Commentary: Moving on to occupy food

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If something works, it’s worth replicating…right? At least it’s human nature to think so. Whether it’s Dairy Queen copying the quirkiness of Old Spice’s TV ads or the “Occupy” concept of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s easier to use someone else’s idea than to come up with something new.

For such an example I will point to the “Occupy our Food Supply” movement driven by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that surfaced this week. Monday, Feb. 27 was billed as a global day of action “to fix our broken food system” and eliminate corporate control.

According to the website: “Occupy Our Food Supply is bringing together the Occupy, sustainable farming, food justice, buy local, slow food, and environmental movements for a global day of action…thousands will come together to creatively confront corporate control of our food supply and take action to build healthy, accessible food systems for all.”

Our food is under threat…don’t you know. Occupy our Food Supply’s specific targets include the likes of Cargill, Monsanto, ADM and Dupont, as they “have gained runaway control of our food systems.”

“Plain and simple, it is clear that getting Big Food giants like Cargill and Monsanto out of our food system is an idea whose time has come,” says Hillary Lehr, RAN’s organizer. Retailers like Wal-Mart are also on the list.

Replicates rarely get the same traction as the original. Despite RAN’s claims, the Feb. 27 event barely made a blip with the media.  Perhaps that’s because real issues like Syrians literally being blown away by their own government garnered the attention.

At home, I suspect it could be hard to pull the attention away from income inequality-based Occupy movement, which touches everyone—the 99 percent and the 1 percent—but in different ways; versus the “injustice of Big Food” (their words not mine).  When you’re worried about putting food on the table at all, you’re not likely to spend your energy disrupting a system that keeps food costs at 10 percent of Americans’ annual income.  Sure, certain activists will fully commit, but the masses-- not so much.

Still, the organizers cite Monday’s event as a “resounding success.” It featured more than 100 events across the globe, involving more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food and corporate accountability organizations, they say. It also included some of the same ol’ faces—musician Willie Nelson, author Michael Pollan, director Robert Kenner (Food Inc), actor Woody Harrelson. “Mommy bloggers” and social media were the other motivators of the day.

RAN singled out specific events as successes, including a 40-person seed exchange at the New York Stock Exchange, building a community garden in Oakland, Calif., placing stickers on genetically modified foods at more than 20 Safeway and Whole Foods grocery stores across the country. Wow, they even lashed out at Whole Foods—now, that shows you nothing is sacred. More than 100 people in Wayzata, Minn., convened a “Cargill call-in day” to the company’s chief executive officer, Greg Page, demanding changes in company practices and priorities.

One of this Occupy movement’s reoccurring themes is that today’s food system is “structured for short-term profit instead of the long-term health of people and the planet.” Wait a minute, I know that major food companies, associations, scientists and others are spending a lot of time, money and energy researching and looking for answers to the future challenge of feeding 9 billion people globally in less than 40 years. Where is that priority on Occupy our Food Supply’s list?

Forty people handing out seed packets in New York City is not a pathway to future global food security. 

Still, don’t write off this Occupy effort just yet; it could start out small and grow. I would point to the recent efforts to further expose the Chinese labor issues that are linked with Apple's products such as the I-Phone, I-Pod and I-Pad. While sales of Apple products haven’t suffered yet, a widespread movement pushed by Internet, email and social media efforts has generated hundreds of thousands (or more) supporters and gotten serious traction. Supposedly Microsoft will make changes in its labor structure.

So Occupy our Food Supply’s lack of success (my perspective, not theirs) could mean that the topic isn’t right, the concept isn’t right or that the timing isn’t right. It does not mean that the activists and issues surrounding “Big Food” will go away. There are more plans in the works, including “Occupy the Midwest,” which is set for March 15-18, at Kiener Place in St. Louis.  

Even if it doesn’t get big traction, the Occupy our Food Supply movement feeds the smoldering doubt about our food supply that much of the public carries today. John-Q Public lacks understanding regarding food production, the food chain, its many benefits, as well as the unintended consequences some of the proposed ideas would cause. What’s more, John-Q public en masse doesn’t want to grow food or process food, but wants to feel a certain way about the food he/she eats.   

In the end, whether the label is Big Food or Big Ag, the image and challenges such a movement presents all trickle down to further discolor the face of agriculture, the farm -- and you as a farm business person.


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Julianne Legge    
California  |  March, 02, 2012 at 11:04 AM

You have yet to understand that the Occupy movement is more than encampments, demonstrations, and symbolic actions like the seed exchange and community garden. The public is becoming more concerned about the over-industrialization of the food supply and the damage to the environment inherent in those practices. Be aware that we are not out to put anyone out of business, but we aim to curb and/or redistribute demand so that the food industry may practice more ethically in respect to consumers and the environment. How callous and utterly false is your insinuation that we threaten the farmer! What a lie, to claim that we are not concerned with the millions upon millions of starving people in this world! That is precisely part of the problem we are out to solve - the lopsided distribution of food and the forced dependence of vulnerable peoples on big western charity drives. But no worry. If you can't hear us now, just stay tuned. From the individual to the household to the community, people are making everyday efforts to educate themselves and modify the ways they secure food. It isn't about putting you out of business, so stop your alarm-sounding and trench-digging (foul! foul! of you to frighten your readers! what a disservice to them!). It's about ethics. Stop rolling your eyes around and start listening. That is how you will help your readers survive.

Thom Katt    
midwest  |  March, 03, 2012 at 05:08 PM

A well fed person has many problems. A hungry person only has one problem. Juliann, to me you sound like a well fed person. And, while you and your movement may not intend to put anyone out of business, you certainly intent to have control over the decisions that people make in their businesses. You are convinced that you intentions are good. And you are determined to implement those good decisions, even if the majority doesn't agree with you. I prefer to be left alone to make my own decisons. I believe the majority of people are like me.

Maxine    
SD  |  March, 02, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Ms. Legge, it surely appears to many hard working family ranchers that "Occupy" and like groups are carefully organized and well funded activist groups masquerading as spontaneous 'protests' by ordinary citizens. Because: ordinary citiizens must work, and often very hard, for their living; are better educated than given credit for by 'protesters'; understand that the modern agriculture system in the USA is a reason many more people can receive food with little effort on their part than ever in history, and at a very small cost (in the USA, that being less than 10% of disposable income); AND we are NOT damaging the environment, nor are we 'in serf-dom to ag corporations' as some like to claim. What industry has ever listened MORE to consumers than has agriculture, at all levels. I have participated in consumer focus groups as long as 35 years ago, and it continues today in most segments of agriculture. Listening MUST go both ways, you should understand.

Seth    
Ohio  |  March, 10, 2012 at 08:47 PM

Maxine, Occupy is not, by a long stretch of the imagination, a group of well-funded activist groups, and certainly is not going after hard-working family ranchers. Occupy, and the people working on food issues in particular have the utmost respect and admiration for farmers and have actively been seeking to support farmers as much as possible. The problem is, not everyone has access to food the way you think. There are huge areas of the country, both urban and rural, where people really don't have access to healthy food. And, while the average life-span is increasing in this country, there is a health crisis looming with higher rates than ever of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. The environmental damage caused by the current chemical-heavy model of agriculture is well-documented. See the quote below for just one example, which is a dead zone in the gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey due to the agricultural chemical runoff from the Mississippi. Also, as you mentione family ranchers, consider the fact that there are fewer and fewer family-scale farms in this country. In Iowa, there are efforts underway to consolidate control of agriculture to 1 farm per county, leaving 99 total farms in the state. How many farmers would go out of business as a result? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_zone_%28ecology%29 : "Currently, the most notorious dead zone is a 22,126 square kilometre (8,543 mi²) region in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River dumps high-nutrient runoff from its vast drainage basin, which includes the heart of U.S. agribusiness, the Midwest. The drainage of these nutrients are affecting important shrimp fishing grounds. This is equivalent to a dead zone the size of New Jersey.[8]"

Mark Shapiro    
London UK  |  March, 02, 2012 at 03:52 PM

Readers are encouraged to visit the 'Agent Orange Action Group' at www.aoag.org to learn more about Monsanto Agent Orange.

John Coolidge    
Babylon  |  March, 02, 2012 at 05:53 PM

What an arrogant, aloof condescending commentary. The language used, and the little digs made at the concerned citizens that don't want to eat this crap, are nothing short of insults to our collective intelligence, and demonstrate the typical indifference that the unconcerned display towards one of the most serious situations we have before us currently. Honestly, Syria is a sad affair. 8,000 citizens losing their lives at the hands of their government is a terrible problem for Syrians. I imagine Rawandans felt like they had a problem on their hands by the time the numbers of their dead had risen to the first 100,000. Of course the "world stage" tolerated the deaths of another 700,000+, and still never really lifted a finger, so please lets not act like Syria is a concern when we're eating death everyday, with no labels, and no real choice.

Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  March, 03, 2012 at 05:01 PM

Americans have access to the largest quantities of food, the widest variety of food and the safest food of any nation on the earth. They spend less of their income on food than the people of most any other nation. And the average life expectancy of Americans is increasing. That doesn't sound like a food system providing "crap" and "death." Perhaps you are over doing it with the hyperbolic rhetoric, John.

John Coolidge    
Babylon  |  March, 02, 2012 at 05:53 PM

What an arrogant, aloof condescending commentary. The language used, and the little digs made at the concerned citizens that don't want to eat this crap, are nothing short of insults to our collective intelligence, and demonstrate the typical indifference that the unconcerned display towards one of the most serious situations we have before us currently. Honestly, Syria is a sad affair. 8,000 citizens losing their lives at the hands of their government is a terrible problem for Syrians. I imagine Rawandans felt like they had a problem on their hands by the time the numbers of their dead had risen to the first 100,000. Of course the "world stage" tolerated the deaths of another 700,000+, and still never really lifted a finger, so please lets not act like Syria is a concern when we're eating death everyday, with no labels, and no real choice.

Hank    
KC  |  March, 03, 2012 at 09:17 AM

What a stupid comment, John Coolidge! So, you're eating crap and death everyday? Please feel free to move to a country that doesn't have enough safe food to eat, then you'll be qualified to make such outrageous coments.

Carol Cure    
Arizona  |  March, 06, 2012 at 08:02 AM

The article is sarcastic and attempts to belittle those who are legitimately concerned about our food supply, but the political comments of some below like jAN who turn their guns (yes, I'm sure they own guns) on our President are simply uneducated and uninformed. Probably spending too much time listening to Rush Limbaugh instead of reading.

Henry    
MA  |  March, 07, 2012 at 05:35 AM

Interesting....our corporations are maligned for outsourcing their manufacturing to foreign countries where products can be made cheaper to be sold for higher profits, but our dairy industry has figured out how to bring foreign labor here to make more milk than we need, so it can be sold at a loss....


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