Have you seen pictures of Los Angeles since the coronavirus forced us all to stay at home? The air sparkles, mountains rise clearly in the distance.
Even the residents of Northern India are getting their first sight of the Himalayas in over a generation.
The factories are closed, the highways empty, the skies all but free from planes. This virus has made us stop, but has it made us think?
What is normal, and should we try to return to the old ways of doing business?
For the past fifty years, we have chugged and spewed noxious chemicals into our air, oceans, soils, and water.
We have commoditized our food system, making it virtually impossible to feed ourselves without the help of corporations.
Rural citizens live in areas that grow a sea of crops and animals, yet there is nary a thing to eat. The products they grow are sent far afield to be processed and packaged and trucked back to their neat little markets.
Urban dwellers are surrounded by a sea of concrete and smog. No food to be found outside a house of golden arches or a Colonel’s fried palace.
The commodification of food and our reliance on cheap food now threatens our food security.
Farmers across the country are letting food rot in the field because they can’t find buyers or simply can’t process it in time. Local food banks are scrambling to provide food to many of the newly unemployed.
Smithfield Foods closed its huge pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, Dakota, “until further notice” because the plant was linked to 38% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
Smithfield represents 6% of the nation’s pork production. Farm economists estimate that hog farmers will lose nearly $37 per pig, adding up to about $5 billion for the rest of 2020.
The Delaware chicken company, Allen Harim, told their poultry farmers to begin killing chickens in the field because they don’t have the workforce to process them. The coronavirus pandemic has reduced its workforce by over 50%.
As processing plants close, producers are left with very few options to market their commodities. The impacts are huge, and the ramifications will be long-lasting.
But should food really be considered a commodity? How is a living thing, like a chicken or pig, a commodity? What if many smaller local plants were employing local people that could be accessed by these farmers?
Is the coronavirus suggesting that if we were to look at food differently, it would strengthen our food security and provide better returns to our farmers?
First, reconsider our penchant for cheap food. The food system strives only for efficiencies and hides the real costs of production.
My good friend Bob Quinn is an organic, regenerative farmer & founder of Kamut, Int. He believes, “the hidden costs that we continue to pay long after we leave the grocery store are far more damaging and expensive. They wreak havoc to our bodies, to the planet, and to the economic viability of our rural communities.”
His image below pretty much sums it up.
The tip of the iceberg is what we pay at the register – it is what we don’t see below the water that puts our ship in danger—it’s the cruise ship we’ve all been brought up to believe was the love ship of food. Its about to slam into the hidden costs of the cheap, abundant food we have grown use to the in the supermarkets.
All the hidden costs hidden below are what you don’t see at the register. These are paid by someone else or by you and your children at a later date.
The chickens have come home to roost: consolidation and our drive for cheap food are not working anymore. This has become increasingly clear during this corona-crisis.
This is indeed a time of extreme change, and it has the opportunity to teach us many things.
I do not believe we should return to what was once normal. I do think some good can come from this change. But it will require great courage and fortitude.
If we retain our rights and the sovereignty of our democracy—which is in question at this moment—we can do things differently.
The warming climate, social justice, political and religious freedom, protection of Mother Earth, the sovereignty of women’s bodies, and the way we manage our food supply—all may once again come into focus.
To truly revitalize our world, we need to change how we cook, build, farm, travel, consume, and produce.
I am heartened that the demand for local organic food is exploding now. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) are becoming the safest way to obtain nutritious organic food—and support local farmers.
Before the crisis, over 50% of the food dollars were spent outside the home. Now we are cooking at home, we’re baking and pickling. Families are eating together again.
Perhaps we won’t go back to our old habits but will embrace some of the new.
I have a feeling the virus is urging it to be so. Will we listen?