This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About This Issue
‘Science for the People’ Vol. 11, No. 3, May/June 1979, p. 4
This issue was edited by a collective of Ann Arbor SftP members. This is the third issue of SftP to be edited outside of Boston, the first being the May 1974 and the September 1975 issue, both edited by members of the Stony Brook chapter. Our intent was to unify the various issues involved in food production, issues which are often analyzed in isolation and, therefore, incompletely or incorrectly. Yet, a variety of viewpoints are presented here. We trust that this diversity will stimulate debate and result in clarification of the issue rather than in confusion.
The first article is about the mechanization of tomato harvesting in Ohio. It was written by members of the Ann Arbor SftP FLOC Support Group drawing upon their two years of work with FLOC. The authors make the point that farmworkers and small farmers have the same enemy—the canneries. It is perhaps a reflection of the frustration that comes from a purely support position that the authors give consumers a key role in changing the relationship between labor and capital, instead of recognizing that such a role belongs ultimately to the workers.
Lauren Goldfarb writes on aspects of community canning in her article entitled “Del Monte—Move Over!” The canning operations she visited have, she believes, great potential for aiding both small farmers and consumers, while at the same time wresting some control from large corporate canneries. While we agree that community canning has promise for some small farmers and consumers, we are skeptical of her implication that it can have any significant impact on major agribusiness corporations such as Del Monte. Nevertheless, this article represents a major current of thought in the food movement, whose implications should be discussed and debated.
The most striking example of the possibility of alternatives to our present system of food production and distribution in the West is that of the People’s Republic of China. Two members of the Science for the People delegation which visited China in 1978, Mike Hansen and Steve Risch, compare the food systems of China and the United States, discussing such issues as how decisions are made, agricultural production methods. and food distribution. They emphasize that the differences between the two countries are not merely questions of agriculture, but depend on basic differences in the organization and distribution of power. They also mention recent changes in China and how likely these are to alter the system they describe in pursuit of “modernization”.
In a format borrowed from Studs Terkel, the editors have tried to convey some of the concerns, beliefs, and feelings of some of the people who produce our food. This was done through interviews and appears as “People Who Produce Your Food Speak”. Farmworkers, farmers, and a corporate executive speak about their participation in the food system. These are the people whose labor puts the cornflakes, sugar, and milk on your breakfast table.
In his article about the use of food as a weapon, Mark Wilson utilizes a Marxist analysis to expose the underlying operation of the food system. But the analysis perhaps will be disappointing tor some, since the practical program of action does not follow as easily as one would like from the analysis. Probably we need to engage in much more political thought and discussion to come up with a more explicit “what is to be done”.
Phil Balla reviews the recent book by poet and farmer Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. Berry denounces modern trends in American farming with both emotion and evidence, and Balla emphasizes the relevance of his critique to the quality of rural life and community in general. More could be added to the analysis of course, and in fact Berry’s book could be read as a set of unconscious variations on a phrase of Marx: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the labourer”.
A related subject is the enormous increase in the use of pesticides in recent years, discussed by Deborah Letourneau in her review of Robert van den Bosch’s book The Pesticide Conspiracy. The reasons are shown to be not merely technical ones of what is the best way to kill insects, but rather economic and social, involving corporate monopolies, farm labor unions, academic consultants, and government favoritism of large agribusinesses. While again the book does not have as much integrated analysis of the entire situation as one might like, it nevertheless is a passionately written indictment of the way agribusiness has come to power.