Winona is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. As Program Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. In her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, where she works to protect Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, LaDuke has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. She is the author of five books, including Recovering the Sacred, All our Relations and a novel, Last Standing Woman.
Everyone on the planet requires regular meals every single day of our lives. Despite the incredible importance of food, our North American food system, like much of the rest of the world’s, is dominated by a handful of agricorps that have a very cozy relationship with the U.S. and Canadian governments. This means that decisions are often made that benefit the corporations but not the public. The result is that our food system is very very very broken – and it is affecting our bodies and the health of our planet.
In this 2011 TEDx talk, former food industry analyst Robyn O’Brien discusses her food “wakeup” call and what she is currently doing to alert the rest of us about the sick state of our food.
One of the best interviewers on television, Bill Moyers, speaks to one of the global sustainability movement’s “superstars”, physicist and food activist Vandana Shiva. The discussion is wide-ranging but centers around genetically modified seeds/foods and the fight against corporate agro-giant Monsanto:
These seeds — considered “intellectual property” by the big companies who own the patents — are globally marketed to monopolize food production and profits. Opponents challenge the safety of genetically modified seeds, claiming they also harm the environment, are more costly, and leave local farmers deep in debt as well as dependent on suppliers. Shiva, who founded a movement in India to promote native seeds, links genetic tinkering to problems in our ecology, economy, and humanity, and sees this as the latest battleground in the war on Planet Earth.
A fellow climate activist recently said that climate change is a gift to humanity, if we choose to accept it. What I understand from that is that climate change is a massive wake-up call that we humans need to change the way we are interacting with our ecosystem and with each other. We need to treat our water, air, and dirt with respect, like the life-giving miracles that they are. Are we going to learn this lesson? I don’t know, but (to quote another climate activist) “I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful”. Because shift does happen, and in our global hyper-connected world it can happen with lightening speed.
My journey over the last 2 years as a climate activist has led me to a much greater awareness, for example, of how our food system works – or rather, how dysfunctional it currently is. And part of what I have learned is how we in North America have allowed huge agro-businesses like Monsanto (the former manufacturer of the deadly chemical Agent Orange) to write the food rules about what we are allowed to consume. Monsanto was recently run out of Haiti because the people there, although battered and bruised from their earthquake and living in the most economically depressed country in the Americas, wanted no truck with Monsanto’s “donation” of genetically modified frankenseeds. Yet here in North America, the general public is mostly in the dark about the high prevalence of GM foods in our food system. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, at least 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets now contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. That’s a heck of a lot!
GM foods have had specific changes introduced into their DNA through genetic engineering techniques. For example, by inserting two genes from daffodil and one gene from a bacterium, rice can be enriched with beta-carotene (read more here). Recombinant BGH (“Posilac” by Monsanto Company), a genetically engineered version of a growth hormone that increases milk output in dairy cows by 10 to 30 percent, was unanimously declared unsafe by the United Nations Food Safety Agency in 1999, after they confirmed excess levels of the naturally occurring insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1), including its highly potent variants, in rBGH milk and concluding that these posed major risks of cancer. Luckily here in Canada, the use of rBGH was banned that year, but 12 years later, it is still permitted in the U.S. milk supply.
There is mounting evidence of the widespread use, and potential harm, of GM foods. If you’d like to know more, here are some recent articles:
What I’ve learned is that the only way to ensure that my family and I are not consuming GM foods is to buy fresh produce (either organic or not) and avoid all processed foods that are not labelled “organic”. So there is yet one more reason to buy local produce, if lowering your cholesterol at the same time as lowering your carbon footprint wasn’t enough already!
For the last week, we’ve been enjoying fresh leaf lettuce from our nothern garden. My youngest daughter is a very meticulous cleaner of garden vegetables, which is important when you are eating your own fresh picked lettuce if you don’t want to consume some extra dirt and even the occasional slug in your salad. I did traumatize my family yesterday by accidentally mixing unwashed lettuce with a large bag of already cleaned greens, but no permanent harm was done. We are also eagerly anticipating our first feed of strawberries, as the plants are blossoming and should be ready to be picked in the next week or two. Here are some pictures snapped this morning:
Nobody is more passionate about spreading the message about eating healthy, fresh food than Jamie Oliver. Here he is at last year’s TED Conference, sharing stories about the obesity epidemic and his Food Revolution:
As Jamie says, “it is achievable”. This is true of the Food Revolution, as well as tackling climate change. “Romantic, yes… but it’s about trying to get people to realize that each of your individual efforts make a difference.” Around North America, and around the world, there are plenty of wonderful things going on, and amazing people are doing them. Like Jamie, whose passion comes in large part from being a parent, there are parents out there who are stepping up to protect their children’s future. We CAN do this – remember, Shift Happens.
I’m taking a sabbatical from writing for a while – for how long, I don’t know. I do know that I need a bit of a change/break. In the meantime, I’ll be posting food and gardening related links and videos, as it is summer and the livin’ (and eating) should be easy and good! The quote in today’s headline comes from the documentary “King Corn” that was released in 2007, but is just as relevant four years later:
KING CORN tells the story of two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. As the film unfolds, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-ubiquitous grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find questions about how we eat—and how we farm.