Written five years ago, “Diet for a Dead Planet” seems as timely now as it was even then. I just picked it up at a used book store and finished it in about three weeks. It’s not an easy read and, honestly, in some places its tedious. However, the information presented is excellent and scary, at best.
Chris Cook is, like Michael Pollan, a journalist first. His interest in the meat packing plant’s employment practices lead him to actually expand the scope of his investigation and write this entire book. Here’s an interview with the author, in case you want to hear it from the author himself.
My biggest “take away” from the book was the manipulation of the government, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, of wheat, corn, and soybean farming. As my husband is from a wheat farming family, hearing his take on the issues as well as reading them in this book really uncovered a lot of misconceptions I had about the life of a farmer. Companies like Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, ConAgra, Tyson’s Foods, McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and Safeway really drive what our food culture has become and, in many ways, what it will be if we don’t vote with our own dollars. Many of these companies control farmers in such a way as to create an open-market, slave-labor farming environment. If you don’t do it “their way,” your choice is to strike out on your own.
In the five years between 2002 and 2007 (when the last two Agriculture Census’ were taken), the total number of farms has slightly declined. However, concentration of farms continues at a fast pace. Only 144,000 farms produced 75% of the total food output in the US. Sixty percent of farms owned produced less than $10K income per year. Eighty-three percent, or so, made less than $100k. Where are the subsidies going? To the less-than-10% of farms that made over $1 million per year. These numbers are taken from the USDA’s census on agriculture, found here.
I’m not for a lot of rants here – many more articulate people than I have produced plenty of reporting on the matter. My main goal is to make the public more aware of what is really happening in farming. I think the best way to do that is to not only read books like “Diet for a Dead Planet” but also look at what the USDA is saying about farming in general.
Find a local farmer and hug him. He keeps us humans alive. And chances are, he makes far less than you do. How “off” is that?