In February, a protest took place across the U.S. with the aim of highlighting the problems in food supply. The February 27th protest was called “Occupy Our Food Supply” and was backed by the Rainforest Action Network and figures such as musician Willie Nelson and actor Woody Harrelson along with authors on works to do with the food market, including Raj Patel, Anna Lappé, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Marion Nestle. They see the way that much of the food that travels to the American fork—from the treatment of farmers and their land to the profit sucked up along the supermarket conveyor belt—as just plain wrong.n
These protesters could have been taking it easy at home on that February winter morning. Instead of keeping cozy and lounging around under a thick duvet on an all-natural mattress, they got out onto the streets and did something. The day saw more than 100 events across the globe, with other events in Argentina, Brazil, Hungary, and Ireland. The alliance of groups that participated was said to be “unprecedented”, as more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food, and corporate accountability organizations took part.n
The day of action sought to bring together a number of protest strands: sustainable farming, food justice, buy local, slow food, and a number of environmental movements concerned about damage caused by the food industry from the use of pesticides, over farming, deforestation, and other practices. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to confront the corporate control of the food supply and replace it with healthy, accessible food systems that benefit all.n
Over the last thirty years, food supply in the U.S. has largely become the responsibility of a few giant corporations. Of 40,000 items in a typical U.S. grocery store, over half are now brought there by 10 corporations. What was once the domain of the small-scale farmer and the local market is now under the control of companies making mega bucks. These companies are into high yield and mass productivity. Protecting the workers and environments where the food is grown is not their main concern. Nor is the health of the consumers who buy their products. These companies used 37 million dollars last year alone to lobby against legislation against junk food marketing targeting children. If these funds can be channeled for this purpose, the profits must be neat and the ethics all wrong.n
It’s not just the U.S. All over the world, companies are exhausting resources and damaging the earth in what amounts to a six-trillion-dollars-a-year industry. Vandana Shiva is a prominent Indian activist who has been campaigning on food issues for many years. She says “corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land, and water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed, and distributed.” For 25 years she has worked to claim and bank seeds, countering the drive by companies like Monsanto to genetically engineer and patent seeds. When you consider that over 90% of soybean seeds and 80% of corn seeds used in the U.S. are sold by Monsanto alone, the problem becomes clear.n
The seed took its rightful place on the day of action. Forty activists participated in a symbolic seed exchange in front of the New York Stock Exchange.n
Protesters were also encouraged to set up community gardens in disused parking lots in order to underline the importance of local growing. California saw student and community activists working on a community garden in Berkeley and Oakland.n
The campaign involved many organizations and thousands of people, but was little more than a fly flicked away by the tail of the almighty global food industry. As a step on the road to highlighting the issues, educating people about them, and bringing people together with a common aim, its work is highly important. Yet so much more is to be done. In the meantime, get out and plant some vegetables.n
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