An Occupier’s Dilemma, Part IIby Hanna Morris on Sep, 07 2012
Read Part I here
What began as an unannounced Occupation following the Berkeley/Albany Earth Day 2012 Food Sovereignty March, has transformed into a national “Occupy the Farm Movement”. The activists a part of this Movement have decided to “take back the land” from the toxic grasp of industrial agriculture. But, will these efforts be enough to alter the entrenched factory farming system that dominates our current food industry?
The industrial methods employed within our modern food system have been a hot topic for public debate ever since the turn of the 20th century. In Upton Sinclair’s famous 1906 political fiction, The Jungle, factory farming, in all its glory, was plated and served in a deliciously repulsive depiction of American meatpacking plants. The Jungle’s gruesome portrayal, although only “based on truth”, shocked and sickened the American public.
Sinclair’s “muckraker” novel inspired widespread political uprising and action. This political pressure led to the passage of both the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The Pure Food and Drug Act initially established the Bureau of Chemistry that later morphed into the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In 1906, literature exposing the ills of our food industry incited extensive citizen action and invoked real, lasting change. Now, let’s fast-forward to the 21st century where similar political techniques are employed, but with little policy impact.
Renowned agriculture journalist and Berkeley professor, Michael Pollan, has published many successful books exposing the problems with our current factory farming techniques. One of his most famous books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, unmasks the innate environmental and social health issues associated with the contemporary food system. Pollan delves into the monopolistic and manipulative tendencies of the notorious genetically modified organism (GMO) seed and pesticide company, Monsanto; explains the innumerous negative environmental consequences of industrial farming; and to top it all off, eloquently details the clear link between American obesity and governmental subsidies for monoculture crops that are, in turn, sold to junk and fast food companies at extremely low prices.
Sinclair’s less factual book, The Jungle, inspired extensive citizen action and the successful passage of significant and far-reaching national policy. Pollan’s more thoughtful piece, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has failed to do the same. Why hasn’t The Omnivore’s Dilemma (or any of the other hundreds of books divulging the grim issues of industrial agriculture) succeeded in altering our destructive food system?
One possible reason for this failure is a lack of widespread public action. Special interest groups focused on food issues have proven to be rather ineffective. While some progress has been made (such as the establishment of USDA organic certification standards), no dramatic alteration of the Farm Bill has been realized. The Farm Bill still does not do enough to encourage and incentivize organic and local farming methods over industrial techniques.
Members of Occupy the Farm (OTF) believe that the best way to invoke meaningful change is to “take back the land” and begin growing food the way it should be grown—naturally, with minimal environmental impact and open availability for all people, regardless of economic or social status. OTF wants to pressure the government and force Big Agriculture to change through citizen and consumer action.
The problem with any left-leaning political campaign is the possibility of alienating the crusade and losing a more conservative audience. Unfortunately, the Occupy Movement has taken on this extremist, left-leaning characterization. While the Movement’s goals are advantageous for all American citizens, it really comes down to whether OTF can attract and interest a politically diverse following. If OTF succeeds with its lofty goal of uniting the 99%, then politicians will be forced to address the issues of industrial farming as seriously as they addressed the issues of food safety in 1906. The possibility is there, but only history will tell whether or not this potential will be realized.
For more on whether Occupy the Farm and other Land Occupations will succeed with their missions, check out the first OTF speaker series TODAY, Friday September 7th, at 5 PM in the Morgan Hall Lounge. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/492016590825774/