Speak up today if you want to eat tomorrow

Is anybody paying attention out there? They say ignorance is bliss, but from where I stand, far too many people are choosing blissful ignorance over meaningful action.

Take our food, for example, which has been steadily declining in quality in recent decades. (If you doubt this, consider the increase in obesity in this country — fueled, in part, by the excessive amounts of fast foods and processed foods Americans consume.) Worse yet, much of the food we eat is seriously lacking in essential nutrients. How did this happen?

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides, introduced on a large scale in the 1930s and ’40s, have reduced the nutritive value of our food. Although these chemicals supply enough basic nutrients to enable plants to grow, they don’t provide all the nutrients we need. Meanwhile, these same chemicals have killed off a lot of the beneficial microorganisms that live within the soil. From bacteria and nematodes on down, these creatures help eliminate harmful plant diseases; they also break down minerals and other soil nutrients into a form that plants can assimilate. Now some might argue that our food looks healthy, so it must be good for us, right? But there’s more to healthy food than just a pretty face. There are subtler energies and nutrients that have been lost in the course of our march toward ever greater commercialization.

A living, healthy soil depends on the beneficial microorganisms within it. They bind smaller particles together in clusters, creating gaps through which water and air can flow easily. The destruction of these organisms has hurt the vitality of our soil, contributing to erosion and compaction problems. Every year, more and more of our topsoil is washed away into rivers and streams. Laden with enormous amounts of fertilizers and other chemicals, it has helped create vast dead zones in the water, where nothing lives or grows. And the compaction has created deadpan — soil so dense that water just rolls off it. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides have helped boost our farm production to unprecedented levels. But we’re paying a high price, in terms of both nutrition and the ability of future generations to grow food at all.

Meanwhile, farmers in this country have been using increasing amounts of chemicals to boost yields, becoming ever more dependent on the chemicals they get from Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical and so on.

But even as these chemicals reduce the nutritive value of our food, insect damage is also increasing. Studies have shown that insects are attracted to diseased or sickly plants. Yet the commercial answer to an insect threat is to use still more pesticides.

This has led inevitably to the next stage — the development of genetically modified organisms. Because now that we have the ability to vary genetic material, it seems “logical” — within this fundamentally flawed paradigm, at least — to retool the plants and make them resistant to these insect predators.

But why stop there? We can inject Arctic-cod DNA into a tomato plant, making a tomato that will grow in colder climates. And hey, we can even incorporate Round Up-ready genetic material into corn and wheat, so this herbicide can be sprayed on farmers’ fields without hurting the crops!

It’s amazing how far this genetic manipulation has been taken — right under our noses. The government, of course, says it’s safe. But they don’t tell us that they own half the patents to these genetically manipulated plants. How impartial can they be?

At least 70 percent of all commercial or processed food now contains genetically modified organisms. But the law does not require these foods to be labeled as such — otherwise, how many people would buy them?

Meanwhile, consumers have no idea what has been engineered into these plants, which may contain animal or bacterial or viral DNA. And very little safety testing is required of GMOs. Several years ago, they took DNA from Brazil nuts and incorporated it into soybeans. It turned out that people who were allergic to Brazil nuts would also be allergic to these modified soybeans. Without mandatory labeling, consumers have no way of knowing if they’re putting their own health at risk.

But the environmental impacts are a far more pressing problem. Making even minor changes in a complex system without thorough testing can have grave consequences. That’s exactly what has happened with the introduction of Round Up-ready corn and wheat. Weeds growing around these crops have somehow taken up some of this Round Up-ready DNA into their cell structure. So now we have Round Up-ready weeds. These crops have also been responsible for decimating the monarch-butterfly population. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Apart from plants we’ve grown ourselves, the only food that can be reasonably assumed to be safe is certified-organic produce. In this light, it’s interesting that, just a few years ago, the government was even trying to water down organic-food standards, to make it easier for corporations to get in on the act.

We face significant health challenges today. Most of us have become ever more disconnected from the food we eat. When this was primarily an agrarian society, a large part of the population grew the food they ate. Today, most of our food is produced on large corporate farms that rely heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And now we have genetically modified organisms in our grocery stores and supermarkets. It’s a grim picture, folks.

But it’s not too late to reclaim our health. We can choose to grow at least some of our own produce and to buy organic foods as much as possible. And we can let our government representatives know that GMOs must be labeled. Our collective health has been sold to pad the profits of a few huge corporations.

Some Native American cultures used to consider the impacts of any course of action on the next seven generations before making a decision. It’s time for us to stop making short-term decisions. Let’s reclaim our power and realize a healthy future for our children — and theirs!

[Errol Rose is an herbalist who lives in Black Mountain.]

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