Food or Foe?
Food has been at the center of every human culture around the world since the start of time. It is in human nature to hunt for food and be social, with food being a staple in social interactions. Over time food became easier and easier to obtain and has changed from being all-natural and local, to genetically engineered and traveling around the world to reach your plate.
Genetically modified organisms are organisms whose DNA has been taken and placed into an unrelated organism, creating a knock-off sort of the original organism. Monsanto is a company created in 1901 and recently bought by Bayer in 2018. They are an agrochemical company specializing in genetically modified seeds such as corn and soy. However, this company has stirred up quite a reputation, being voted the evilest company in the world. Monsanto is known to be a threat to native and organic crops, as well as their chemical roundup is found to be extremely toxic to crops, people, and animals. It is so toxic in fact, that after cows die from consuming Monsanto products, their dead bodies are fed to other living cows. Their roundup is known to spread fusarium head blight throughout wheat crops, currently outraging Canadians struggling with wheat farming. As for people, Monsanto leaves small local farmers producing homegrown and/or organic food without jobs and putting whole farms out of business. If that is not enough to cause outrage, then consider the fact that Monsanto is responsible for creating Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam war to kill thousands, and permanently disable thousands more, even children of those affected were born sick with extreme defects. Monsanto even openly admits to its participation in the war. “More than 40 years ago, Agent Orange was one of 15 herbicides used by the U.S. military as a defoliant in the Vietnam War” (Monsanto.com) And now, the same company that created a chemical used for biological warfare is making the seeds we grow our food with through the use of pesticides. And after a 2015 lawsuit awarded a man $289 million for not disclosing that one of the chemicals in their pesticide was announced to be a known carcinogen for humans, not only were the lawsuits coming from places like Vietnam, they began to pour in from the US public as well.
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The Monsanto monopoly also requires that farmers who purchase and plant Monsanto agree to not save any seeds produced by the yield. This is not seen as fair or sensible and there have been more than a few cases that ended in lawsuits, with a percentage ever proceeding to trial. The fact that a company is trying to exert ownership over a product that is not exactly their own, and historically has been freely and widely available throughout history. Big corporations were exerting their power over small business owners. These suits were meant to return the power into the hands of the farmers. These suits also originated from word-of-mouth allegations. “When one farmer sees another farmer saving patented seed, they will often report them.” (Monsanto.com) Due to this power, these companies (Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta) have, they own 53 percent of the global seed market, and within the United States 97 percent of soybeans and 86 percent of corn crops were genetically modified. With this, they successfully control most of the food production.
Thankfully organic food is still available and required to be labeled in compliance with regulations, similar to GMO labels. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is in charge of defining what is organic and what is not. “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic.” (USDA.gov) This food must also not be genetically modified and produced without ionizing radiation or sewage sludge. A regulatory agency that controls food in this country is the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) which are respin possible for keeping track of how food is produced, whom it is produced by, and what gets labeled organic or GMO. They have recently even implemented required labeling for single-ingredient raw meat to provide better information about what the meat contains to customers.
There is also the third division of food labeled as ‘heirloom foods’. Those foods are crosses of two old-time varieties that produce heirlooms, are passed down through generations of families, and are openly pollinated. These foods were once banned due to threats of agri-terrorism and supposed classification under the 2004 Seed Act. Yet a court decided that places such as seed lending libraries and places of a similar sort were not under the Seed Act and reversed the ban on heirloom foods. These food are gaining popularity because they are not genetically modified, and once seeds are lent out they can be planted and offspring seeds are returned. They are also the best foods for food genetics as a whole. “Heirloom” or “heritage” plants and livestock breeds are important to maintaining food resilience” (sustainableamerica.org) These food are sold differently than genetically modified foods. On the contrary the way, corporations deal with seeding because the libraries do not require and signing of long-term contracts and are not controlled over the crop yield. These foods are growing as they were created by nature and produce food that is processed better by the human body.
Heirloom foods are making a comeback, and there is no greater mission to support them than this. Monsanto and partner companies are a threat to agriculture, a threat to all living animals and beings, as well as humans. Heirloom foods also bring diversity to the plants themselves. “A vibrant, diverse plant world is necessary for our survival” (sustainableamerica.org) Our bodies were meant to eat food created on this earth and not in a laboratory, nor does natural food interfere with nature and harm animals that consume it. And for plants to be able to survive a possible outbreak of disease they must have genetic diversity, which heirloom foods help to achieve. And even on an economic spectrum, huge corporations should not be in control of almost all of the food consumed in the United States and across the world. Food should belong to nature, and once human greed and profit begin to get involved in our food, people and public health will suffer in the long run.
There are many popular food companies in the United States. A household name most commonly known for cheese is Kraft Foods Inc (not to be confused with Kraft Foods or Kraft Heinz). Kraft Foods Inc was born on December 10th, 1923 by Thomas H. McInnerney in Chicago Illinois and remained functioning until October 1st, 2012, when through a merger Kraft Foods was born. They originally began in the ice cream business and through the acquisition of dairy products became the largest dairy company in the world, exceeding Borden. Through the years until their end, they managed to market many brands such as Oreo, Oscar Mayer, and Maxwell House all over the world, with over forty brands being at least a century old and can be found on their website (kraftheinzcompany.com).
Two of the most popular products that are sold by Kraft are Capri Sun (in North America, in certain European countries Capri Sun is distributed by Coca-Cola) best known for their juice, and Velveeta which produces processed ‘cheese’ products. Capri Sun has a wide selection of well-known drinks under their names such as Roarin’ Waters, Standard pouches, sports pouches, Super-V, and more. Found on their website (parents.caprisun.com) Each drink has a variety of flavors including apple, fruit punch, strawberry kiwi, and lemonade. Capri Sun even offers products that are certified Kosher by the OK Kosher Certification. The target audience for juice ranges from any American child and ends to even the elderly, and expanding their audience to include people of the Jewish faith with Kosher drinks. Millions of American children pack a Capri Sun to school every day and love to enjoy snacks such as macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese after school, made using the Velveeta cheese. Everyone young and old enjoys a cup of juice.
As for the cheese, the target audience is just about any person in America without a lactose allergy. Velveeta was under fire in 2002 when they were issued a letter by the Food and Drug Administration concerning the labeling of their cheese as ‘Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread’ which the FDA did not agree with due to the use of milk protein. It was seen in the US District Court Southern District of Florida document that Velveeta was sued “because of the association of Velveeta with cheese”. (ftc.gov) They have since changed their label to state ‘Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product’ and allow for the fact that there may or may not be milk protein present. It is also said that in the 1980s Velveeta was using real cheese in the making of their product, which is no longer the case during this century. It is not even necessary to store the product after opening in the refrigerator since it is made from oil and powdered cheese, and has been proven to be safe for consumption well past the expiration date due to the number of preservatives added.
Not everyone agrees with fast food and the chemically made food that is in trend now. The Slow Food movement is exactly the opposite, they are an organization that promotes local food and traditional cooking. Slow Food was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 and was done by the people to protest the opening of a Mcdonald’s nearby the Spanish Steps in Rome (slowfoodusa.org). They did not want fast food coming into their culture and bringing with it an unnatural and unhealthy food. In 1989 Slow Food became international when a manifesto was signed between fifteen countries in France. The goal of this movement is to promote local farming and preserve traditional food production and preparation techniques, educate consumers about the risks of fast food as well as the drawbacks of factory farming and commercial agriculture, helping to save family farming by creating political programs to do so, and lobby against the use of pesticides and genetic engineering in food and farming.
At the center of the Slow Food, movement is the concept of conviviality. This means that we must take pleasure in the process of cooking, eating, and even sharing food with others (slowfoodusa.org). This is the reason that each chapter of their movement has a leader who has the job to promote local farmers at local events and markets to provide the public with organic and homegrown food options. Not only does this allow people to have access to healthy food, but it also allows the local farmers to make money growing food and make it slightly easier to compete with the commercial food market. Taking the time to enjoy the food that is made and to eat it with people is the first step to bringing back the flavors of traditional cooking that are hearty and healthy, and breaking free of the chains of the fast pace of the modern world as well as banishing the negative effects of fast food on health, and society.
Since the founding of Slow Food in the twentieth century, the movement has grown worldwide, having over 150,000 members across 150 countries like the United States, Germany, and of course Italy. Only in the United States, there are over 170 chapters of the movement with about 2,000 food communities alongside. Every state in the US has at least one chapter, with one right in the heart of New York City. Even in places such as NYC, the Slow Food movement can have an Urban garden! This movement is also responsible for bringing together over 250,000 visitors every two years for the Terra Madre (meaning Mother Earth) world meeting of food communities conducted in Italy.
In 2014 the Governor Cuomo of New York held a summit in New York City introducing the Farm to Institution NYS which connected local farms around the state to institutions. This initiative came to light because New Yorkers were making an effort to eat cleaner in their homes and demanded that foodservice providers did the same. The goal of this initiative was to provide state institutions such as schools, hospitals, and colleges with more local fresh food. State organizations like Taste NY which was funded by Cuomo in 2013. Taste NY is working to connect the 36,000 farms and 400 breweries in the state to the people of the state and visitors alike. Their website (taste.ny.gov) is available through the New York State website and shows people many places to visit and tour. People are encouraged to try locally farmed food and ciders produced by the farmers. They also work to place these organic products into stores in various locations to ensure more and more people are exposed to this option of food and encourage children to pick up healthy eating habits early in their lives.
Another program funded by Cuomo is Fresh Connect which provides checks for farmers’ markets that they can redeem for fresh food to people with SNAP and veterans as well as their families. This program not only allows for people with limited access to supermarkets to enjoy fresh local food, but it also gives the same opportunity to people in places that are fostering economic development. Their website (freshconnect.ny.gov) allows visitors to find all of the local Fresh Connect locations nearby. Since the programs start in 2014 by 2017 they had doubled in size, with over 200 locations statewide. Grow NYC goes hand in hand with Fresh Connect by providing people with local greenmarkets, youth markets, and fresh food boxes. They also provide education to children and adults about farming and the impacts all food choices have on their bodies. Not only do they provide information on healthy eating, but they also include recycling, gardening, and even noise awareness. Their goal is to increase the quality of life for people in NYC by providing programs to create a healthy and clean city for future habitats.
All of these initiatives play into the Slow Food movement because they are taking the fast pace of life in New York and making it easier to make healthy and environmentally friendly choices. From FINYS bringing people food and drinks from around the state, to Fresh Connect making healthy food available for people in the city to prepare at home themselves, and Grow NYC for educating people about the environment and teaching everyone about places where to get the best quality food, and even how to grow it. The Slow Food movement had a goal, for people to stop and think about the choices they make when it comes to food, and now it is easier than ever to find good earth-grown food, that can be prepared classically shared with family and friends.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to good food or the proper quantity of it. Food insecurity is when people are not able to have reliable access to enough food that is nutritious, affordable, and a good quantity of it. More than 800 million people struggle with hunger every single day and do not have the food security they need. To remedy this there have been places opened that stock food and non-perishable items and provide them to people in need. There are three local food banks in New York, one in the Bronx, another in Jamaica, Queens, and the last in Little Neck, Long Island. This is an idea that stemmed from long ago when people in Egypt and such civilizations used to store food in case of famine. These usually belong in places called food deserts. These are urban places where residents have difficulty purchasing affordable and nutritious food. New York used to be a food desert until Cuomo brought the initiative to change the way New York eats.
To remedy the food insecurity problem there is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). SNAP is a government-funded program that gives food to those with limited income to buy food. Once an applicant applies they can receive their benefits within 30 days if they are eligible. There is also an option to apply for emergency benefits and receive them within a few days once approved. There are about 44 million people who participate in SNAP and a shocking 20 million are children under the age of 18, making up 45 percent of the group. Benefits vary based on income, household size, and several dependents. With these benefits, participants can purchase most food items, excluding alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, nonfood items like paper towels, soap, household supplies, vitamins, food eaten inside the store, or hot food. There are also multiple ways to apply such as online applications at (1.nyc.gov), and paper versions in offices.
One final program that makes acquiring food easier for those in need is a program called Single Stop USA. They have partnered with colleges such as CUNY LaGuardia Community College to help students get the state and federal financial help that is available to ensure students can overcome financial troubles, and graduate school. Found on the school website (laguardia.edu) they provide help with daily expenses such as food, travel costs, medical care, child care, and even legal counsel and tax assistance. All of the theses are free for the students and their families making this accessible for everyone. Everything is confidential and free of cost, making this program a lifesaver for students in difficult situations. This relates to food security because Single Stop USA can help a person get SNAP benefits, access to a food pantry, and may provide money for food as well. They also have hunger and homelessness help with access to emergency food, shelter living, and places like the salvation army.
Food is at the center of every human’s life. Some can take that for granted and enjoy food without much thought. Unfortunately, others are not as fortunate, and in a world, like today, it is hard to bet sure the food we do consume is of good quality and nutritious. As a species, we must put more thought into what we put into our mouths and our bodies, and take the time out of a fast-paced life to enjoy a meal with another. Food is survival, it is social, and it should come from the earth, not through the lens of a microscope. It is time to stop and think about the thing we notice least.