This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Philosophical Musings on the Juxtaposition of the Words "Commercial" and "Food"

So, how did it happen? How did we all get complacent enough to accept the phrase "commercially produced food" without even blinking an eye? How did Uncle Sam go from advising the US public "to garden" to later telling the US public "to shop". And, not just to shop, but to shop for food.

Food is the hub of the wheel. It's the one thing that we all have in common: we all have to eat. And, we are what we eat. Recent statistics regarding the number of people with early onset cancer, degenerative disease, diabetes and dementia all point to a decline in the quality of our food. "Commercial" anything is about profit, not quality. So, when food becomes a profit motive, a lot goes out the door.

Some of the things that fly out the door are health, money (yours, not theirs), environment and energy. Big Agriculture is unconcerned about the environmental carnage left behind by pesticides, GMO crops, soil depletion or erosion.Big Agriculture is unconcerned about how much fuel it takes to run those mega-machines to produce, harvest and transport crops. And, Big Agriculture doesn't care how much food costs you and your family. They care about directing profits to already rich corporate interests.

Most of the food in your supermarket travels thousands of miles in trucks or planes to get from the farm to the shelves. Think about how much fuel us used to transport those items. What kind of impact does that have on the environment? When you purchase food at the store, you’re also paying for the cost of shipping, packaging and storing that food. What kind of impact does that have on your wallet?

While organic foods have grown in popularity, many commercially available foods are still sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and preservative formulas to prevent disease and spoilage. The USDA currently allows "57 trace pesticides" in foods labeled organic. Are you scared (or angry) yet? Not only can these chemicals pose health risks to you, they also impact the environment through air and water pollution.

The concept of "commercial food" really gets at the heart of the differential identified by Scott Nearing. Nearing made a clear distinction between "use production" and "market production". Use production is when you produce something (in this case, food) for your own household's use. Market production, obviously, is producing for sale on the open market. Nearing argued, and I agree, the "use production" was, in the Big Picture, the most efficient and effective economic model.

By growing and preserving your own food, for example, you’ll save money. Food grown from seed costs a lot less than store-bought. By preserving your harvest you can reduce the amount of food you throw away due to spoilage. There is no packaging. There are no middle managers. In addition, you can save the seeds from the fruits of your plants and replant them next year. By following these practices you could feed yourself indefinitely.

Food that you grow yourself just tastes better. Food in markets, even health food stores, is often in cold storage for up to a month before being sold. Fresh food is more nutritious and has better flavor than the stuff that comes from the store.

I grow my own food. I "get my groceries off the ground". When I walk through my garden and cut fresh greens for salad--and eat them no more than an hour later--the benefits of Nearing's "use economy" are evident. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that I can buy at a market (even a Farmer's Market) comes close to the level of quality that I can produce right outside my window.

It's my vision that more and more people will wave goodbye to "commercial food" and replace it with a "use economy" model. If Uncle Sam won't tell us to GARDEN anymore, we'll just do it ourselves!