This reading was really eye-opening to how complex and often malicious the food industry can be. In historic preservation, we talk about how the most eco-friendly building is the one that is already built, and it was interesting to read how this extends to farming and “climate-stupid agriculture.” To the chagrin of agribusinesses as the author described, the best way to farm is the traditional way: smart techniques, working slowly over time, with minimal reliance on western tools like chemicals and fertilizer. Of course, this makes big businesses less money, so we have conflict with devastating results. The high-input, low-output model big businesses push hurts both farmers and the people they are trying to feed in developing countries. I hadn’t thought of the huge network that surrounds farmers, and was disheartened to read about how they are pinched between agribusiness and retailers, ultimately taking the most losses.
It was also grim to read about how the “white savior” mentality is alive and well in the food industry. The author addresses the myth that “we,” meaning privileged Americans, can save “the rest” of the world from hunger and poverty. Throwing money at the problem never solves it, and the author writes about the Gates Foundation using economic power over desperate African governments without providing real solutions to structural problems: just leading to reliance on synthetics, fertilizers, and GM seeds. The author also addressed how the opposite scenario has its flaws. The bottom-up subsidies tried in Malawi seemed to work for a time, but ultimately led to more hunger and poverty. When governments subsidized Monsanto seeds and fertilizers, local farmers suffered lower yields over time, less nutrition, and poorer stability. It also gave Monsanto the power to shelve effective seeds like MH18 so that farmers would have to buy more and more less effective alternatives. A return to traditional farming and a cooperative model helped diversify crops, improve nutrition, and improve soil health, but these are often unprofitable at market. For example, orange maize sounded like a great solution to not just these issues in addition to drought tolerance, but white maize still had to be grown and sold so farmers could make money.
The author went deeper into this self-cyclical, incredibly damaging system of monetization in his chapter on Monsanto in Mexico. Maize is crucial to the Mexican diet, especially to vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children. The author writes that Mexico has the greatest variety of Maize in the world. When Adelita San Vicente, lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against Monsanto’s efforts to privatize transgenic maize, said that this great diversity is “a gift from Mesoamerica, which they are trying to privatize with patented GM seeds” I thought of Dr. Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine. The greatest gifts to human life ought to be free, but this simply doesn’t work under a capitalist system. Monsanto wanted to privatize its maize and sue for any cross contaminated maize in the country. Their argument, when the author visited, was essentially that it was too late and they might as well move forward since they had polluted the system already. Their argument that this would be a good thing, that they were ensuring “food sovereignty” for the Mexican people was eloquently dispelled later. “Monsanto is the threat to food sovereignty,” using economic and political power to limit how the Mexican people feed themselves.