Subversive Plots: Grow Your Own Food to Disconnect From the Industrial System

Take control of your food supply, enjoy better flavor and nutrition, and reject a flawed system — by growing your own food or buying locally grown food.

| August/September 2012

These days, gardening is a subversive act. Food is more than just a form of energy. Food is the fuel our bodies run on, and it’s a form of power. When you learn how to grow your own food and you encourage others to do the same, you are taking power back into your hands — power over your diet, your health and your wallet.

What’s subversive about this is that power is a zero-sum game. If we’re giving power to one group in society, we’re taking it away from another. Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen food power become concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands. In the average grocery store, a shopper has access to nearly 30,000 products. The majority of these are produced by large companies, often with help from their high-ranking regulatory friends.

Our Flawed Industrial Food System

The problem with this increasingly industrial food system is that it isn’t working out very well for people or the planet. Concentrating food power into fewer hands has resulted in increased food insecurity. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of hungry people in the world stands at nearly 1 billion, which is roughly 150 million more than were hungry about 20 years ago. In a parallel yet inverse universe, more than 1 billion people eat too much of the wrong foods, as evidenced by escalating rates of diabetes and obesity.

The challenge we face is not simply producing more and healthier food, but producing more food with less: less oil, less land, less water, less time and a less stable climate. Professor David Pimentel, a food and energy researcher at Cornell University, estimates that the United States burns 10 calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of food energy produced. If the entire world were to eat in the same energy-hungry way as the United States, humanity would exhaust all known global fuel reserves in just over seven years.

Farmland is also in limited supply and faces multiple pressures, including suburban sprawl in rich countries, desertification in poor ones and price speculation everywhere. Less climate stability and less water are two faces of the same coin, with the number of extreme weather events — such as catastrophic droughts — up sharply over the past several years.

Not Enough Time

On the issue of time, we’ve taken a corporate approach to how we feed ourselves by outsourcing food production to Kraft and ConAgra and Burger King and Subway, to name but a few. The American family averages about 30 minutes a day for cooking and cleanup.

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