…aside from copious amounts of star wars, that is.
Colors of the Madison Farmer’s Market eScapes Photos on flickr
The dream that the age-old “food problem” had been largely solved for most Americans was sustained by the tremendous postwar increases in the productivity of American farmers, made possible by cheap fossil fuel (the key ingredient in both chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and changes in agricultural policies. Asked by President Nixon to try to drive down the cost of food after it had spiked in the early 1970s, Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz shifted the historical focus of federal farm policy from supporting prices for farmers to boosting yields of a small handful of commodity crops (corn and soy especially) at any cost.
The administration’s cheap food policy worked almost too well: crop prices fell, forcing farmers to produce still more simply to break even. This led to a deep depression in the farm belt in the 1980s followed by a brutal wave of consolidation. Most importantly, the price of food came down, or at least the price of the kinds of foods that could be made from corn and soy: processed foods and sweetened beverages and feedlot meat. (Prices for fresh produce have increased since the 1980s.) Washington had succeeded in eliminating food as a political issue—an objective dear to most governments at least since the time of the French Revolution.
I’ve become obsessed with food. I suppose that’s only natural when one is on a diet (er, healthy living, healthy choices blah blah blah). But rather than obsess about the foods I choose not to eat (a big ol hunk of cheddar and ooey, gooey slices of pizza chock full of pepperonis to name 2), I’m obsessing about food on the meta level. Food is more than what is on my plate. It’s a matter of policy and politics, of economics, of poverty, of privilege, of racism, of ethics, of morality and ultimately, of Allah (swt) and our fate in the here after.
How does government policy effect what is on (and not on) my plate, on the plates of other Americans, and on the plates of every person on this planet?
How does my socio-economic status effect what I chose (and chose not to) eat?
And as a muslim how do my food choices (and the food choices of the ummah) impact Allah (swt)’s creation?
(yes, the picture is not nice, but if you’re not willing to look at where you food comes from, you really shouldn’t be eating it)
I keep getting this horrific vision of the Day of Judgment, when I am standing in front of Allah (swt), and I’m suddenly confronted by a field of mutilated chickens as far as the eye can see. They’re all there to testify that I wasn’t willing to pay $2 more for a dozen eggs, to ensure that the industrial farm complex would not receive my business, and that I did not contribute to inhumane practices like debeaking, where portions of the chickens’ beaks are chopped off (without anesthesia), to prevent them from pecking each other to death. Why are they pecking each other to death? Because we’re ignoring the nature Allah (swt) gave them them (to roam and form flocks as they chose), and shoving them, either into small cages with no room to lift their wings, or into dark sheds by the tens of thousands.
So here’s where my mind is currently. I have a drive to learn more, so I’m reading reading reading whatever the public library has to offer. And I’m contemplating what the next step is. Is it good enough that I change my behavior, and feel right with myself and with my Lord?
Or do I need to study this further, figure out a way to get other muslims (and Americans in general) aware of these issues, agitated about these issues, and willing to actually do something as a community?
I have no answers. I know if you’ve read down this far, you’re probably disappointed. But this is a thought storm in progress. If I manage to get down to a healthy weight (15lbs down, 50 to go! I feel all sanctimonious about food when I’m fat), maybe I’ll consider going back to school to become a nutritionist or dietician. Then, in conjunctions with my prior degrees in poli sci and religious studies work to on food policy issues, or maybe to agitate and community organize.
Allahu Alem. Seems like a good thing to make lots of dua about when its time to break the fast.