That's a problem, our food system has gone global. Food is no longer food in the sense of "let's sit down to supper," food is an international commodity. It is viewed in strict economic terms both by the shopper looking for bargains at the supermarket and the stock traders who deal in pork bellies, unit trains of corn and cargo ships full of GM soy.
Commodities are fine in the financial world, but they have no place in our bellies. Wall Street couldn't care less how many varieties of corn are cultivated in Mexico or Guatemala or for how many thousands of years it provided both physical and spiritual sustenance.
The fact that we place little value on our food, or that it no longer gives us the sense of home and community that it once did, goes to the heart of the problem. We have lost control of our food system, as consumers and as farmers. So? Since we still have plenty of food and most of us can still afford it, the current rise in food prices is little more than an inconvenience. Well perhaps, if you have money.
We don't like to think about the nearly 50,000 people who, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, die every day world-wide from starvation or malnutrition-related diseases. Pictures of emaciated children make us very uncomfortable, but so long as we are not part of those pictures we can pretend the problem doesn't exist.
But, the problem does exist, people cannot afford to eat. The image of Haitians eating cakes made of oil, sugar and mud in an attempt to stave off hunger pangs has to tell us something is terribly wrong.
Food shortages, high prices, corn ethanol, drought, together creating the "perfect storm"? It's more than that, this food crisis points to a system in meltdown. In a world controlled by corporations, only one thing matters, profit, not ethics, not the environment, not food sovereignty, not even starvation. If you have money you matter, if you are poor you don't.
While the price of bread and rice forces the poor to eat mud, could a butter shortage in Japan or a shortage of rye flour in the US, however inconsequential, cause even the rich to ask some questions about their food? Who could pass up beef tenderloin selling for $4.99/lb? A bargain, yet, how can it happen, what's the hidden cost? Record high feed costs are forcing farmers to sell off their breeding stock, which means cheap tenderloin today and expensive burger tomorrow. We never question bargains, but we should.
Our apathy about our food, where it was grown, who grew it, what's been added to it, is an open invitation for corporate interests to take control. We handed them the keys to the pantry and told them to make their profits however they wished.
Fuel shortages and high energy prices do not surprise us, why should food shortages and high food prices? The parallels are precise and exact. When we allow corporations to control entire systems they determine the source, supply and price.
It's time we took control of our food system. Started producing more food locally, planted a garden again. Time we found the nearest Farmers Market. Time we started thinking about food in the big picture rather than whatever happens to be on our plate at the moment. Time we scrapped this corn ethanol nonsense. In sum, we need to reclaim our food system from the speculators, the corporations and the international financial institutions that pressure farmers to grow commodities instead of food.
And, what would it take for us to overcome our apathy towards food? No more pastrami on rye, no more butter? We seem oblivious to the 800 million people at risk of starvation, could a scarcity of our luxuries wake us up? We assume that the food we need and the food we love will always be available but, maybe it won't.
Jim Goodman is a farmer from Wonewoc WI and a Food and Society Policy Fellow