Sunday, January 27, 2013


Reclaiming our imaginations (and land) from GMO/chemical companies

January 20, 2013 12:15 am  • 
Something big happened Thursday night at the War Memorial Convention Hall when Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell and Uncle Walter Ritte came to speak. I’ve never seen a no-more parking turnout for a political event on Kaua‘i — there were even more people than came to defend the island when former Gov. Linda Lingle tried to tell us that the Superferry was a “done deal.” So before I say anything more, huge mahalo to everybody who was involved in organizing.
Many critical topics were brought up by the highly informed and inspirational speakers: on consolidation of power and control in the food system; on the use of patents to privatize our common genetic heritage (and the piracy of genetic knowledge from farming communities around the world); on the fact that GMOs are “failing to yield” in every respect, and especially on their promise of feeding the world; on the dramatic increase in pesticide use that accompanies GMO technologies; on the grand experiment on our health that GMO companies are in the midst of; and on the many victories of our resistance to all of this crazy business. The talks Thursday night were about much more than GMO technologies; after all, it is no longer just GMOs that are being patented — Monsanto and Syngenta both now “own” breeds of conventionally bred melons, and there are thousands of similar patent applications awaiting approval. The evening was about the direction of a food system that is structured by one over-arching rule: to make and take profit at any expense.
But perhaps the most important point made by all of the speakers in their own ways was that things could be different, and very different at that. Vandana Shiva reminded us that the things we now consider normal — the colonial legacy of private property and concentrated land ownership, the ability of corporations to own and control life, and a capitalist logic that privileges the “laws of the market” over the natural laws of the biosphere — have not always been so. That these are in fact very recent historical constructs, and that our future need not be shaped in the same form.
The enclosure of our commons — our common resources, genes and even intellect — has been accompanied by an enclosure of our imaginations. The monocrops in our land reflect monocrops in our minds. We need to reclaim, re-imagine and redefine possibility from those who would like us to believe that “There is no alternative” (in Margaret Thatcher’s infamous words). In fact, it IS possible that a billion people do not go hungry on a planet that already produces enough food for at least 10 billion. It IS possible that agriculture contribute to solving the climate crisis rather than being its number one cause. It IS possible that we don’t force workers to choose between spraying pesticides that poison their children or putting food on the table to feed their children. And it IS possible to stop importing all of our food from the corporate food system and to start growing our own.
For the sake of our humanity and the future of human life on this planet, we must start questioning the unquestionable. Is the logic of capitalism — which would have us subordinate all aspects of life to the market — really the best or only way to organize our food (or really any other) system? Can we not imagine a food system, and indeed a society, structured around equality, cooperation and sharing, rather than one structured around incredible inequality, competition and hoarding?
Changing our food system is going to take collective political action that goes far beyond “voting with dollars.” Simply buying organic, fair-trade or even local will do very little to address the basic political economic structures that underlie the destructive global food system. Consumerism doesn’t challenge corporate power, just re-orients it toward new niche markets (check out who owns organics these days). It doesn’t address the trade and subsidy policies that create inequality and hunger, or the theft of our common genetic wealth, or the massive wave of farmland grabs happening around the world. While it may be an attempt to opt-out of supporting that food system, our vote of no confidence doesn’t actually change the system.
We need massive, sustained political action that is rooted in strong global solidarities.
Collective action for a collective world. To take just one example, the task of developing a vibrant local food system: we cannot, and should not try, to compete with a global capitalist food system that drives down prices at the cost of the environment, workers, and the health of all people. Instead, we need to connect and work with regions everywhere to change international, national and local policies to dis-invest from corporate agriculture in re-invest in agriculture that nourishes people and the land. This ultimately also means re-structuring an economic system that trends toward consolidation and concentration of power and wealth.
In short, we cannot simply “eat our way to a better world.” Building the better world we want is going to take a diversity of tactics, from legal action and labeling laws to direct action and an outright ban on using our ‘aina as a testing lab for GMOs. Thursday night was inspiring and truly awesome, but what matters is what we do next. Vandana Shiva made a very important concluding point — she is coming back to Kaua‘i not when we eat more organic or pass resolutions to label GMOs (perhaps important steps), but when we kick the GMO/chemical companies off the island. Plantation days are over — it’s time for big agribusiness to go. Hawai‘i, and the world, has much, much better options.
• Andrea Brower is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Auckland, studying the sociology of food, agriculture and social movements. She is a Kapa‘a High, Middle and Elementary school graduate.

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