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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Corporate food, Part 2

People of conscience were appalled by President Trump’s proposal that the benefits disbursed by SNAP (formerly food stamps) be converted from cash cards usable at grocery stores to bags of selected packaged goods.

Rightly so. It would mean a gutting of the program on which more than 44 million Americans depend for their daily meals. But to attribute Trump’s motive entirely to his meanness and his party’s long-standing budget priorities is to miss a point relevant to the subject of my last column and this: withdrawing from corporate agriculture.

We already are. And one consequence is that the sales of giant food processors are falling. Over the past three years, Campbell Soup Co.’s revenues fell by an annual average of 1.5 percent, Kellogg’s 3.9 percent, General Mills’ 4.5 percent, and Coca Cola’s 8.4 percent. Trump is a despicable man, but he’s also clever. On top of the subsidies already included in the Farm Bill, he’s proposing that the more than $70 billion of SNAP money be pumped into industrialized agriculture.

It requires more welfare because it’s losing share in the free market. People are growing more of their own food, buying locally sourced foods at farmers markets and co-ops, and shopping on the perimeter instead of the center aisles of supermarkets. That last trend will spiral as store managers respond by expanding the fresh foods areas and shrinking the space for packaged products.

We can’t all be growers, and few of us can supply all our food. But even if we can only grow in a few pots, I recommend it. More than the small dent it makes in the dominant supply system, it reconnects us to the soil, the sun, water and life’s germ pool. Now that the community and school garden movements are ubiquitous, every American child’s relationship with nature can be redirected from alienation and domination to participation and stewardship.

I can’t pass up this chance to extol the Jackson County Master Gardener Association, housed at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Service in Central Point. Even if you aren’t as fortunate as I was to be able to take its entire course — 14 weekly classes and 70 hours of practicum — visit its website to learn about its one-off classes like grape pruning, its annual Winter Dreams Summer Gardens Symposium, and its Spring Garden Fair held the first weekend in May at the county fairgrounds, the perfect place to buy your warm-weather starts.

We are all consumers, so every day we have opportunities to withdraw from the dominant culture. Regarding food consumption, eating lower on the food chain is meaningful in several ways, and we can be choosy about the animal proteins we consume (last week I provided data on energy inputs for various ones). So is eating food sourced closer to home (which entails willingness to forego out-of-season produce). So is avoiding pre-processed and heavily packaged foods.

I haven’t yet addressed the injustice of corporate agriculture, but I’ll end with it. Food production was a key component of colonial oppression, and remains so under neo-liberalism. The confiscation of indigenous lands, the displacement of small landowners, the exploitation of landless laborers are all mixed into the food we buy. We must read labels, not only to avoid GMO grains and factory-farmed animals, but also to support fair trade. A simple but meaningful action would be to avoid fast-food hamburgers like the plague.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.