It seems amazing that something so basic and essential as the quality of food is used as the throwball in a political power game driven by the vested interests of the chemical industry and the food industry. As much as I am delighted to find more and more organic foods on the shelves of local and not so local supermarkets - which must be a sign that consumer consciousness is finally demanding these choices to be made available - it still dismays me to think that it has taken some 65 years to get thus far.
Yes, that's right, 65 years! The early beginnings of what we now call 'the organic movement' lie back as far as the 1940s. In fact, almost as far back as the very beginnings of the agrochemical industry and the dawn of large scale industrial farming itself. One would think that back then it must have seemed like an odd idea to put all sorts of chemicals onto the earth and into our foods, and thus into our bodies - but no. The Zeitgeist of that time blew from an entirely different direction. It was the dawn of the age of industrialization, which preached the gospel of convenience, making our daily chores easier thanks to scientific progress.
Toiling the land to eke out a living seemed a meagre reward compared to the lifestyle that could be afforded by selling one's time to a factory, escape the farming slavery and live in the city, the promised land of economic opportunity. But this meant the scales were tipped quite dangerously as not enough people remained on the farms to work the land and it became increasingly difficult to produced enough food for all those people who had fled to the cities. Farmers needed compensation and some kind of incentive to keep doing their work. Science came up with the answer: industrial farming methods which included the liberal use of fertilizers that promised to increase the yield without increasing the work.
It was an age in which new discoveries were made at an astonishing rate, and science was no longer practiced as an abstract pursuit of the elite, but with practical application in mind. And for a while it seemed to be delivering the goods. Chemical industry came up with standardized new drugs in convenient pill shape, no mess, no hassle; foods appeared as 'instant formulas' and tv dinners, which saved house wives hours of time and bother. Scientists seemed like demi-gods who constantly delivered something newer, bigger or faster. It was an age of vision - the horizons aglow with the promise of unlimited possibilities for a bright, clean, convenient future ahead - it was the birth of the American Dream.
In the context of such a forward looking (albeit short-sighted) Zeitgeist people such as Rudolph Steiner, Lady Eve Balfour and Jerome Rodale must have seemed like Luddites, waving their fingers at the evils of the modern world, clinging on to the traditions and the old ways. Half a century later we are finally beginning to come around to their way of thinking and recognize them as the true visionaries they were.
Sadly, by now much of the land is contaminated and impoverished from decades of industrial farming methods, even before they are born children are exposed to a blend of toxic chemicals flowing in their veins, mother's milk is said to be dangerous due to absorption of environmental chemicals; allergies, chemical sensitivities and cancers are constantly rising - and still there are people who just don't seem to see the connections. Instead, they keep looking at science as the holy saviour that can save them once again from the very demons it created in the past. In this day and age the promise of our future health and well-being is to be found in GM crops, which claim to make crops resistant to all sorts of bugs and environmental stress conditions, thus reducing the need for toxic sprays.
But that is only half the story. And like those early visionary 'luddites' that promoted organic farming methods back in the 40s, there are voices now that warn against the dangers of this latest supposed piece of technological advancement. The answer they have is still the same - do what is natural - go back to common sense: organic food production. This will not only benefit our health, but also the health of the planet itself. We may, if we are very lucky, witness the return of some of those species that have been all but wiped out by the chemical war on the environment.
There are those that argue the true benefits of GM crops and industrial farming methods lie in the fact that we will be able to feed millions of starving people in impoversihed countries around the world. Wouldn't that be nice! Unfortunately it is unlikely that we would, even if we could. Otherwise, why don't we do it now? Why do we instead burn mountains of food and destroy the surplus of production? Why? To keep prices stable of course.
There is enough food, and more could be produced if instead of cutting down the rainforest to plant soy beans to feed cattle, we instead produced food for people. But hey, that would be to step on the toes of at least 3 major industries.
The truth is that as long as there are big bucks involved mere political good will, or even less likely, good common sense, don't stand a chance in hell to change a thing in this world. That is why consumer action is so important. It is only when we take the action of voting with out dollars, pounds or yen to support one way of thinking over another, that we can expect results to creep in. At first we have to content with the attempt of suppression - like in the case of alternative medicines, then we'll have to face the slander of subversive propaganda machines operated by the industrial giants, but finally, if we persist, they will give in - simply because they don't want to lose out on the money that is to be made in this 'new' section of the market.
That seems to be the stage we are in now. The demand for organic foods is rising. When will we care about organic clothes? Industrial cotton is absolutely dowsed in chemicals by the time it is spun into yarn and made into clothes. Do these chemicals harm us? Well, they may or may not, depending on how sensitive you are. However, there is no question as to the harm they cause to the earth and the wildlife that tries to exist in the vicinity of such plantations, not to mention their effect on the farm workers.
Organic or non organic is not just a personal choice for our own well-being, it is a question of the quality of life we wish to enjoy and preserve for our future generations. It is, therefore not really much of a choice at all. Rather, it is a challenge we - humanity - face: to find sustainable, non-toxic solutions to the day to day business of living on this planet that is our only home.
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