Friday, September 02, 2005

Roundup, ready

"Roundup, ready" is an occasional feature of Bitter Greens Journal. Named in honor of Monsanto's famed line of seeds genetically engineered to withstand its herbicide Roundup, this feature will give a brief overview of recent news, trends, and topics in the food-politics world. Each of them is a candidate for expansion in the days and weeks to come.

Dust-up with Monsanto
Bitter Greens Journal bows humbly before the outpouring of support it has gotten since receiving that absurd and distressing e-mail from Monsanto's trademark bounty hunter.

There's a slave morality ingrained in this culture that makes people shuffle along meekly when a corporate flack armed with a law degree starts barking orders. Refusing requires little real courage, in the grand scope of things, and is actually quite fun. Let's all pledge to do more of it.

On a practical note, it would certainly be awful to be sued by Monsanto. Although a certified letter has not arrived at my doorstep, and my friend the lawyer has yet to reply to my blunt letter of a few days ago, legal action remains a possibility. As this supurb report by the Center for Food safety shows, Monsanto rather takes pride in suing and bankrupting farmers.

So I very much appreciate all of the efforts to get the word out. The best defense against a dark beast like Monsanto is a bright blast of sun. And that's precisely what all of your comments and blog links have been.

Politics and disaster
"Don't you dare politicize a human tragedy."

Words to that effect arrived in my e-mail box this morning amid a heated list-serve debate about the unfolding calamity in New Orleans. It's conventional claptrap. Every disaster, no matter how "natural," has a political and social history. Politely disregarding it dishonors the victims and allows the perpetrators and profiteers to skulk off scott-free.

Mike Davis' fiercely argued and devastating "Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World" (2001) makes this point with unsparing force. The book documents how the European empires, along with the United States and Japan, used three major droughts in the late 19th century to consolidate their economic grip on what would become the Third World.

What turned drought into famine? According to Davis, in British-controlled India during the drought of 1876:
The newly constructed railroads, lauded as institutional safeguards against famine, were instead used by merchants to ship grain inventories from outlying drought-stricken districts to central depots for hoarding (as well as protection from rioters). Likewise the telegraph ensured that price hikes were coordinated in a thousand towns at once, regardless of local supply trends. Moreover, British antipathy to price control invited anyone who had the money to join in the frenzy of grain speculation...As a result, food prices soared out of the reach of outcaste laborers, displaced weavers, sharecroppers, and poor peasants. 'The dearth,' [a contemporary British publication] pointed out, 'was one of money and labor and not food.'


Before British rule, famine had been rare on the subcontinent. During droughts, food moved from unaffected areas to stricken areas through informal networks. Davis claims that these networks crumbled under pressure from the "theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Bentham, and Mill."

Thus began the great game of "development" in the southern hemisphere, a project lately taken over by the IMF, the World Bank, and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Davis claims that at the time of the French Revolution, "the difference in living standards between a French [peasant] and a Deccan farmer were relatively insignificant compared to the gulf that separated both from their ruling classes." By the end of the 19th century, though, after as many as 50 million perished from famine in India, Africa, and South America, "the inequality of nations was as profound as the inequality of classes."

The New Orleans calamity needs a Mike Davis to parse its vicous race/class angle, the feeble response of a war-addled administration, and the ruinous reign of developers in Louisiana politics.

Roundup(R) the usual suspects
What do you get when Monsanto and the Farm Bureau (whose sorry politics are discussed
here) teams up with the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board, the U.S. Grains Council, and the National Cotton Council (discussed here)?

If your answer is vast-scale, heavily subsidized, and environmentally ruinous agriculture, you have a point. But I was thinking of a different response: television that promises to be so bad that it might qualify as camp.

The above-mentioned crew have pooled funds to create a public-television series called "America's Heartland." According to its Web site, the show is:

[A] new weekly public television series...which will celebrate our nation’s agriculture. Profiling the people, places, and processes of agriculture, the series will tap into—and strengthen—the ties that bind us all together: the love of our land and the respect for the people who live on and from it, a national fascination with food, curiosity about unfamiliar places and ways of life, and the bedrock American values of family, hard work and the spirit of independence.


In other words, rather than focus on the wretchedly depressed conditions reigning in most rural areas and a dismal food system that has made the U.S. the fattest nation on earth--or on alternatives such as the budding local-food movement--the series will paint a portrait of noble, stoic family farmers cranking out "miraculous" amounts of commodities so that "American consumers [can] spend less to feed themselves than any other country in the world."

Is it crude of me to point out that this is just the sort of nonsense that issued forth from both Soviet and Nazi propaganda mills?

24 Comments:

Anonymous beev said...

Thankyou, Tom, for another inspiring post!

9/02/2005 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger violet said...

i am so thrilled to have found your blog. this is the entire reason i became interested in food. because i was first interested in politics. my main goals in wanting to become a chef are to support local farmers, use organic and seasonal produce and educate the world through their palates. this is a simple way to make revolutionary actions. cheers for disturbing monsanto enough to make them pen an email to you.

9/02/2005 11:57:00 PM  
Anonymous k. said...

why do you think they felt a need for such a program in the first place?

9/05/2005 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Nadir said...

Congratulations on your hate mail from Monsanto! You've officially become "a force to be reckoned with"! Keep up the good work!

9/05/2005 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous catherine said...

Tom,

Well, I'm certainly glad you've learned the truth from Monsanto, which is "Corporations run it, and we will crush you like a bug."

Seriously, good on ya, as they say in Australia. Take care of yourself. I learned about your blog from Virgil and Laura at Cyberactivist. Catherine

9/10/2005 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

Excellent blog, excellent post, excellent response to the heinous abusers of our planet at Monsanto. I live in Iowa, home of many of the largest corporate farms in the world. I drink the water Monsanto pollutes and breathe the air they have turned into a fine mist of pesticide, so this is a personal issue for me as well.

Meanwhile family farmers get run off and ever more pigs and cows get crammed in little boxes.

I agree with Violet (that's the name of my 2-week old, by the way). Go vegetarian. Buy organic. Support local farms. Ride a bike. And don't take any crap from the criminals who profit from destroying everything.

Good luck, keep up the great work.

9/14/2005 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, didn't meant to be anonymous.

9/15/2005 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger City Hippy said...

Am regular reader of your site now and linked to your blog from ours.

Keep up the good work. If Monsanto come after you, which they so won't now, you will not be alone.

Strenght in numbers. Bet they kill the internet soon...it's really bad for business, evil corp business that is...hahahaha!

Namaste

City Hippy

9/19/2005 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Brad M. said...

More Bad News for Monsanto's Mad Scientists--Herbicide Resistant Pigweed

http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/pigweed092105.cf

9/21/2005 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Brad M. said...

Sorry 'bout me. Posting like a NOOB. I am also the anonymous one above.

More Bad News for Monsanto's Mad Scientists--Herbicide Resistant Pigweed

9/21/2005 06:10:00 PM  
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