Industrial Harvest

GMO wheat by sarah kavage

One of the questions I get asked about the most when I talk about this project is whether the wheat I’m about to buy (more on all of that very soon) will be GMO.  So far, I’ve been able to confidently say no – Monsanto was persuing GMO wheat a few years back, but stopped after widespread concern from farmers and others about the impacts of GMO crops.  Plus, the wheat gene is hexaploid, a more complex genetic structure than is found in corn or soy, which apparently makes developing a GMO wheat crop a little more complicated. 

So, I was a little startled and had a small moment of panic when my dad sent me this article this morning:
Bottom line is that GMO wheat is still a few years out, but Monsanto re-started their GMO wheat efforts last year and several other ag / chemical companies (Dow, Syngenta, DuPont, Limagrain) are researching it as well; its release is seen as “inevitable.”


Mapping the Food System by sarah kavage
February 15, 2010, 11:15 pm
Filed under: big ag, Food Geography & Culture | Tags: , , ,

Y’all know that I love maps, right?  I have a professional obligation to be interested in “spatial data”, sure – but they’re also such an attractive way to present information. 

Well, the USDA has just launched this nifty interactive Food Environment Atlas.  You, your computer and your internet connection can explore the geography of spending on food, food prices, food taxes, poverty and grocery store access, etc. across the US.  There are even a number of data layers related to local food production, looking at things like number of farms that sell directly to consumers, farmers markets and acreage devoted to vegetable farming. 

If you don’t want to mess around with creating the maps yourself, Nicola Twilley at Edible Geography has created a lovely sampling here

Like any other means of communication or displaying information, maps are just as frequently used to deceive and conceal as they are to enlighten – and the prettier the map, the more likely people will be to be seduced into taking it at face value.  It’s important to think about maps as skeptically and critically as you might a newspaper or Wikipedia article (we all do that, right?) – what is missing is just as important as what is there.  Although it’s a legitimately useful product, the Atlas also contains no data on acres of farmland that are devoted to industrially produced crops like wheat, corn & soybeans.  Acres of land farmed organically is also left out.  USDA keeps statistics on both, and both relate to our environment, our health and our food system.  Nor is there anything on meat production (slaughterhouses), which is fraught with environmental health negatives, especially now that it’s been concentrated and consolidated to an extreme degree.  Although I can understand why these topics would be neglected at the USDA,  there is nothing in the Atlas that might justify an argument that “corporate ag” might not be the best model of food production for our health, social justice and our environment – and indeed is likely at the root of many of the problems the Atlas seeks to address.

T’s Dream by sarah kavage

I’m back in Seattle, back to juggling dayjob and art, back to drizzle and not knowing when to wake up because you can’t tell when it’s actually daylight…

In other words, I’m trying to maintain all the momentum from back in December and it’s been a little bit of a struggle.  Fortunately, my husband and I watched Food, Inc. last night which fueled my determination to keep at it.  If you haven’t seen this documentary it’s not what I’d call a fun movie, but there are plenty of inspiring parts and it’s basically your duty as a citizen to watch it.  If it doesn’t change the way you eat, nothing will. 

At the beginning of December, my friend T sent me this email after I told her about this project.  Her comment:  “Interesting dream as it was so much a succinct picture of reality.”  Indeed, it poetically mirrors some of what Food, Inc. had to say quite nicely: 

“Your project brings to mind a dream I had in September. In the dream I was looking to buy a plot of land.  I found one nearby to a gas station with ‘Genetic’ on the sign.  As I was planning out my garden spots in my minds eye, I was taken to the land just up over the hill then rolled along a conveyor belt and shown the industrial agricultural mechanism taking place all around me.  Men in suits spraying golden fields of wheat as far as the eye could see, wheat being dumped into a machine and coming out as cheerios that got dumped into big trucks; sweaty red necked men, scrawny men with clipboards.  There was more to the dream, including me having a birds’ eye view of a farmer’s family fighting their insurance company for medical care.”

Some of the scenes in Food, Inc are nearly as surreal; the one difference is that farmers were fighting Tysons and Monsanto rather than the health insurance company.  When you’re a farmer and you’re $400,000 deep in legal fees due to harrassing lawsuits from THE MAN you better hope you don’t get sick, cuz you sure don’t have health insurance.  The one thing that came through loud and clear in this movie is that these corporations are literally out to torment and humiliate all who stand in their way of complete market domination and relentless pursuit of profit.  Animals, workers and small farmers alike. 

The one great thing about all this is that we can affect changes in this system every time we sit down to dinner.  Remember that.  Where you shop and what you buy matters a lot.