+ Oklahoma City Catholic Worker + Waste not, want not + Fall 2002 + Page 6

Oklahoma Food is the Best for our families!

The Catholic Church has long recognized the importance of rural life, and considers the small family farmer to be indispensable to the health and well-being of the community. One of our priorities is nurturing a local Oklahoma food system. We now publish an Oklahoma Food Guide, which is available on the internet at www.oklahomafood.org . Here are eight reasons why buying food directly from farmers is good for this community.

1. It keeps money in the local community. A large proportion of the money spent on food each year in Oklahoma leaves the state almost immediately. When you buy from local producers and processors, that money stays in the local community and benefits everyone.

2. You get better tasting, higher quality, and fresher food. It's not an accident that supermarket tomatoes taste like watery moosh. Agribizness vegetables are grown from varieties selected, not for taste and nutrition, but rather for their abilities to be picked green and shipped long distances.

3. You know where the food is coming from. When you buy hamburger in a supermarket, or from a chain fast food restaurant, who knows how many different animals contributed to your serving, or where they came from, or what conditions they were raised under. When you buy from a local farmer and deal with a local custom butcher, you can see everything for yourself. No mixing of the meat of animals from many different states plus foreign countries.

4. If we don't support family farmers, there won't be another generation of family farmers. The last twenty years have been hard on family farmers. The average age of an Oklahoma farmer is 61. Government policies that are supposed to help family farmers turn out to have the perverse consequence of encouraging consolidation and larger operations. Billions of government dollars are funding the displacement of the family farmer. Hidden behind these statistics are the brutal costs economists ignore because they are "off the balance sheet". The mother of a woman I dated in junior high school committed suicide when they lost their farm. Ghost towns are dotting the Oklahoma rural landscape.

Consolidation in the food production and distribution system is rampant. A supermarket looks competitive, with many different brands, but in fact most of them come from only 5 companies . A similar consolidation is going on in the retail grocery market, as chains like Albertsons and Wal Mart drive out independent grocers. As long as we pay for this process, it will continue. It is critical that people increase their direct purchases of food products from local farmers and processors so that we can preserve economic diversity and family livelihoods in rural America. We will not like it if the production, processing, and retail distribution of food becomes a locked in monopoly of giant transnational corporations.

5. Meats, eggs, dairy, and poultry from family farmers are produced and processed under more humane and natural conditions than products derived from the "Confined Animal Feeding Operation" industry (CAFO). CAFO animals and birds spend their entire lives in tiny pens under very inhumane conditions. Chickens have their beaks burned off, their cages are stacked so poultry waste falls on the birds below. If there was truth in labelling, supermarket chicken would have a label which read: "Contents: one small tortured bird." Animals are given high dosages of antibiotics, a practice which is contributing to the development of drug resistent strains of infectious bacteria, and most also receive injections of growth hormones. This is not the way our grandfathers treated their animals. But as long as people reward animal cruelty with their grocery dollars, it will continue. It's better to deal directly with farmers whose free ranging flocks and herds produce better quality meats, dairy, poultry, and eggs.

6. Eating is a moral act. Much of our food is imported from foreign countries. In many of those countries, poor farmers have been thrown off their land, with little or no compensation, so that big US companies like Chiquita and Bird's Eye could come in and open factory farms to supply the North American market. Water is diverted from peasant agriculture to these farms, and the people who have farmed the lands for centuries become urban squatters in the big slums on the outskirts of third world countries or farm laborers with wages so low they can't afford to buy the vegetables they grow for the corporations. And so it comes to pass that the fresh salad greens you buy in the snows of the North American winter may indeed have been snatched from the hands and mouths of hungry children in poor countries. Agribizness foods grown in this country are harvested and processed by exploited migrant labor. The workers receive below minimum wage, no benefits, and are exposed to high levels of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. The exploitation of these people is a national scandal, and it is funded by consumer purchases from the agribizness industry.

7. Actions have consequences. Food choices we make have practical consequences. By targeting as much of our grocery dollar as possible towards locally grown, sustainably produced food, we are "voting" for more prosperity, security, and a higher quality of life. Our grandparents knew the importance of supporting the local business community, and that includes the farmers. Food is such a critical aspect of life that we would be foolish to turn the food producing and distribution system entirely over to agribizness. The right to choose means little if all the choices are dictated by faceless corporations with offices on five continents. The wave of the future is direct local relationships between rural producers and urban consumers.

8. Buying local food is one way to live the Church's teachings on environmental stewardship. Conventional factory farming is not good for the environment. The loss of topsoil is a major issue throughout farm country. Pesticides and herbicides are poisoning the environment. Buying food directly from local farmers is one way to encourage sustainable farming practices, which minimize or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

For more information about buying local Oklahoma food, visit http://www.oklahomafood.org or contact us at 405.557.0436