Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plight of the American Food System

The following blog post is a reaction paper I submitted in class based upon an article looking at how governments use food scarcity to control their constituents. The article can be found at the following reference:

Nally, D. (2011). The biopolitics of food provisioning. Transactions Of The Institute Of British Geographers36(1), 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00413.x


            David Nally presents a very interesting viewpoint in his article, “The Biopolitics of Food Provisioning.” I believe it is an argument that we see throughout the world today, as prices on “healthy, local” foods go up and those of fast food chains continue to plummet. We live in an age where you can buy two hamburgers, a large French-Fry, and a large soda for the same price it costs to get a head of broccoli. The problem is an underlying social problem, really. I believe that many of the citizens of the United States believe food should be cheap and that they are ultimately entitled to three meals a day, although we all know this is not the way that the world works. Additionally, and we can consider this throwing in a critical feminist argument, as more women have entered the work place, we have lost the “home makers” who prepared a full dinner for the family when they returned home from school and work. I am not arguing that women in the workplace is a bad thing, or even that a woman’s place is in the home, but merely suggesting that as humans our lives have become so busy, and technology has not helped but exacerbated this problem, to where we no longer can sit and enjoy a meal together. We eat on the road, stopping at a drive-thru, and getting cheap beef produced in Concentrated Animal FeedingOperations (CAFO).
            To preface my argument, I will say that my master’s background is in Sustainable Systems, working a lot with sustainable and organic agriculture. I grew up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania, studied agriculture initially at Penn State, and my fiancĂ©e’s parents are sustainable and organic farmers in central Ohio. I have an interest in agriculture and Nally presents points of passion for me when he talks negatively of Cargill and Monsanto. The commercialization of agriculture has led to the demise of the small-time farmer. These two companies are the bullies of the agriculture industry, as can be seen in the recent election where Proposition 37 in California to label Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) was knocked down. As Dr. Emariana Taylor put it on the social media site, Facebook, ‘this shows the power of Monsanto more than the voice of the people,” (Taylor, 2012). Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and movies such as “Food, Inc.,” “Our Daily Bread,” and “Frankensteer” are replete with images that depict the horrors of our current food system (Pollan, 2006) (Robert Kenner, 2008) (Nikolaus, 2009) (Remerowski, 2006).
            Nally further ties into this argument with his discussion of Foucaultian biopower, which I took to mean a government’s control of biological factors (agriculture, natural resources, and similar commodities) to exhibit power over its constituents. The United States government and a handful of large agro-industrial companies, with Cargill and Monsanto being to two main culprits, largely control today’s agriculture system. Farmers, according to Nally, have become the new proletariat class and these large companies are the bourgeoisie, essentially enslaving the individual farmer. It is capitalism played out in a large scale over the whole world, as the global north (also a bourgeois class) seemingly takes advantage of the global south (proletariat). A traditional Marxist viewpoint, according to Noel Castree, would examine these labor relations and find solutions to benefit all and advance the status of the American farmer, as this industrial agriculture system seeks to destroy traditional ways of life. Additionally, small time farmers are being forced to pay higher prices for Monsanto and Cargill seed, which are genetically modified to not reproduce ensuring these farmers will re-buy seed yearly. Lastly, the United States government has heavily subsidized the production of corn and soybeans, leading to an agriculture monoculture (Pollan, 2006). Animals (beef, chickens, and even salmon) are fed this corn so that a bigger return is seen from people who eat these products. Whereas we would not pay a lot for corn, we would pay a lot for these animal’s meat that has been fed largely on corn. Plus, the time from birth to production is decreased as animals are “fattened up” on cheap corn over the span of months to a point that normally took a year or more to reach.
            This is an area I am fascinated by and ultimately disgusts me. The one quote I always repeat is this, “Small scale farmers and teachers should be the highest government subsidized positions.” There is merely not enough time to dive into these issues in a two-page reaction paper, but I highly recommend the following pieces of media in the Works Cited section.

Works Cited

Nikolaus, G. (Writer), & Nikolaus, G. (Director). (2009). Our Daily Bread [Motion Picture].

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore's Dilemma. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Press.

Remerowski, T. (Writer), & Marrin Cannell, T. R. (Director). (2006). Frankensteer [Motion Picture].

Robert Kenner, E. P. (Writer), & Kenner, R. (Director). (2008). Food, Inc. [Motion Picture]. United States.

Taylor, E. (2012, November 7). Facebook Post. Kent, OH, USA.

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