Back in the day when you could eat a beefsteak tomato like a ripe apple and not die from pesticide, the “farm stand” was a common sight. You’d find dozens of them a short ride out of town to the nearby truck farms, as they were called, where the outdoor tables would groan from freshly picked corn, tomatoes, beans and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Few reminiscences date me more than that one! Today, the small family farms that used to feed the nearby city are a vestige of bygone days.
Today the food we eat is just another monetized commodity. Chew on these facts:
- Tyson Foods and three other meatpackers control 60% of the poultry market.
- Three global giants, Tyson (again), JBS (Brazil) and Smithfield (China) control 85% and 75% respectively of the beef and pork consumption.
- Four multinational grain traders control 90% of the global grain market, Cargill, ADM, Bunge and Dreyfus.
- Two-thirds of the world market for seeds is controlled by Corteva (US) and three other chemical conglomerates.
- John Deere and an Italian conglomerate manufacture half of the US market for tractors and farm machinery and restrict repair and service to their own ‘authorized’ dealers.
Plus this little known factoid – the largest owner of US agricultural land is none other than Bill Gates, whose holdings in a dozen states are equivalent to a 400-square mile farm, about four times the size of sprawling Seattle.
The shills for corporate America have brainwashed us into accepting the concept that consolidation is the formula for economic efficiency. And as a result, monopolies have a stranglehold on every component of the economy. The so-called ‘virtues’ of capitalism simply do not extend to those of us who have spent our lifetimes “working for a living.”
Why am I writing about this, sounding like Bernie Sanders on steroids, when the column is about adding joy and meaning to life and cheating death by living every day to the fullest?
Because we seniors have lived long enough to recognize the remorseless incursion of greed-driven materialism that has replaced person to person compassion in support of the social good. We have seen the de-humanizing cost inherent to mergers and economies of scale. And the tipping point has been reached, 99% of the world’s wealth now owned by an elite 1% of the population. This is obscene.
We can’t stand by as half the country remains deluded by an illusionary “American Dream” and directs their passions and votes to the support of politicians and policies that are against their interests!
I point to the recent failure of labor to unionize the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, as a case in point. Beyond the 6,000 workers at the warehouse, there are 1,300,000 employees getting a paycheck from the retail colossus. That is the population of a large city! My question is, who will these workers turn to when Artificial Intelligence takes another 40,000,000 jobs out of the workplace in the next decade?
It’s the soul of America that must be re-awakened by the wisdom and insight of its elders. Soul is what this post is all about. Change can occur when we insist that corporations no longer thrive by omitting the cost of social consequences in the price tag for their products and services. What would a ton of coal cost if added to the price was the number of miners crippled or dead from lung disease! Society is paying the real cost of economy of scale in the rising number of broken lives.
I have personally witnessed the annual wheat harvest that starts with incalculable numbers of reapers in a row, starting in Texas and sweeping across the upper range into Canada. Efficient to the max. But look closely and one also sees the lonesome grave markers and crumbling farmhouses in their path.
The 14th Amendment holds that corporations enjoy most of the rights and responsibilities that individuals possess. Stuck with that absurd interpretation let’s at least demand they follow the Golden Rule. Surely, they have responsibilities that go beyond the Balance Sheet. How about a simple question of right and wrong and the basic principles of fair and just behavior?
I would suggest the protest begin in the supermarket, where we refuse to accept the tasteless fruits and vegetables coated in wax and shipped from thousands of miles away, ripening in route weeks before their natural harvest date. Half of America has never tasted a fresh strawberry! Or had a peach melt in the mouth, only hours from the limb.
The conversation would be considerably more pleasant if seated across the dinner table was a farm family talking about the kids’ school and the county fair and the warp and weft of the American quilt.
Acknowledgment to a longtime hero of mine, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, author of the monthly newsletter “The Hightower Lowdown.”