The Problem With Our Food System: According to Wendell Berry

I could hardly contain my excitement when I came upon this powerful, astute and somehow poetic portrayal of the problems with our food system – a topic I love to write and debate about, although never so eloquently or succinctly. Therefore, I want to share with you this short excerpt from the book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. It is a series of essays written by the award-winning author and agricultural activist Wendell Berry.

In the first essay, entitled Sales Resistance for Beginners, Berry writes:

The Food System is firmly grounded on the following principles:

I. Food is important mainly as an article of international trade.

II. It doesn’t matter what happens to farmers.

III. It doesn’t matter what happens to the land.

IV. Agriculture has nothing to do with “the environment.”

V. There will always be plenty of food, for if farmers don’t grow it from the soil, then scientists will invent it.

VI. There is no connection between food and health. People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are healed by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.

VII. It follows that there is no connection between healing and health. Hospitals customarily feed their patients poor-quality, awful-tasting, factory-made expensive food and keep them awake all night with various expensive attentions. There is a connection between money and health.

This is exactly why I devote time to this blog. Because I don’t believe that the Food System is going to be fixed anytime soon. And while I do spend a portion of my time trying to convince our government (via my congressmen as well as through donations to consumer lobbying organizations) to do their part to protect our health, I firmly believe that a much more effective way to change this broken system is by opening up the eyes of more and more consumers so that collectively, we can drive change by voting with our dollars.

This is where I fundamentally disagree with Wednell Berry’s distaste for Free Market economies. I personally think that they can work quite well, as long as there is transparency. Unfortunately there is extremely little transparency in our food system. After all, how is the average consumer supposed to know that a particular brand of crackers has been cooked with pesticide-laden, genetically modified then hydrogenated soybean and/or canola oil and has allergenic food dyes in it, along with brain-cell killing glutamate-based flavor enhancers (that used to be called MSG but are now given more cryptic names)? Without this important information, how can anyone make the right decision about whether or not to buy it?