You Are What What you Eat Eats…


You are what what you eat eats. – Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food)

Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the above quote after finding the neon red honey in our hive in the past couple of weeks.

We’ve come to realize that this urban homesteading experiment we’ve embarked upon – however noble – has the potential to unravel before our very eyes with certain factors that are outside of our control, and frankly, that is somewhat unnerving.

You Are What You Eat

The age old adage is certainly true, you are what you eat… We began this renovation of our home and yard in an attempt to get the adulterants out of our food supply. We weren’t interested in eating food-like substances chock full of all of the preservatives, chemicals and genetically modified components they can cram into them. All of that can be mitigated by simply growing your own and purchasing intelligently. The problem with that concept however is when the surrounding environment – in our case, suburbia – decides to slowly interfere with your plans…

You Are What What You Eat Eats:

The truth is, when you live on an urban homestead – you have no control of what is being done beyond your fence. You don’t know if the flowers that your bees are visiting have been sprayed with insecticide, you don’t know if they’re visiting trees treated with Safari, whether they’re invading the local cannery and drinking long and deep at the vats of HFCS and Red 40. You have no control of where the roots of your plants go – if they leave the boundaries of your fences, and absorb glyphosate from individuals attempting to keep their weeds down in their little corner of manicured suburbia. For that matter, you don’t really know what the previous homeowner did in the soil… you have no idea whether your chickens are eating bugs that have been sprayed at the neighbors house and simply immigrated across the border to our homestead to die…

…things are truly outside of your control.

It’s a strange irony that at the times when you try to control for all these variables by raising your own chickens and growing your own foods, that the foundation you have built your homestead upon can erode so easily with the coming or going of food chain elements, or the past sins and indiscretions of the homeowner… in all honesty it makes you feel particularly vulnerable.

It has also got us thinking – what is truly organic? Can every little variable be controlled for and guaranteed that what you’re buying in the store that is labelled organic is truly organic? Don’t get me wrong – it’s got to be significantly better than what is being done conventionally – it’s not being sprayed directly, it’s not GMO, the list goes on – but it’s kind of scary to think that even if you do wish to opt-out of the conventional industrial farming model – that it may not be possible to keep it completely unadulterated due to the actions of those who don’t wish to opt-out…

Food for thought. You are what what you eat eats…

The Morning After…

Photo Credit: Mark Collier (Associated Press)

Yesterday, May 25th, over 1 million people took to the streets of 400 cities worldwide to angrily protest the growing political influence and seeming unwillingness by regulatory agencies to actually DO SOMETHING about an increasingly powerful Monsanto Corporation.

I first became aware of Monsanto through Michael Pollan’s book, “The Botany of Desire” in the early 2000’s – I had no idea of their existence prior to that, they just weren’t on my radar – but even by then, the Monsanto corporation had a long and illustrious history of producing products that bettered people’s lives gave people cancer.

First came the artificial sweetener Saccharin (later found to cause cancer), then they moved into the PCB market (later found to cause cancer), the 30’s and 40’s saw them enter the nuclear weapon age as they worked with the Manhattan project (later found to cause cancer if the blast didn’t get you first), the 50’s and 60’s saw the advent of Agent Orange (later found to cause cancer – are we seeing a pattern here?) and DDT (which nearly wiped out the raptor populations in the world – putting numerous species on the endangered species list, oh yeah – and it’s been linked to breast cancer…) The 70’s brought the development of the herbicide Glyphosate (RoundUp – which recent studies have linked to both cancer and Parkinson’s disease…) and additionally Monsanto has done work in Bovine Growth Hormone (where do I even begin? No really, where?), as well as genetic modification of seeds (which is the primary reason for yesterday’s march, P.S – GMO corn was recently linked to cancer in lab rats…)

To be fair – it hasn’t all been bad – they’re one of the first groups to mass produce LED lights, (they’re fun – and as far as I know don’t cause cancer), as well as numerous medicinal drug advances within their pharmaceutical division, etc, (some of which are anti-cancer drugs… which.. hmm… well… wait… so they make numerous products that CAUSE cancer, then develop significantly expensive chemotherapy drugs which help to TREAT the cancer they have caused?!?! Just making sure I’ve gotten this correct…)

The reality is – if there is a dollar to be had – Monsanto will be there, tongue lolling ready to fetch it.

They are a corporation, and a many tendriled – very large, unethical corporation at that. As a corporation, profit drives their bottom line. That’s just simply the nature of the beast, and I’m not one to pound the podium and rail against corporations, but with Monsanto in particular – I have to draw the line.

Monsanto has put their products and their profit on a higher pedestal than the human food supply itself.

I have a problem with that.

Frustratingly, the very people who should be regulating them, the USDA, the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Congress, the Senate, and the President are the ones in bed with them. The US Congress recently passed HR 933, and the hotly contested Section 735 a few months back – a spending bill to prevent governmental shutdown which just so happened to have a provision in it which shielded Monsanto and allowed a run-around of current law – to allow the planting of GM seeds without USDA approval. (Because you know… those are two closely related things…)

HR 933 basically handed the keys to the Ferrari to a drunken Monsanto and said, “Have Fun.”

With the passing of HR933, and the unsuccessful attempts at repealing the section of the bill that shields Monsanto, the United States has told Monsanto, do whatever you want. We won’t even attempt to regulate what you’re doing.

The big irony in all of this is that the First Lady is on a big campaign for healthy kids, good nutritious, organic food in all inner city neighborhoods – yet her husbands own actions are contrary to that message.

This is business and politics… Pure and simple, and politically, Monsanto’s influence goes straight to the top. Former Monsanto employees make up a large portion of administration appointments to the USDA and FDA, (The very regulatory agencies that supposed to regulate companies LIKE Monsanto) Senators on both sides of the aisle are taking significant campaign contributions from Monsanto dollars… Notably Missouri’s Roy Blunt who received nearly $100,000 from Monsanto employees, and is believed to be the one who added Section 735 to HR933.

… but how did it get to this point. Why are we here?

It’s simple, because WE let it happen.

We desired the perfect food. Completely pest free, uniform in shape and color — the same exact fruits and vegetables, regardless of what store we purchased them at… with no imperfections. Strawberries that weren’t that proper shade of red, lumpy misshapen potatoes, grapes that were a little soft or half-raisined… no thank you, perfect… every time.

We want them NOW and we want them in large quantities, and we want them year round.

The problem is, the only way to make that happen is to mono-culture huge tracts of these fruits and vegetables, spray them and continually amend the soil with chemicals to reduce the disease and pests that plague them – OR – genetically modify them to be resistant to pests and diseases… so as to produce the food that the purchasing populace desires.

Have to ship a tomato from Argentina in the middle of winter to Wisconsin, because you’ve just got to have a tomato to make that special dish for your Christmas get-together?  Monsanto has the answer to your quandary… you’ll need shellfish genes spliced in to resist bruising in transit since it has to be shipped so far, additionally, if there are any pests or diseases it’ll be rotten by the time it arrives, so we’d better make sure we eradicate any of the pests or diseases that might affect it.

…You’ll need an herbicide, pesticide, fungicide, and gene modification – so we’ll invent them, patent them, and sell them for a BIG profit.

As a corporation, they are providing a solution to what WE have asked for in our food supply and they’re making billions in the process.

WE allowed Monsanto’s rise to power… and as hard as that pill is to swallow, it’s basic economics – simple supply and demand…

So, while I can appreciate the anger and outrage found in yesterday’s march, it’s too little too late.

It’s like waking up after a night of drunken revelry and getting upset that your friends let you get a tramp stamp…

We’re the ultimate cause of this… but we’re also the solution. Because their political influence goes straight to the top, politics and marches will have little to no effect. If we want to make lasting change, and we want to slow down the Monsanto juggernaut, it has to be grassroots.

Here’s the battle plan.

1) Grow your Own: We have to get to the point where we produce our own food. Organically, in our backyards, front yards, side-yards, guerrila gardened in the yards of foreclosed homes, hell strips, or parking lots.

2) Eat Real Food: The stores sell real food and they sell industrialized food. We have to eat the real stuff.  As consumers we have to make a change from purchasing the foods that are engineered and contain ingredients we can’t pronounce to the food that has single ingredients. (ie. Apple – “Contains Apple”)

3) Grow Heirloom Varities and Reserve the Seeds: Gardening is one of the solutions, but if we’re running out buying hybrid seeds each and every year, we’re actually helping Monsanto out as they have their fingers in the hybrid seed machine as well. It doesn’t make sense to grow plants that can’t reseed themselves. Why not spend a little extra money and buy heirloom seeds, and reserve your seeds each year – ensuring that you can grow more of that same plant in subsequent years. Trade seeds with others in seed exchanges, support seed companies that don’t sell GMO seeds, growing your own is only half the battle, growing heirloom varieties is the next step.

4) Buy Local, and Purchase in Season: If you can plan your meals around the seasonal offerings that your area has to offer, we avoid having to buy random vegetables from far-off locales. There will always be something you can’t get locally, but if we’re able to plan carefully we can help to reduce the need to ship food across the globe in the dead of winter.

5) Support Local Farms: In addition to buying in-season, support the local farms that you know offer organically grown fruits and vegetables and don’t use GMO seeds. If you support these farms, they will be able to expand and remain in business, money talks. Support your local farms by frequenting farmer’s markets and supporting those farms who share the same ideals as you do.

We have a responsibility to do better. We have to care more about where our food comes from, and we have to take a more direct role in providing for it in our own homes. If we hope to make any sort of lasting change in this battle, it won’t come from political protests or holding a sign and chanting. The only way that this gets changed is by taking a direct role as a consumer in the process.

So now that it’s the morning after, put down the sign…

…and get out and get your hands dirty.