"What on Earth Are We Eating and Drinking?"
Joint Session with Anglicans and Lutherans
July 7, 2001, Waterloo, Ontario
Welcome to this directed lunch of food and water, to this production of "What on earth are we eating and drinking?"
You are invited to enter into this time as an opportunity for hospitality and sharing, for reflection and learning, for thanksgiving and conversation.
Before we ask for a blessing on this place and this food, take a few minutes to greet each other. Learn each other's name, what part of the country or world you are from, and perhaps say something about a favourite food in your household, community, or culture.
Take a few minutes to look at what you have. If you're a vegetarian and got meat, trade with someone else! If you have food sensitivities, allergies, or preferences, do what you need to assemble a meal you can eat. While you're sorting things out, what do you notice about what's in your box? What observations do you have for what you are about to receive?
Martin Luther King once said, "Before you've finished breakfast this morning, you've depended on half the world." Well, it's lunchtime, and we're going to take you on a quick world tour!
Let's start at home. No matter what's inside your sandwiches, they're all made with bread, which of course, is made with wheat. This central part of our daily diet is at the heart of a profound crisis in our country. Did you know that for a $1.50 loaf of bread, the farmer who grew the grain gets nine cents - or just six per cent of the price?
Earlier this year, Manitoba farmers took a "farmer's share" lunch to Ottawa to mark February 6 as Food Freedom Day. Their point was this: by February 6, an average salary earner in Canada has earned enough to pay their entire food bill for the entire year. By contrast, it can take to the end of June to earn enough to pay all federal, provincial, and local taxes owed. But farmers' share on food is paid just a few days after the new year - January 9. It only takes nine days to pay farmers for a year's worth of food.
There is a growing gap between consumer food expenditures and the final amount farmers receive as income. This is because of radical changes going on in the way our food is grown, produced, processed, distributed, marketed. (We'll hear more from Chris Lind and Cam Harder later on in this presentation.)
How many of you got fish sandwiches? Probably tuna. Enjoy some globalization in a can! Tuna is a popular sandwich filler for North Americans. Over half the tuna caught in the South Pacific is shipped to the U.S. Your tuna may have been harvested in the South Pacific, shipped to Thailand, bought on the spot market, canned in a plant leased to one corporation, then labelled and distributed by another.
Sound complicated? It is! There's more. Canneries founded in Puerto Rico in the 1970s lost an average of 1000 jobs a year in the 1980s when tuna processing shifted to American Samoa where fish canners enjoyed favourable tax rats, easy export to the US, and cheaper labour. In the 1990s, Asian based firms bought two of the big three canned tuna companies - Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea. Half of the world's tuna is caught in the South Pacific, but 95 percent of the profits of fishing tuna go to the US, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Just three corporations supply 90 per cent of the fish that makes up the North American icon - the tuna fish sandwich.
And speaking of fish, many people here will have experienced the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland in 1992, throwing between 30,000 and 40,000 people out of work. That fishery had sustained hundreds of communities in the province, and its disappearance was devastating. It seems we still have much to learn - witness the difficulties in British Columbia with declining salmon stock and now the concerns about the effect of shrimp drag netting on crab stocks.
How many of you got meat sandwiches? In a world where an estimated one in every six people goes hungry each day, the politics of meat consumption are increasingly heated. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain - which is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world's poor.
Global meat consumption is highly concentrated, dominated by only a few nations. The United States, China, Brazil, and the European Union consume 60 per cent of the world's beef, over 70 per cent of the world's poultry, and over 80 per cent of the world's pork.
And there is growing consumer concern about food safety and animal welfare. In North America, the risk of food-borne illnesses has become a daily occurrence. The European beef industry suffered a virtual collapse following the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or "mad cow disease") crisis. In January 1999, Canada declined to approve the use of Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, because of concern over the drug's impact on animal health and welfare.
Reducing global meat consumption even slightly among the affluent offers win-win solutions to a range of pressing global problems. In industrial nations, it would help to ease the health care burden by improving public health. Declining livestock herds would take pressure off rangelands and grain lands, allowing the agricultural resource base to rejuvenate. Lowering meat consumption worldwide would allow more efficient use of declining per capita land and water resources, while making grain more affordable to the world's chronically hungry.
Are you enjoying your carrot and celery sticks?
Did you know that baby carrots aren't baby carrots at all? They're regular carrots grown not to taper, cut into three pieces, lathed into uniform widths, and put through a peeler and polisher system. "They first came out in 1985 and really took off" says the marketing director of Grimmway Farms, based in California, whose carrots wind up in Master Choice bags sold at Dominion Stores in Toronto. "It just amazes me that people still think that baby carrots are just that!"
Do any of you buy pre-cut celery sticks in those nice re-closable bags? The rise of two-worker households and the demise of home cooked meals have changed the way food is consumed and produced in North America - largely to the detriment of farmers. The growing popularity of convenience foods now influences how we buy even simple vegetables. Over-processing and over-packaging of produce unnecessarily increases the cost of the food with no benefit to the farmer.
Another thing about vegetables. More interest in healthy eating habits has had an important effect - over the past 20 years the production of fruits and vegetables in the US has expanded by two thirds. More than 85 per cent of the fruits and vegetables grown there are hand harvested or cultivated And most of those who migrate to find work - about 40 per cent of the workforce - shuttle between home in the southern U.S. or Mexico and fields farther north. They struggle with seasonal labour, low wages, poor housing, and work related health problems.
One of the fastest growing imported food "commodities" in Canada is fruit. Imports of fruit have doubled since 1985. In 1995, Canada purchased 60% of its fruit from the U.S., and the remaining 40% from countries in the South - primarily in Latin America. We are beginning to understand the serious environmental and human impacts resulting from commercial fruit growing in these countries. We now know that large-scale production of fruit results in:
Did you get a banana in your lunch box? The New Internationalist calls it a "hapless, unblemished, tasteless, erotic fruit conjured into an image that people wish to consume in ever-increasing billions. Those Chiquita banana trucks conceal more than they reveal - poison, slavery, and environmental destruction.
When you include the environmental and socio-economic costs of producing this fruit for northern markets, bananas are a steal - from the local people, the land, and the rivers. I know one woman who says she hasn't eaten a banana for twenty years because she feels she can't do sow without contributing to the exploitation of people and the earth. An alternative to the extreme position of giving up bananas is to buy fairly traded fruits that are bought directly from democratically organized small farmers' cooperatives at a guaranteed price that covers the cost of production and a basic living wage.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Think again. Apples are among the most contaminated fruits. 98 per cent of all apples have pesticides on them - four per apple on average.
One of the main arguments for the continuing use of pesticides is that they increase crop yields. But at what price? The rise of the pesticide industry is one of the factors that has helped to transform agriculture into agribusiness - to the detriment of small farmers who farm more ecologically but just as productively.
Water is so fundamental that humanity defines it in many ways. To science, it is the combination of hydrogen and oxygen that produces a liquid essential to life - the medium for nearly all chemical reactions in living organisms. In ecclesiastical terms, water is a symbol of cleansing, renewal, acceptance and rebirth - an emblem of faith in the future.
But this necessity of life is not evenly distributed around the globe. Canada is blessed with the world's biggest freshwater supply. Until recently, we have taken that blessing for granted. But our complacency has been challenged as communities in Canada contend with the fallout of poisoning water supplies with everything from toxic waste to fertilizers, pesticides and raw sewage. Towns such as Walkerton, North Battleford, and most recently Charlottetown have felt the heavy toll exacted by such abuses.
Human beings are bungling their stewardship of freshwater resources. If growth trends persist, industrial water consumption may double in 25 years. As food demand rises, so does the need for irrigation, which now accounts for greater than half of all water consumption. Pollution is a major contributor to supply problems. Global warming has caused the Earth's atmosphere to retain more and more water in vapour form, a state that reduces the amount of water that exists in the liquid form.
But is putting water in a bottle and selling it for a price greater than a similar bottle of your favourite soft drink the answer? (Cynthia Patterson will have more to say in her presentation about water and how it is increasingly becoming a commodity.)
From a health perspective, this little package is a time bomb. Most of the contents are processed beyond recognition, containing high levels of fat, sodium and preservatives. In the name of convenience, many North American children are eating just this sort of thing on a daily basis.
Beside the obvious health risks related to obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and allergies, this little package of goodies is a waste nightmare. This type of plastic is rarely recyclable in a community program and is unlikely to be biodegradable in a time frame that you and I might experience.
Even biodegradable plastics that readily degrade in the laboratory are unlikely to break down in landfills within any reasonable length of time. Well-operated landfills have uncovered still recognizable newspapers, banana peels and hotdogs - materials that are readily degradable under other conditions. In making plastics, toxic additives such as lead, cadmium pigments, and stabilizers are used. Although these toxicants remain relatively inert in ordinary plastic that ends up as roadside litter or in a landfill, they could pose far greater risks to our health and environment if the plastic "degrades" and releases them.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Refuse to buy over-packaged goods. For plastics, just as for other components of our waste, these are the environmentally sound options.
FREE TRADE COFFEE
Ten Days for Global Justice is a Canadian inter-church coalition and a network of community-based ecumenical groups that works for global justice. Through education and action, TEN DAYS challenges de-humanizing and destructive forces, and empowers people to take action to build a civil society.
Education is most effective when linked to action. The TEN DAYS Action for 1998 was aimed at helping to generate greater public awareness of fair trade alternatives through promotion of the TransFair/Fair TradeMark for coffee. There are now over 70 TransFair/Fair TradeMark certified coffee outlets in Canada and sales of fair trade coffee have tripled in each of the past two years. Small coffee farmers who are part of democratic cooperatives are benefiting from the expansion of the fair trade system which guarantees a minimum floor price, long term contracts and credit, and cuts out the exploitative middle men.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
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