This is why I’ll never understand (food) fanatism

Here’s a new drinking game. First round’s on me if you don’t get drunk.

It is a drinking game about the easiest juxtaposition of them all, Big Agriculture (Big Ag) and genetically modified organism (GMO) proponents against small-scale, (organic) food sovereignty movements (let us call it Small Ag).

The rules are simple:

Are you listening to a talk by someone who fanatically thinks GMOs will save the world? Drink a shot if they mention one of the following words or ideas: population growth, climate change, drought/pest/disease resistant, micronutrient deficiencies, ideological battle, risk free, less pesticides, bigger yields, food crisis, world hunger, micronutrient deficiencies or ‘plant breeding is as old as the human race’.


Or are you commenting on a Facebook discussion in which everyone agrees that small-scale, and only small-scale (preferably organic) agriculture will feed the world? Have a shot if they mention one of these things:

Community, sovereignty, small-scale, organic, agroecology, any quote by Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Bernard Shaw, Farmers’ markets, processed foods, obesity, slow food, terminator seeds, farmer suicides, Frankenfood.


I have intentionally generalized a bit here.

But sadly the discussions I follow on these particular topics are sometimes too easily predictable, merely competitions on who gets the say the last word.

By far the most disturbing aspect of these debates is that we often stick to and justify our opinions by stating that our solutions defend the worlds’ poorest, the worlds’ hungriest.

I find it a new kind of oppression. Let us call it thought imperialism.

The worlds’ poorest  and hungriest will probably not think the way we think they will.

The poor and hungry will disappoint us because they will not always defend our case. (Hey poor dude! Why are you planting GMO corn? I don’t think it is good for you, sign our March Against Monsanto petition here, thanks. Hey poor woman! You got higher yields with this great GMO variety of ours and now you have more money. Why are your children still hungry and not going to school? What’s wrong with you?)

And yet, aren’t we so desperate to be right about some things that we completely close our eyes from other thoughts or ‘thruths’?

Let’s look at some examples in which we claim to to defend the worlds’ poorest.

Naomi Klein offers a solution to the world’s food problem in her new climate change vs. capitalism book This changes everything.  The solution: (drum roll) tan taa taa: we give you AGROECOLOGY! Agroecology is the new magic solution for all our food problems (don’t get me wrong, I love it, I majored in it). As an example she mentions Malawi which has boosted yields with agroecological methods.

Did Naomi Klein know that these yield boosts in Malawi were obtained with heavily subsidized fertilizers and that Malawi is now beginning GMO trials? Taking this into account are Malawi’s efforts in Kleins’ opinion less laudable or less agroecological?

As for GMO proponents, the voices from people cannot be diluted into background noise; people are fully entitled to decide whether they want to consume or farm GMOs or not.

It would also make the whole world-hunger-problem-solving rhetoric of the biggest agribusiness companies more credible if some other crops than alfalfa, canola, corn, soybean, cotton, sorghum, sugarbeets and wheat would be researched and bred on a large scale. The diets of the world’s hungry do not consist merely of these crops nor do we want them to if the decline of crop diversity is to be stopped.

Sticking to one’s opinion is of course not inherently bad. I mean, I’ll always love a good argument. We need those strong opinioned people to stir up discussions. And there are definitely food causes worth fighting for.

But what we need, instead of dangerous stubbornness, is Holistic Ag. Medium Ag. Wise Ag. We’re-all-in-this-together-Ag. Not using-the-poor-and-hungry-as-a-medium-for-our-cause-because-this-is-my-only-truth-Ag.

Does adopting such an approach mean turning into an unopinionated coward? I certainly don’t think so.

What it does mean is a slower processing of any ‘truths’ out there. Absorbing, letting stuff sink in before rushing ahead and telling the world somebody is doing something wrong and that somebody is never ever us.

Wait, there’s a word for that.


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