I’m not a religious person, but several of my close friends and relatives are. So from time to time, I have the occasion to witness, or even to say Grace before an evening meal. In most cases, this has been a general "give thanks to the lord", but in some circles it has involved a heartfelt thank you to the people who made the meal possible -to the cook, the farmers and to the truckies who brought us the food. And of course to nature for her endless abundance. It is an opportunity to appreciate where our food really comes from.
But what would Grace look like if we really did appreciate all of the hands that played a part in creating our evening meal? Maybe something like this?
We give thanks to Mum for cooking, and the farmers for growing the food. We give thanks to the supermarket for setting up the distribution and retail system. We give thanks to the checkout chicks. We give thanks to the truckies for doing all that driving. We give thanks to Cargill for setting up the grain handling systems and the crushing mills. And the contract haulers and harvesters for getting the grain from the farms into the silos. We give thanks to the banks for lending farmers the money so that they could buy equipment and finance planting. We give thanks to the insurance brokers for providing crop insurance. We give thanks to the seed merchants for selling the seed.
And the research labs and seed companies for developing the seed varieties. Oh, and of course, We give thanks to the hundreds of generations of subsistence farmers who developed the crops in the first place. We give thanks to the chemical companies for designing the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. We give thanks to the petroleum industry for providing the raw materials for the chemicals, and for providing fuel for transportation.
We give thanks to the agricultural engineers for designing the equipment that has helped to mechanise farms. We give thanks to the agronomists for helping farmers to understand the complexities of new chemicals and seed varieties. We give thanks to neighbours for not complaining too much about spray drift. We give thanks to the waterways for quietly accepting all of the nutrient and chemical run off. We give thanks to the atmosphere for dealing with all of the CO2 emmissions from the petrochemical use.
We give thanks to the frogs for being OK about being born with 5 legs because of Atrazine run off into their habitat. We give thanks to the parents of children with leukemia in agricultural areas for not causing riots. We give thanks to rural communities for being willing to die slow and silent deaths as farmers gradually sell up, and businesses close down. We give thanks to future generations for subsiding the cost of our food so that we can continue to ship food all over the world in one of the most irrational and wasteful systems ever devised – without paying any of the environmental costs.
I could go on, but have stop at this point because half of the table is asleep – face down in their soup. Bored or depressed into submission.
Maybe we can come up with something shorter?
Monsanto are giving it their best shot. So are ADM (Archer Daniels Midlands), Cargill, ConAgra and a few other agribusiness giants. In their vertically integrated vision of food, we’ll just be able to rattle off a quick "We give thanks to Monsanto for providing the seed, the chemicals, the agronomists and for funding the research institutions. We thank Hastings Deering for the fully automated, driverless tractors and farm machinery. We thank ADM and Cargill for owning the entire distribution system. We give thanks to Kraft for processing and to Woolworths for delivering it to our door. Thanks to Miele for the microwave oven. Oh, and a quick thanks for future generations for you know what."
There that was better. Only half as long at the most. At least most people are still awake.
But an increasing number of us are trying to shorten grace in a different way. In a way that takes out the bits about future generations paying the price, and puts people back into the story. There are lots of options, but it goes something like this:
We give thanks to nature for the incredible gift of food that grows on trees. We give thanks to the seed savers for protecting our common heritage. We give thanks to our garden for providing what it can. We give thanks to the Ernst and Gertie and the other farmers in the district for growing our food. We give thanks to the producers co-op. We give thanks to the farmers union. We give thanks to the food buying group. We give thanks to Kristen for picking up our veggies this week. We give thanks to the farmers market and the community supported agriculture scheme.
You see, there is another vision of food that is growing around the world. It is about people knowing where their food comes from. It is about locally produced food. It is about food grown without artificial chemicals. It is about an end to monocultures. It is about food grown in harmony with nature, rather than an industrial food system that treats nature as an obstacle to be overcome.
Something urgently needs to change about the way that we do food. In the affluent countries of Europe, North America and Australia, the shift is being led by consumers who are demanding to know where their food comes from, and who are demanding that it meet high environmental, health and ethical standards.
In the majority world of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the shift is being led by producers who are standing up to the structural adjustment packages of the World Bank and the IMF. They are demanding that food be grown to feed local people rather than for export cash crops. They are demanding the biotech companies be disallowed from patenting seeds and traditional knowledge. They are demanding that their future be determined by them, not by agribusiness corporations.
So, next time you sit down for your evening meal, think about what kind of Grace you need to say if you are really being honest and grateful for your food. And then imagine what kind of Grace you might like to say instead?and then join the millions of other people around the world in making it so.
By definition, this change will not be led by experts, corporations or politicians. It will be led by individual people like you – people like your mum, your brother, your sister, your neighbour, Like all exciting journeys, reclaiming our food culture and shortening Grace starts with the first step.
John HepburnGenetic Engineering CampaignerGreenpeace International / Greenpeace Australia Pacific Ph +61 2 9263 0302 Mob +61 407 231 172