My Health in a Vulnerable Food System

By Theo Ferguson, Vital Systems.

GFW_Desc_1 1I am an eater, as are you. My relationship with food, farming, and living systems is very personal. As Barbara Kingsolver writes, “Recall that whatever lofty things you might accomplish today, you will do them only because you first ate something that grew out of dirt.”

Is it inconceivable to think that we are NOT connected to the soil? Join me in an investigation for optimal personal health. What has happened to the dirt in which MY food grew and, therefore, what is happening to ME?

Because I am aware of my relationship with my food – the habitats, the water and food sheds and the soil — I breathe in the interconnectedness of all living systems.

I take my pulse.
What do I feel? The rhythm of blood flowing through my veins?
How do I maintain my pulse?
What does it mean to me?

When I consider the pulses of my body–my family, my community, and all people — I know I am physically, chemically, energetically, and spiritually connected to soil health, the health of the food and watersheds, as well as the cultivated and wild habitats, terrestrial and oceanic biomes, and the climate. These systems describe my body and all of the cycles and processes within it.

How do I make responsible choices?

By design, the processes and functions of my body know exactly what to do. In our contemporary worldview, however, I am taught to deny our biology and spirituality and not cultivate my natural ability to be whole systems thinkers. Through whole systems thinking, I can question in an entirely different way.

How do we know what the impacts of our choices might be? I can empathize, analyze, and strategize about the impacts of my choices on the experiences of others to grow new ideas and possibilities. Our amazing brains enable each member of the human family to empathize with others and understand our interdependence with all living beings.

What constitutes good health?

I check my pulse again. I know healthy food must be good, clean, fair, and affordable. As my food grows it must uptake nutrients and minerals from the soil, and these enhance the fundamental cellular health in my body so that the food I eat nourishes my bodily functions. As a whole system, when I am fully nourished, everything functions optimally.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 2.51.37 PMI can also experience my healthy human body as a Gastrological Cycle in which I experience my human body as part of the living exchanges known as the carbon cycle. The fertile, living soil in which my food is grown provides nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper and more to my body. I ingest and digest this food through my esophagus, stomach, and my intestines and I exhale CO2 back into the carbon cycle.

The Impacts of the Industrialized Food System

Following World War II, using cheap military surpluses, corporations created petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, the fundamental practices of monocropping that have resulted in the pollution of our air and water and wiped out whole soil systems. Large acres of a single food crops like soy, wheat, and corn are supposedly increasing the efficiency of MY food yield. But billions of critical microbes, fungi, nematodes, and other soil partners end up as inert material, destroyed by agricultural chemicals that contain almost none of the nutrients needed for healthy soil, plants and ME.

The corporate practices of monocropping, confined animal feedlots for mass meat production, extensive fossil fuel use, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) bring up serious concerns. I reflect on my body, your body, our bodies…what goes into my body and what is my body’s response? The detrimental impacts of chemicals and biological manipulation of our food on our physical systems, immune systems, emotional systems, as well as our genetics, also extend to our global systems. The result of unhealthy food production and consumption has precipitated the decline in American health. The Center for Disease Control notes that 33% of all children born after 2000 will develop Type II Diabetes during their lifetime.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 2.28.15 PMAs our toxic burden increases, medical bills mount from obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. We feel powerless. Many people believe they can’t afford anything BUT processed food. In 2013, the Economist profiled 22 selected countries’ by their total household spending for one week’s food and drink. The US ranked the lowest–22 out of 22! (, 3/12/13).

As a nation and culture, do we value the food we eat? Do we value our health? If I tune out fast food propaganda and businesses receive incentives to produce healthy, local food, I would not be an indentured eater. Wouldn’t we save A LOT OF MONEY from being indentured by health services providers and the resulting tax burdens if we were to curtail corporate industrial food propaganda and offer incentives to eat healthy food that comes from fertile soil?

The Connection Between Fossil Fuels and Health

I’m checking my pulse with regard to fossil fuel use in corporate agricultural practices. Increasingly large agricultural machines compact the soil. Farmers are trapped into continuing to monocrop to pay for the machines and fuel they use and compacted soil can no longer hold water effectively. The fertilizers and pesticides kill the living soil. The soil and fertilizers meant to nourish the crops can no longer absorb water. When the rains arrive, the topsoil then drains into waterways, creating dead zones at the river mouths due to nitrogen and phosphorus in chemical fertilizers.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 2.44.23 PMFor instance, in the agricultural Midwest, topsoil and fertilizers wash into the Mississippi River basin to create the Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic Dead Zone for thousands of square miles. The loss of the topsoil imposes toxic burdens and nutrient scarcity into all of our bodies.

Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Other fundamentally insidious aberrations in our food and farming systems also exist, including the manipulation of food genes without eaters KNOWING that GMOs are in their food, or knowing how GMOs will impact their health. Mature genetically modified crops assimilate and colonize other non-GMO plants through wind borne pollen—producing food that I, then, eat. Meanwhile, GMO plant licensing stops the age-old practice of reusing and naturally improving seed, so farmers spend more money to purchase seed again each year. (Bitter Seeds, Nero’s Guests).

In the name of profit, Monsanto ensures that no organic seeds are available to farmers by putting seed savers out of business and withhold information about their products that people need to know to make life-supporting business decisions. In India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, farmers often have to put their land up as collateral to buy the GMO seed that does not deliver promised yields. They lose their land, or are indebted, leading to drastic increase in farmer suicides.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 2.18.24 PMThis is now a David and Goliath fight where the non-GMO grassroots movement is standing up to these large corporations. Jim Gerritsen is one among these Davids. He has created a binding court decision that farmers cannot be sued for “genetic drift.” If Monsanto had sued them in the past, farmers can then sue Monsanto for reparations any time in the future. People are standing up, acting as antibodies against this bullying, infusing vitality back into our food system.

Food and Farming Infrastructure Vulnerabilities

When people eat industrially produced (cheap) subsided food, we all suffer. Farming communities also lose land as well their farm knowledge and culture to large industrial agriculture. If farming communities do not collectively develop infrastructure capacities to aggregate the volume of the products they grow, the farm community cannot develop institutional clientele such as hospitals and schools and will not earn enough money to sustain their businesses and lifestyles. This results in the dissolution of multi-generational farms and fertile farmlands as they become infilled with condominiums and developments — and food deserts ensue.

Also hidden are the opportunities to invest. The ten investment super sectors bury food and agriculture investments under Consumer Discretionary and Consumer Staples sectors—not a likely place to find a juicy, local food and farming investment opportunity or related infrastructure.

Taking Action For A Healthy Pulse

If I start with my personal health, I am not abdicating my own personal power – I am advocating for my OWN well-being. But when I cease to support my own personal health, I give up power over my own body, and give in to processed foods that make me sick. How do I grow a sense of self-confidence and what it means to stand in my own power while developing relationships with other people concerned with the food system?

As a food activist, I step up as a social, economic and democratic player and healer who works persistently and strategically to achieve my own and my community’s health interests. The cure to economic inequality and unconscious political power is realized through our own individual and community choices, actions, responsibility, and persistence. It starts with me. Ways I can reclaim my power include:

  • See propaganda for what it is – manipulation to buy more. Get away from the TV. Go for a hike. Come home and chop fresh vegetables you got from the Farmers’ Market or grew in a community garden. Have a potluck dinner party — split up the labor and DINE in community!
  • Use my eight kinds of capital – my intelligence, education, experience, assets (including money), as well as my time and my abilities to enroll others, to teach, and to draw on natural capital. As activists in political processes, I can use my full capital to support those representatives aligned with my values.
  • Buy local – locally grown food supports my farmers, my health, and my communities. Find a local farmer’s market or ask your grocer where s/he sources fruit and vegetables. Try to buy as locally as you can. If the farmers sell non-GMO, organic fruit, buy it and preserve it.
  • Invest in food and farming enterprises – Anyone can join. Slow Money, a growing movement of people investing as if food, farming and fertile soil matters.
  • Go outside….touch a plant….feel the pulse of life.Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 2.23.18 PM

I am my pulse.
I am pulse as I am interconnected with all living systems.
I am interdependent with living systems
I am alive!