organic, local, fair-trade, blah blah blah
Perhaps it was watching a garden grow in my backyard in Zomba before the rains even began (yikes, the water bill)… or maybe it was growing up in a place that has more industrial than non-industrial farming going on. But, after nearly a decade of caring about whether my food was “organic” or “local” enough, I recently decided it was more a marketing gimmick and political position than it was a healthy food choice. As for whether my tea and coffee purchases are “fair trade”, my recent visit to a fair trade tea producer in Malawi has convinced me that the definition for fair trade doesn’t meet the standards I’d require for using such a label as an information shortcut about which companies I should be patronizing. Who knew Mother Jones would ever publish an article that might encourage someone to buy non-organic from a chain grocer?
The MJ article even gives brief mention of the possible future of GMOs being a necessity by quoting David Swenson, an Iowa State economist:
Most organic farmers, for example, know that the legacy of conventional farming means that “it is virtually impossible to keep certain nonorganic substances out of the production processes, including modified genes.”
During my time in Malawi, I had the good fortune of having tea with Stephen Carr, formerly the World Bank’s principal agriculturalist in sub-Saharan Africa (I would say retired, but he seems too busy to be “retired”). In addition to learning a lot about Malawi’s fertilizer subsidy program, I enjoyed most about our conversation a discussion about the use of GMOs. He made the case for GMOs much like Robert Paarlberg does in Starved for Science: we don’t mind genetic engineering when it comes to medicine, but keep it out of our food? My thought is being anti-GMO is a luxury that only well-fed Westerners can enjoy.
The MJ article gives me hope that our debate about feeding the world can be more intelligent and nuanced than it has in the past.