Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Case of the Contract Killer

The Case of the Contract Killer

Violetta di Chioggia, Rosa Bianca Solanam melongena, Tom Thumb Latuca Sativa.

Recognize any of these names? Seen any of their faces around recently? No? This may come as a shock, but these are just a few of thousands who’ve gone missing. In fact, they’re on a hit list.

Oh, and did I mention they’re vegetables. Does that make a difference? It shouldn’t.

You see, we humans are accomplices in what could very well be our own demise. We’ve (if not knowingly) allowed a few corporations to whittle down our variety of food crops from thousands to a handful. I can see the mugshot of that herbicide-burping superbug now, chomping down and wiping another crop from our increasing paltry list. No, really, come back to the table and listen – you eat? Then this affects you.

We humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species over time. Now, three-quarters of all our produce comes from just eight species and, as biologist, author and locavore Barbara Kingsolver tells it, the field is “quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola.” Our food crops, Kingsolver says, could well make an endangered species list. We are, quite simply, undermining the security of our very own food system.

With genetically modified foods, we’re further undermining the security of that system with crop species being held against their will by a handful of powerful corporations intent on fooling around with their genes. Splicing together traits that aren’t even nodding acquaintances in nature can produce a vigorous plant for one generation, but the next generation is likely unpredictable and has no staying power.

But let’s back up and see how and why these disappearances started. Well, it has to do with the craving for tomatoes (or raspberries) at a time when even songbirds are sucking on dried up dogberries. And it also has to do with advances in long distance trucking. You see, up until the middle of last century, most North Americans were still eating fruits and vegetables that came from nearby farms, which also meant eating in season. Then marketers realized a market for out-of-season produce, like those tomatoes (or raspberries) titillating the taste buds of a society that was getting used to instant gratification. And then those tomatoes (or raspberries) needed larger and refrigerated trucks, and a super highway system to get these aliens to market.

Enter agribusiness into the contract. New breeds of produce were bred so that those tomatoes (or look at any produce at your local grocery retailer) could stand up to mechanized picking, packing, shipping and displaying on supermarket shelves. This uber tomato proved it could go the distance, but a few things got lost in the meantime: like flavour, often pest resistance and, no surprise, genetic diversity. There can, after all, only be one uber tomato, so uniformity and blandness became the trade-off signatures. Long distance travel, says Kingsolver, lies at the heart of the plot to murder flavourful fruits and veggies. Then the agribusiness breeding of indestructible produce ensured a market for tennis ball-like tomatoes. Farmers had little choice but grow what people (thought they) wanted, and seed catalogue offerings dropped more and more old-time trusted varieties. Today, not only plant varieties but whole species have been lost while six companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow—now control 98 percent of the world’s seed sales.

There’s a few organizations that are on the look out for Violetta and friends. Slow Food International promotes agricultural biodiversity and has a twist on the save-the-endangered species line. Eat it. To save those rare species, the seed must be grown, plant harvested and eaten. Ditto that heirloom pig.

Closer to home, groups such as FEASt (Food Education Action – St. John’s), Farmers’ Markets and community gardens are springing up across the province, putting local food back on the menu and in the minds of residents.

Bottom line? Come clean. Don’t continue to be an accomplice to contract killing. Eat local. Reject uniformity. Check out grandma’s garden. Dissent. And have a flavourful day.

© Alison Dyer 2009


Tony said...

I'm sold Alison, I grow some of my own food. Today, I'm cooking tomatoes down in a slow cooker to bottle so I have "fresh" tomatoes when the snow blows. And, is there anything more tasty than a fresh carrot pulled out of your own garden?

Tony :-)

Alison Dyer said...

For sure. My kids have been eating several at a time from the garden... won't have many left but then that's what it's all about. Didn't grow tomatoes this year, but had lots given to me by a friend who grew them in her greenhouse. I'm already planning next year's garden(s)!

Michael said...

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle! There's nothing like home-grown! I've been hiking through the woods behind the house and picked up apples from ancient trees planted who knows how long ago. I'll see if any will sprout in the spring and maybe be able to save some old strains which aren't grown here anymore. Wish me luck!

Alison Dyer said...

Michael - one of my dreams is to have an orchard. I grew up with apple trees... in a much milder climate! I don't have the land for it - but I may start a guerilla-garden/orchard! So, if you have luck with bringing on the seeds, hey, you'll have to bring me one! A

bonnie said...

We escaped the blight at Sebago this year, and I actually managed to grow some full-sized heirlooms this year!

They were delicious. I was expecting that. What surprised me was how fragile they were when they got ripe.

Here was what should have been my prize-winner of the summer - and just look at the big hole I knocked in it just disentangling it from the vines!

Alison Dyer said...

Bonnie - my blog posting seems to have taken a back seat to both kayaking and organic gardening this summer. two passions that would just overlap temporally. didn't even attempt tomatoes this yr. next yr.. looking at establishing artichoke bed, & large field for growing veggies. meanwhile, some of my produce is stored around Bay in my root cellar, some in my basement in town. our 7 hens are producing eggs, well 4 are...

Anonymous said...

i've been striving to eat local more and more... such articles provide me with more information and also keep my passion alive
vive le local carrots!

Alison Dyer said...

that is most heartening to hear. Me too (re striving to eat - and grow - more local). Vive le local carrots!
[would me interested to hear how you came to find article... hoping to post more on this blog]. Alison