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Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

by Alex Leckie, Georgia Campbell and Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes

Local Organix?

There has been an emphasis in consumption practices that favor local products over those brought from overseas. Eating ‘local’, in the strictest geographical sense, can be detrimental when power relationships are ignored in our conception of the ‘local’. Not all local food production is socially and environmentally responsible. Not everything produced ‘locally’ and close to ‘home’ is necessarily environmentally feasible, ethical and socially responsible (e.g., mass production of chicken eggs).

The imaginary geography of the nation state overlaps with a distance-based approach to defining if a product is local. Since national borders have been set up arbitrarily, informing our imaginary geographies of the ‘local’, we may believe that distance from the food source is less important than the fact that it comes from within the country. For instance, Vancouver is closer to the Washington state border than it is to Kelowna, yet some might believe that apples from Kelowna are more ‘local’ than apples produced much closer, in Washington.

Another question that has to be critically scrutinized is how the idea of ‘local’ is advertised in the public realm, constructing a marketable sense of responsibility. Such a marketing scheme may cloud a clear understanding of exploitative relations that might be taking place ‘locally’. When a concept of ‘local’ is associated with the notion of ‘environmental friendliness’, exploitative power relationships in the system of production run the risk of being systemically ignored. Organically grown apples might be picked by exploited migrant workers.

The point of being and acting ‘local’ is to strengthen ‘community’ and to break our reliance on global networks of profit-driven capitalism. For instance, fertilizers and animal feeds may be shipped from abroad, with severe environmental and social costs to populations that fall outside of your ‘local’ realm. If you are buying and shopping locally you automatically may think you are doing something good for the environment, for the economy, for the people, and so on. Buying ‘local’ does not necessarily mean that positive change is taking place.

Exploitation?

Making consumption a political act is problematic because it places you within a strict realm of an apolitical market. You can’t try to attain a political goal through the market because the market is set up to generate profits and not positive sociopolitical change. What we have to try to uncover are the consequences of our food consumption habits in the wider economic and social spheres. This scrutiny has to be exercised through investigations into the details of the process of production in a product-by-product basis, and not solely on whether the product is advertised as ‘local’. That is, our food consumption practices are more socially and environmentally responsible when they are informed by detailed knowledge of the production process.

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In December of 1997, the USDA released the National Organic Program Proposed Rule, an attempt to culminate the legislative process that began in 1990 with the passing of the Organic Foods Production Act. By April of the next year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) received over 300 000 comments on the legislation, more than any in American history.  This shows the extent to which organic agriculture has become a matter of public concern and controversy. The word has entered the vocabulary of popular newsmedia and dinner table conversation seemingly overnight.

Before we go much further, a definition of organic should be given. The USDA defines organic agriculture as an “ecological production management system that promotes and enhance biodiversity, biological activities, and soil biological activity.” This includes attempts to minimize pollution, and “enhance the ecological balance of natural systems,” with the primary goal being to “optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.” I use this definition only as means of providing some sort of official reference point, and varying understanding of the idea of organic will be fleshed out.

Now for a brief history: organic agriculture can be traced back to before the Second World War with famous proponents J. I. Rodale in the United States and Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour in Britain, all of whom criticized the industrialization of agriculture and its negative impact on human and environmental health. In the 1960s, a back-to-the-land movement invigorated the organic movement, building on earlier philosophies while developing critiques of the nature of urban life, consumerism, and modern disconnect with nature.

These movements were part of a larger social and environmental movement, inspired by such writers as Leo Marx and Rachel Carson. Marx’s The Machine in the Garden (1964) speaks of a place that is neither urban nor rural, a space of an agrarian ideal where people live and work with nature as a source of life, in contrast to the factory-like rural space of industrial food production. These sentiments continued to drive the organic movement through the rest of the century.[1]

Organic agriculture has grown from negligible levels until the 1980s to approximately 623 000 farms with some 31.5 million ha of organically farmed land in 2006. Worldwide sales of organic products reached US$28 billion in 2004.[2] It is hard to say definitively what has caused this rapid growth, but a general trend of environmental awareness spawning from the movements of the 1960s has much to do with a public demand for organically grown food.

When asked why they had enrolled in the student directed seminar, GEOG 442 “Communications in Food Systems Analysis,” most if not all of my classmates indicated a strong desire to simply “know where there food comes from.” The desire for this knowledge can be closely related to the organic movement as an attempt to reconnect with natural production processes in response to the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on human and environmental well-being.

Unfortunately, the critical evaluations of the ways in which our food is grown and processed have often ignored the social aspects of agricultural production. While the tomatoes I have eaten for lunch may be pesticide and non-GMO, it does not address the abysmal wages that the Mexican worker was paid to pick it, or even the American truck driver who drove it through two countries to get to the grocery store down the street. Movements to eat local, closely associated with organic agriculture under the wide umbrella of ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable food,’ while addressing many important problems, do not expressly deal with the social impacts of food production. For the most part, discussion around local eating focuses on the carbon footprint of a particular product although support for local, small-scale farmers, an important social aspect of the food debate, often closely follows. However, local produce, such as that grown in the Fraser or Okanagan Valley is often picked by low-wage, non-unionized migrant workers from other parts of Canada or outside the country.

This is not to mention the thousands of products from all over the world where labour regulations, wage rates, and working conditions vary widely, or may be virtually uncontrolled by governmental agencies.  In Costa Rica, workers at banana plantations often work ten to eleven hour days, making five to 15 US dollars in this time depending on the yield. Complaints from workers are often met with dismissal and placement on a blacklist restricting the employee from being hired at other banana plantations. Plantation companies have little tolerance for attempts to unionize and are often met with mass firings. It is also worth noting the ugly histories of companies like Dole and Chiquita, the latter of which was found guilty of making payments to international recognized terrorist paramilitary groups.[3]

Fair-trade certification attempts to address these social issues. The program works with farming co-operatives to ensure that a minimum guaranteed price is paid to producers in an attempt to compensate for imbalance trade values. However, fair-trade is still largely limited to cocoa and coffee production, and does not address wider trends of worker mistreatment under larger companies or within wealthier nations.

These examples are used to illustrate the different aspects of food production that can be ignored by a focus on ‘organic.’ Although advocates for organic agriculture have not completely ignored social issues of food production, the official documentation/legislation as well as the current public discourse surrounding organic, focus almost all of its energy on the environmental. It should be hoped that the public continues to question the modes of production of food. However, when we question whether or not the bananas at the market are organic, we should also consider the lives of those who picked them.


[1] Vos, Timothy. “Visions of the middle landscape: Organic farming and the politics of nature.” Agriculture and Human Values 17 (2000): 245-256.

[2] William Lockeretz, Organic farming: An international history, (Cabi: Cambridge, 2007) 1.

[3] Caitlin Kuzila, “Banana plantation employees.” jrscience.com, 18 May 2007 Web. 30 Sept. 2009.

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Surrounded by fruits and vegetables at my local grocery store, I can not help but wonder if they have been genetically engineered. These strangely uniform and exceptionally shiny red tomatoes and picture-perfect peaches reflect the fact that perhaps they have been altered to look this way.

A scientific technology that exploded in the early 1990s has affected my life. I have come to realize that I am, as well as every other person in this grocery store, are acting as lab rats for Genetically Modified (hereafter GM) agribusiness companies. Such corporations are spending immeasurable amounts of money creating clones and patenting genes to earn a quick buck. But that leaves me, the consumer, left in the dark and confronted with challenges and uncertainties of whether or not I should be consuming GM food. Rumours surrounding GM food and multinational corporations are startling. Corporations should make a conscious effort to educate the public about their research and their intentions for creating these products. We need to put an end to this controversial debate regarding the corruption of agribusiness corporations and their perspective of whether GM food is ethically, morally or safe to consume. I have listed three rumours in which I feel should be addressed to educate those who are unfamiliar with some of the issues surrounding agribusiness companies and GM food.

Rumour #1: Is GM food safe to consume? People are uncomfortable with the thought of eating GM food as it is considered to be unnatural. Part of the existing anxiety of eating GM food is the idea that it is supposed to be pure and natural; however, it may cause detrimental side effects. Numerous studies have been conducted and the tests on rats show that the “consumption of unexpected constituents and potentially high biological activity may have considerable and disproportionately large effects on the digestive tract.”  Although is it challenging to accurately test the outcome of such food on humans, scientific research has found “disturbing new toxins and allergies related to GM foods.”  Extensive, thorough testing of GM foods is compulsory in order to avoid the possibility of harming consumers.

Rumour #2: Beware small scale farmers, multinational corporations are here to get you. Whether you are an organic or small scale farmer, agribusiness corporations will try to benefit from you. Multinational corporations abuse their power and exacerbate the lives of smaller scale farmers and their businesses. For instance, 76 year-old Percy Schmeiser a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan was sued on August 6th, 1998 by Monsanto – one of the largest agribusiness corporations in the world. Monsanto was suing Schmeiser for patent infringement of which he was accused of using their Round-Up Ready Canola. Schmeiser was later proven innocent and Monsanto was proven guilty for voluntarily trespassing on his farm and voraciously accumulating and collecting samples.  Multinational corporations are on the hunt. If a farmer’s crop was cross pollinated by wind, these corporations will try to sue them for everything they are worth. Schmeiser is just one example, but this is happening throughout Canada and the United States. They are greedy, controlling corporations who strive to control the seeds and we as a society must stand up for ourselves and fight back.

Rumour #3: They say it is safe to consume, why not label it. If corporations insist their products are healthy and safe to consume, why are they hesitant on labelling their products. In grocery stores, vegetables are labelled “certified organic” and fruit juice is “from concentrate”, it would only be fair to label the plump and polished tomatoes “Genetically Engineered”. More than 50 countries have implemented labelling requirements for GM foods. If corporations are so confident that their products are safe to consume, there should be no reason why they can not label products as there is such an outcry to do so. The desire of labelling these products would be to provide informed consumers with a choice. Ignoring the current situation, not only limits our ability to facilitate consumer choice, but affects our attitudes towards food safety and biotechnology.

I think we would all agree that we need a food system that allows us to be informed and educated by the best scientific testing with concern to food safety. We must put an end to the controversies around consuming GM foods and the corporations that sponsor such products. We are all faced with a global dilemma and we must prevent consumers from being misled over the risks and benefits of consuming GM food.

-Nicole Yeasting

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The politics of food is a topic routinely brought up in discussion, particularly in our class which is formatted around this theme; the political implications of how food is grown, farmed, sold, and so on are a hot topic in the literary food world. Although what stands out for me does stem from the political—and thus ethical—implications of food and its ensuing processes, my attention is drawn more to the capital implications of what these processes and discussions have for the general public. The topic of “good food” seems to be in discussion by the “experts” through various forms of media. These “experts” define what is healthy and what is not, and outline what should be the eating habits of the general public. This is all fine and dandy however, I find the capital implications of “good food” reinforce a hierarchy between classes and restrict some while catering to others—the middle to upper class.

Our class discusses organics and genetically modified foods and the ethical and political consequences of these food processes, some argue organic food is the way to go and the health benefits are such that it would be ridiculous to ignore the benefits of eating organic. Many of the same people among others also condemn genetic modification and the scientifically tainted status of such foods. Again, I am currently undecided as to which route I would prefer to take, although it seems most reasonable to take the “healthiest” route via organic foods.

Assuming I adapt this viewpoint, and my next step is to begin my organic lifestyle; I would go out and buy a bunch of organic food products from a reliable grocery store labelling certain products as such.  I go onto http://www.safeway.ca and look under the tab “O Organics”. On the opening page it reads:

“Taste food the way it should be with O Organics. An extraordinary line of organic food from juices to pastas and everything in between. Every O Organics item is certified organically grown and processed, which means they come only from the purest source.
Treat yourself to the unique experience of real food. Only from O Organics. “
Well who wouldn’t want to indulge? Pure, real food? I’m there! I go into the store and then I look at the price tag. Organic Heinz ketchup is $4.67 per 15 oz bottle, plus tax. Two shelves below I see regular Heinz ketchup, also in a 15 oz bottle that is listed as $3.32 per bottle. At first glance, the difference of $1.35 is not a lot, but if all my groceries were to be replaced with the organic counterpart, there is potentially a large amount of monetary difference.

After thinking about it for a while, it is brought to my awareness that perhaps Organic food is the food of the rich. Those who have the money to make the change and who can afford to continue to purchase these “pure” foods, benefit. This is a very dangerous state of affairs that comes with many consequences. If the members of the middle to upper-class are the ones with access to such foods, the “working/lower class” are stuck in a financially limiting place where they cannot afford to benefit from “good food”. Cheap and fast forms of food consumption are the most appealing and realistic for this group of people who simply cannot afford to make the change.

It even goes beyond financial opportunity and food, the capital connotations of “free time” and time’s tie to food must be mentioned. A single mother working two jobs to support her children may not have time to prepare foods from scratch let alone incorporate organic food into a meal. The preparation of meals is a form of capital benefit and fast, unhealthy, alternatives become the only option.  Going one step further even, the health outcomes of this limiting access to food reinforces a system where the rich benefit with better health and perhaps even more complete biological development for children in these families. This idea of “good food” then means more than just a potential healthy living choice, I see it as a huge moral issue.

In the end, without scientific research into specific health benefits of organic versus non organic food, I cannot make an informed decision as to what I would choose for myself. However I do know the cost of going organic is incredibly unrealistic for me in my financial situation, both in terms of income and time. I am not sure what changes can be made to accommodate for this and make organic food more accessible to everyone. Perhaps not only making prices of organics comparable but also having more quick organic meal options available to the general public to be taken on by major fast food chains could help. I understand this is a huge and unlikely change but at this point I don’t see how organic food can be made entirely accessible without drastic change.

-Fiona Buchanan

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It’s amazing that UBC recognizes itself as part of the Metro Vancouver community. I definitely support the statement that UBC plays a “role as a agent of change, locally and globally.” This role is expressed through community organizations that work on the UBC Farm, i.e. Mayan’s Garden, Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden Project, and Farm Wonders. There are three reasons why community involvement is important in the SAS. I will offer a criticism and explore an option for creating stronger community relations. However, the point of this post is to highlight the importance of these  programs which are underrepresented in the current mission statement.
The three programs mentioned above deserve to be an essential element of the SAS mission. These programs are important for three reasons. The mission of the SAS is to act as a gateway to the reorientation of learning via a shift from book-based learning to community service learning (CSL). Environmental problems in our community are similar to many others worldwide. Solutions to these problems cannot be found in books. Research discovered at UBC is needed, now more than ever, by outside communities. Most CSL is not book-based and depends on experimentation. Experiential learning can be a highly effective approach to sustainable community development (Effective Partnerships, 2006).
University and community partnerships are necessary. As an ‘agent of change’ the university acts as liaison between the local and global. The integration of students with community organizations is necessary for building a globalized university. We want graduates who can smoothly transition to being effective community contributors. As Stanton states, community organizations are ‘the nervous center of globalization’. Furthermore, they occupy an important space that is ‘glocal’. ‘Glocalization’ destroys the void between grassroots and executives. University integration with community groups creates citizens who can effectively mediate between global and local.
This mediation is important because the security of our food system is in jeopardy. Vancouver public health officials recently noted an “increase of food-related issues of which there is no data, insufficient data and/or lack of access to such data (Provincial Health Services Authority, 2008).” Community gardens are an ideal place to conduct such research. The number of community gardens is growing; there are currently sixty in the Lower Mainland (Provincial Health Services Authority, 2008). The sixty-first could be at UBC. This is an opportunity for the university. At the Farm, we have community organizations who want to collect this data. UBC can benefit by giving these groups a secure place to discover, improve and/or relay such information. Public health officials want food-related data and community organizations have it, UBC can act as their bridge. The establishment of a community garden at UBC is an important in terms of environmental and academic diversity, mediation between global/local, and food security and public health in Vancouver.
In contrast, some may think that our internal priorities at UBC should be of utmost importance. This individualistic attitude is predominant in modern Western thought. It operates under a belief that  needs of the larger community come after individual desires and needs. However, this Western truth is not standing the test of time. For example, local aboriginal knowledge is integrated into our curriculum and research more every year. This partnership is absolutely mutually beneficial. UBC, as an individual entity, must first place importance on the health of the larger community. As a result individuals’ health will fall into place.
A novel approach is implementation of a community garden. This would improve both academics and community health. Community gardens can effect population income distribution (Provincial Health Services Authority, 2008). When income is more equally distributed, more citizens can afford post-secondary education. Therefore, it would allow a greater range of cross-cultural integration at UBC. Cultural diversity is a vital part of the learning process, especially when dealing with global issues. A community garden could improve environmental and academic diversity. Both are assets to our SAS mission statement.
Basically, I would change one statement of the mission to more accurately reflect the importance of community partnership with UBC research. “Through its activities, the Farm advances sustainability literacy in students, community leaders, and citizen decision-makers.” The mission of the SAS should be highly integrated into the communities of which UBC is a part. The importance of CSL will only grow over the next fifty years. Community-orientated learning can improve our  academics and health. It can also develop global citizens who can effectively solve local problems. For the benefit of our health at UBC and beyond, we must place an emphasis on community engagement.

Works Cited

Canada. Provincial Health Services Authority. A Seat at the Table. By Lydia Drasic. Vancouver: Provincial Health Services Authority, 2008. Print.

Stanton, Richard C. All News is Local. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co, 2007. Print.

Reardon, Kenneth M. An Experiential Approach to Creating an Effective Community-University Partnership. Rep. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 2006. Print.

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How has the electronic grassroots world of the blogosphere aided in the real world understanding of economic accessibility to organic products?   Because organics surround multiple issues, we will focus on the role of blogs in increasing awareness of the limits of organic food accessibility to low income and impoverished individuals and families in the Global North.
According to McNair (2006) blogs are becoming sources of information for journalists, academics, and even activists. But are these newfound sources merely adding their hat to an ocean of opinions on the same topic, or have they begun to address the realities of the limitations of organic foods?  Endless number of blogs praising the rise of organics and the benefits of more sustainable agricultural practices.  But how many are examining the economic obstacles in purchasing organic foods?

In his blog “Gustorganics”, Gusto exclaims “any inexpensive price tag in food is to me the best indicator of lack of quality…We can choose to spend money on good quality food or in doctors. The choice is all and only ours!”  But of course the choice to have only $300 a month to feed a family of 4 is also our own choice and presumably, of our own making.  Of course with our extremely limiting budget we would purchase highly priced and therefore high quality food, so that if not to eat for a month, as least for a week we ate as expensively as possible.

Fortunately for us, Alberto Gonzalez has also opened a restaurant by the same name, and as the first USDA Certified Organic restaurant is now able to charge $12.95 for a sandwich which is right in line with what seems to come across as elitists organics.

In a blog by Organic Nation, the author proposes that once sustainable food practices and organic food production becomes a widespread occurrence with sufficient support, prices will lower, making organic food more accessible to those who currently cannot for it.  However, what kind of time scale are we looking at?  Even with a global economic recession, food prices still have continued to increase.  Rising food costs are not seriously being addressed by promoters of organic living.

If online bloggers continue to voice their support without regard for the individuals who Williams rightly points out would most greatly benefit from organic living, we will continue to exacerbate the have/have not divide or in other words the organic/processed divide.

But in the ever expanding blogging world, I sought a voice, a beacon indicating that surely there is someone addressing this important issue.  Perhaps the creator of the blog entitled “Every Kitchen Table” a title that sounds nothing short of advocating for equal access to organic foods.  Alas, the blog left me wanting of any recognition of the issue at hand.  There was a glaring of such discussion amidst the comments on supporting local farmers, demanding labeling structure, or promoting his local food vendors.

Fortunately, there are blogs out there, such as “Civil Eats” that bring attention to the fact that current organic farms such as theirs sell food to markets facilitating a “feel-good activity for members of the leisure class to indulge in on a Saturday morning.”  Unfortunately, this newfound realization is not backed by any tangible suggestions as to how to change the existing economic barriers to organic food.

The influence of bloggers and their ability to spread ideas is undisputed.  Through promoting their own ideas, and linking users to other site and voices regarding parallel issues allows the viral spread of awareness on anything and everything.  Which is why the lack of discussion on accessibility to organics will continue to exacerbate the issue, as the silence continues to grow and is blocked out by other issues being addressed within the blogosphere of local eating.  Bloggers have been instrumental in voicing the benefits of organic eating, but need to harness their communicative ability in exposing differentials of purchasing power.

Clearly we can identify a contributing source to the void in discussion as to the demographics of bloggers.  As individuals who have access to the technology, and individuals who are promoting what is already in the Global North, a privileged lifestyle of eating organically, they do not represent the communities that are most affected by this issue.   The solution to this issues lies in giving a voice to those who are most often absent, by having bloggers take it upon themselves to act as their voice, and provide everyone the opportunity to live organically and benefit from this lifestyle that we so often take for granted.

Works Cited
Boyer, M. A.  2009.  Slate: Organic vs. Conventional? Too Complex… Organic Nation.tv
Retrieved September 29th from: http://www.organicnation.tv/blog/slate-organic-vs-conventional-too-complex.html

Gonzalez, A.  2009.  Cheap food does not exist! Gustorganics Blog. Retrieved September 29th from: http://www.gustorganics.com/blog/?tag=organic-consumption

McNair, B. 2006 Online journalism & blogosphere & From blogosphere to public sphere. Cultural Chaos: Journalism, news and power in a globalised world.  Routledge.

McWilliams, J.E.  2009.  Are Organic Veggies Better for you?  Slate Magazine.  Retrieved September 29th, 2009 from: http://www.slate.com/id/2224342/

Roman-Alcalá, A.  2009.  Is Organic Farming a Form of Activism? A Call for Land Reform.  Civil Eats.   Retrieved September 29th from: http://civileats.com/2009/05/22/is-organic-farming-a-form-of-activism-a-call-for-land-reform/

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