes in, you get regular weekly deliveries. (5) Beef, pork, chicken, and eggs can all be bought from producers, with the butchering and wrapping done to order.

MORE IDEAS. . . Talk to your priest, rabbi, or pastor about starting a Saturday farmers' market on your church's property. Convenience is important, and religious institutions are scattered all over the urban landscape, usually very conveniently located for residents. Work together with rural churches to get farmers into the city. Help establish community canning kitchens where farmers or other small operators can prepare processed foods for sale to the public. Farmers, like other businesses, respond to market signals. If we want to do our part to help preserve rural life and family farmers  and let's face facts here, many of us have rural roots, and have family still down on the farm, so this isn't just an intellectual exercise, this is a family issue  us city folks need to start sending market signals to farmers: "We want to buy products directly from you. Our money is green, we spend billions on food, we know you are getting a pittance for your products. Sell directly to us eaters in the city. We need tasty and nutritious food but we also need to do our part to ensure that there will be many more generations of farmers and to preserve rural life." We can also grow more food in cities ourselves.

THERE'S NOTHING IN THIS ABOUT LOWERING YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE. . . What's being talked about here is increasing the quality of life and the security of your family by developing personal relationships with the people who grow and process your food. The best and most expensive restaurants look for fresh food bought from local producers, do you suspect that they know something about what it takes to prepare haute cuisine?

"My experience tells me that, instead of bothering about how the whole world may live in the right manner, we should think how we ourselves may do so. We do not even know whether the world lives in the right manner or in a wrong manner. If, however, we live in the right manner, we shall feel that others also do the same, or shall discover a way of persuading them to do so. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good. Real peace will come, not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Robert Waldrop, Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

-- robert waldrop (rmwj@soonernet.com), September 06, 1999


Wonderful post - I'll be keeping it.

But... consider not just what multinationals are doing to the world's food supply. You quoted Mahatma Gandhi at the end, well known to be a vegetarian (vegan in fact). Few people realize the horrors being inflicted upon this earth because of animal husbandry.

I could go on for hours spouting factoids such as "It takes 55 square feet of rainforest to produce a single hamburger", but most in this group would ignore that just as most of the rest of the population ignores Y2K.

That is to say nothing about the cruelty involved in the food industry, which your post alluded to. I'm sure most Y2K'ers are too busy thinking about themselves to worry about the non-human population... a lot of which would survive Y2K were it not for the gun-toting pollies who never prepared... any other vegetarian/vegan visitors to this board?

-- Y2KGardener (gardens@bigisland.net), September 06, 1999.


If you've ever driven an automobile, ridden in one or flown in an airplane, you are the 'problem'. How many miles to the bale does your donkey cart get?....whoops, can't have that...animal husbandry required doncha' know.

-- Charles R. (chuck_roast@trans.net), September 06, 1999.


Pardon my ignorance, but I fail to see how the hamburger I had yesterday destroyed any rainforest.


-- gene (ekbaker@essex1.com), September 06, 1999.

While I appreciate Mr.Waldrop's post, I am forced to wonder why so many of the bleeding hearts in the vegetarian community don't understand the big picture. Let's see, 40 million babies exterminated since Roe v Wade in 1973, an escalating insensitivity towards our brother man daily (no matter how the government fudges the numbers), a legitmate move towards a two tier society of the super-rich and the rest of the unwashed masses, and a judicial system that seemingly echoes that sentiment: the rich can do as they want, the rest are guilty until proven innocent.

Yeah. You sure have your priorities right.

-- Bad Company (johnny@shootingstar.com), September 06, 1999.

Mr. Waldrop,

Tricky title to this thread. Thanks for all your work!

-- flora (***@__._), September 06, 1999.

I am not a vegetarian, but over the years the food budget hasn't been so big and so I've gotten used to minimizing meat. Plus, being Catholic, my tradition suggests that abstinence from meat is a proper penance for the many sins of this era. Such abstinence used to be mandatory on Fridays, and there are those who still keep that discipline, sometimes adding Wednesday's also.

But anyway, this is wandering past the original point of the thread. The title is supposed to be interesting, and encourage people to read more. i think it will look nice set up in large type for the printed copy.

-- robert waldrop (rmwj@soonernet.com), September 06, 1999.

Robert,Great material and food for thought, But look out you don't end up like the good Cardinal Romero, Knowing the farmer is intellegent but being the farmer brings wisdom The big 2k should reintroduce a passel of nerdly dudes to the joys of the grub hoe.

-- ed mura (merek@aloha.net), September 06, 1999.

Charles R.
I'm afraid I couldn't make my donkey cross the Pacific the last time I tried.

Your ignorance is pardoned - just ask yourself where 97% of America's beef comes from, what was there before the cattle ranches, and what will be there in a few years' time when the land is grazed out.

Bad Company
I suggest you get your priorities right. Chew on this one: every time an omnivore eats a vegetarian meal that one act allows seven other people on this planet to eat at all. There are plenty of places to read about these arguments, so I won't waste space here - suffice to say that animal husbandry is between 7 and 20 times as land-intensive (and water-intensive and fossil-fuel intensive) as plant food production.

For all you non-vegetarians out there, bear in mind I've been answering these same dern questions for the past 18 years. Don't you get annoyed when someone asks you the same old Y2K question for the nth time? Now you know how I feel! There are GIs and DGIs on most subjects.

-- Y2KGardener (gardens@bigisland.net), September 07, 1999.

every time an omnivore eats a vegetarian meal that one act allows seven other people on this planet to eat at all.

Then those other 7 people being well fed and frisky, decided to have several children, since they figure they'll be able to feed them.

Seems like if we take this road, we are bound to convert the entire biomass of the planet into humans. Isn't that a pretty picture.

Berry. This puts me in the mood to go re-read My Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. I might even scan through The Story of 'B' one more time.

-- Berry Picker (BerryPicking@yahoo.com), September 07, 1999.

Well, I do get annoyed when people mistate the facts, which is what I believe you have done.... From the brochure Cattlemen: Stewards of an American Tradition, published by National Cattlemen's Association.

"Cattlemen own or manage more land than any other indutry in the nation. 64% of the continental U.S. is agricultural land and 2/3 of agricultural land is classified as grazing land. 92% of land classified as grazing land is not suitable for crops. If this land were not grazed by cattle, it would have no value as a food resource."

-- marsh (siskfarm@snowcrest.net), September 07, 1999.

Y2K Gardener: One thing I like about cattle and sheep is that they do all that hard work digesting grass for me and turning it into meat.

Ecologists: How about all the methane vegetarians blow into the air? If the cows don't do it, the veggies will.

So what if "eating properly" (in your view) makes it (supposedly) possible to feed seven more? "Let them eat cake" (in the immortal words of Marie Antoinette).

PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals)
I didn't fight my way to the top of food chain just to become a vegetarian.

-- A (A@AisA.com), September 07, 1999.

As always, thanks for your good work, Robert. Have you seen 'The Case Against the Global Economy?' It's a collection of pertinent essays that would dove-tail nicely with your mission. Pax.

-- Spidey (in@jam.commie), September 07, 1999.

Robert: Good Article! It would go well on the other side of the other essay regarding the farmer point of view, if you're printing these for hand-outs at the state fair. Today I'm sending you our brochure/newsletter for our chemical free beef that we sell.

-- jeanne (jeanne@hurry.now), September 07, 1999.

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