Reviewed By: Ansley Roche
The End of Food: How the Food Industry is Destroying our Food Supply
Written by: Thomas F. Pawlick
(Barricade Books 2006)
Some science fiction writers, Margaret Atwood for example, incorporate the latest scientific advances as material for their stories. In Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
, a silk-spinning gene of a spider is combined with the DNA of a sheep. The sheep produces obscenely large quantities of silk during milk production. What might have seemed like the most far-fetched part of the tale was actually the part most grounded in truth. An article in the New York Times Magazine
reported this very scientific advance not one year before it appeared in Oryx and Crake
. The line between science fiction and reality blurs every so often, and we struggle to relocate ourselves in reality.
Thomas F. Pawlick, an investigative science journalist, predicts a rather sinister science fiction-like future in his heavily footnoted The End of Food if we don’t act to stop the way large corporations run the agricultural industry. An experienced organic farmer, Pawlick understands how a farm should run. Farmers have an intimate relationship with the farmland, and Pawlick opens our eyes to a bygone farming tradition.
Crop rotation, for example, is a technique used to replenish lost nutrients in the soil while producing multiple crops. Certain crops, such as corn, that use up the nitrogen in the soil should be followed by crops that “fix,” or replace nitrogen, like legumes. Large corporations see this as a waste of time. The remedy then is to plant one crop per farm area. Since the soil will eventually be sapped of any nutrients, inorganic and expensive fertilizers must be used. Discovering what these fertilizers do to the environment is up to the Erin Brokoviches of the world.
Corporations, it turns out, have a lot of say in the genetic makeup of the crops. We tend to think our produce can keep us healthy, but Pawlick points out that even vegetables are being robbed of nutrients. Tomatoes, at one time a great source of vitamin A (good for eyesight) and C (fights diseases), now contain “30.7% less vitamin A and 16.9% less vitamin C” than they did in 1963. Meanwhile, the lipid (fat) content has increased by 65%, and sodium has also increased by 200%! We now know the types of health problems that diets high in fats and sodium can cause.
When corporations decide what is important in, say, the perfect tomato, they see uniformity in size, uniformity in color, high yield, firmness, resistance to disease, and heat tolerance. They don’t consider taste or nutrition. Perhaps in all of the selective breeding for exterior perfection, the inside of the tomato has become nothing more than support for that lovely exterior. “Red tennis balls” is what Pawlick likes to call them.
Yes, Pawlick tells a foreboding story, but he offers us numerous ways to combat the apparent decline in our food supply. The last chapter lists organizations and books on growing your own garden and making use of any space you may have, whether it be an acre or a windowsill. Pawlick also reminds us that politics is still the power of the people. Starting locally can get your voice all the way to Capitol Hill.
Pawlick’s The End of Food
stirs feelings of sadness at the current situation, anger towards those who have made the food industry what it is today, and determination to change the way we produce food. Our world could look like a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale
, but not if we begin to make change in our own backyards.
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