By Stephanie Hiller
The United Nations Food System Summit (UNFSS) that wrapped up its flashy tents at the end of September was a masquerade, a thin porridge where a real meal was urgently called for, serving up in bold colors the dramatic conflict between family food producers and corporate agribusiness, a true class struggle between the poor 99 percent and the Masters now cleverly concealing themselves behind a thick curtain of deception.
Which side wins this global food fight will determine what kind of food we will find on the shelves at the grocery store.
Here in Sonoma County, with its long tradition of ranches, dairies and orchards, we enjoyed the resurgence of small organic farming in the 1970s, with the emergence of a new agrarian culture inspired by Rodale and Wendell Berry and the back-to-the-land movement. It was associated with holistic medicine, illegal pot and the sprouting of new/old spiritual practices like yoga, meditation and drumming circles.
Altogether, this emerging rural counter-culture represented a rejection of modern society and an attempt to create a viable alternative without engaging in political machinations and conflicts.
But the modern world intruded. What was once a beautifully underdeveloped region with relatively low real estate prices and little river towns with unpaved streets has become wine country; and with the industrial farming of wine grapes has come tourism, escalating land prices, and cute little cities like Sonoma, with its “small town flavor” and $500,000 budgets.
All this has happened in my lifetime – indeed, in the second half of my life. I moved to Occidental with my family in 1989 and watched the world turn. And I loved it here! I felt I had found my true home in a place where the future was still possible. Because the future was already in doubt; 1989 had blasted the news of climate change starting with Bill McKibben’s article in the New Yorker, “The End of Nature.”
The clash of an earthbound low income, real country lifestyle with a new, affluent technocratic commercial culture (desperately devouring what it is seeking and cannot produce on its own, an authentic connection with nature and self) is not peculiar to rural Sonoma County but rather is emblematic of what is happening worldwide, reaching from Washington into the heart of Africa, while the earth shudders, its cry of climate disruption and planetary destruction largely unheeded. It is the Big Story of our time and place, but not one to which we are paying a lot of attention so long as the economy continues to pulse, and since the pandemic, money is more important than ever.
Besides, we tend to take our food supply very much for granted. We love our farmers’ markets, so much more nurturing – in most cases – than visits to the supermarket, and we’re proud of our glorious varied produce, and wines. And hey, there’s food on the table, though not for all of us – every night of the week.
Few are paying attention to the UN Food System Summit recently concluded in New York city, and it’s not just us – the media appears to be largely uninterested. But this was not your everyday UN meeting (there are so many of them, so tedious) – this one betokens what could be the turning of the tide for our food system.
Real food is in danger of being usurped by artificial intelligence operating farmerless farms and much of our digitized food production taking place in laboratories, where, if Bill Gates has his way, synthetic breast milk will be one of the products.
Yes, the people who are taking the reins of our food system have no use for nature, and that includes Mom.
The much-touted by under-reported United Nations Food Systems Summit was a joke. It was a fundraiser for AGRA, another product of Bill Gates mechanistic imagination, an attempt to run a Green Revolution one more time, this time for Africa, the last jewel in the emperor’s crown.
But worse that that, it was a coup, a takeover of the United Nations system by some of the biggest, most powerful, transnational agricultural corporations in the world. Unless the surging family farm movement, in alliance with nature, can defeat them, the UNFSS is our future.
But it’s going to have to get political.
Instead of harnessing a horse to the plow, as Wendell Berry urged, we will see genetically modified foods, data-driven Artificial Intelligence mechanisms, fake (not exactly “plant-based”) meat and dairy, all overseen and run by a small handful of giant corporations manipulating the market.
As Vandana Shiva put it, in a talk in Vermont in 2017, “Big data in a big ocean of ignorance is just more ignorance.”
Under the guise of producing food for the projected 10 billion earth-residents of the future, and “ending hunger,” the corporations are on their way to controlling food. And “to control the food,” as Kissinger once said, “is to control the world.”
Are we going to let them? Formerly a-political family farmers are organizing. They boycotted the UN food conference, accusing UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres of selling out to the corporate sector and stripping its own organizations of power in deference to major ag corporations with their high tech solutions to the “problem” of hunger.
It is a problem, growing daily, especially since the pandemic; but agribusiness technology is not the answer.
It’s a big topic, so I’m going to try to cover it in phases. First I’ll explain how farming is connected to the biggest issue of our time, climate change. Then I’ll outline the evidence that the food system summit has been the victim of a corporate takeover, not only of the food sector, but eventually of the organization so loathed by the capital-intensive sector of Trump & Company, the UN itself. Republicans don’t like the UN, they don’t like to get their hands in the “dirt,” they disdain the poor, the illiterate and the colored, and this move to get control of the one international body in human history certainly conforms to their agenda of devouring the world.
Indeed, with all its agencies and masses of reports and investigations, the United Nations could use a makeover; but in this time of global crises like Covid-19 and climate change, it’s the only worldwide human rights-based organization that we have, and turning it over to Nestle and Bayer, Chevron and Shell, and others chiefly responsible for planetary destruction is not the solution. Sharing some of the evidence for their culpability and power-mongering will be the subject of my third offering.
Next, I’ll take a look at the people’s movement that is urgently trying to stop this international (or supranational) coup.
We’ll come back to the bucolic vision of a green earth community birthed, in part, in our home county, to see what viable structures, if any, are possible, workable, and maybe even necessary as climate change continues to disrupt our increasingly automated life. Because the corporate plan? It just might fail.
I’ve been working on this story much of the summer, and gathered a lot of material that shows what is going on. So please stay with me. I’ll try to churn out one installment per week. This is about our food. Do you want it to come from the earth or from a test tube in a laboratory owned by Bill Gates, marketed by Amazon and fueled by Shell?
As all the movements have been telling us, it’s going to take a huge outcry from people all over the world to stop this humungous bulldozer before the planet burns and it’s too late.
We’ve just got to figure out how to do that! With the earth on our side.