Who are the Elite?

We’re attacked. Not only us, but you, too. And other farmers and food consumers like you and I. Accused! Blamed to be elitists for producing and/or consuming real food. Due to adhering to—and acting upon— the belief that food is a you-get-what-you-pay-for object like many other consumables we purchase. Woe is us! What a better-than-thou principle we hold to!

But wait. What is elitism? My thesaurus defines it as; the belief that some people or things are inherently superior to others and deserve preeminence, preferential treatment, or higher rewards because of their superiority. Is that an indicting belief? I do admit—and know some of you will agree—to believing that certain foods (things, as stated in the definition) are “inherently superior to others”. Guilty on that count. However, I’m unwilling to accept myself as an elitist for preferring clean food that I know the source of. The way I see it, it’s not that we’re paying such an exorbitant price for food. But because of our desire to be familiar with our food and purchase it from a trustworthy source, we’re obligated to pay the true cost of it. What’s more, due to the many hidden costs of industrial farming and food production—including cleaning up after it—we also pick up part of the tab the rest of the population leaves on the table. It’s not unlike those of us who prefer schooling our kids alternatively—either in private schools or at home. We bear the cost of alternative education, plus pay our portion of the cost of public education when we pay our property taxes or rent. While I do not necessarily have a problem with that, neither do I see it as elitist.

One of the oft-heard pushbacks targeting our method of farming and food production is that organic or local foods are unattainable to mainstream America. It’s essentially an argument to support cheap food. If it were possible to accurately trace the cost of modern day processed foods, including the exorbitant cost of healthcare—the entity riding the other end of the food see-saw. In that light, I am certain we would find local direct-from-the-producer foods to be very affordable.

Is elitism reduced to the buying habits of a person who purchases items that are more expensive than others deem necessary? If so, an examination of what is considered expensive is in order. Is the retail sticker price the final denominator, or should other factors be taken into the picture? In the food equation, this should include factors of whether a society should rely so heavily on a food system largely made up of monocrops like corn and soybeans, considering these crops are financially subsidized—with your and my tax dollars—by the federal government, resulting in being the most widely propagated crops in the nation. Factors like ever increasing food-borne disease and antibiotic resistant pathogens that are a direct result of drug overuse in food animals, only to cross over to humans and threaten the effectiveness of medicinal antibiotics. Things like the 700-some riparian dead zones across the country, a result of poisonous agricultural runoff that over-stimulates algae growth and suffocates all other marine life. What of the ongoing costs incurred in the attempt to clean up rivers and bays in these watersheds that are have become the toilets of food production. How about we factor in food and agriculture as the entity taking one-fifth of our national oil consumption and plays a huge part in foreign policy and relations with oil-rich nations in the Mid-East, an interest defended by our national military.

What it elitism? Is it best portrayed by those of us who make conscious decisions in favor of nutrition versus the mere retail sticker price of food? Or is it better represented on the other side? A number of monikers fit, but I prefer calling it Big Food. This encompasses not only status quo food production—which is to say the decrease of farm numbers for increasingly few mega-farms. This may sound positive depending on how we view it, but the trend toward larger corporate farms is giving us more chemicalization and poorer land stewardship. It gave us volumes of food regulations (in the name of food safety, mind you), most of it skewed toward the alternative artisan foods many people desire (the competition). It brought us the demise of many small-scale community based meat processors, allowing consolidation (monopoly?) which results in the majority of America’s meat being in the hands of four corporations who have the capacity for thousands of animals per day, hurting both the consumer and the producer. Big Food and its fraternity with the bio-tech community and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) presents us with rampant digestive disorders such Crohn’s disease, Celiac’s disease, leaky gut, and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as mental conditions like bipolar, dementia, Alzheimers, etc.. Of course, no one can pin it on them, but we can’t deny that these were not familiar words in our vocabulary 30 years ago.   
    
With that, let’s pose the question again; Who are the elite? And that’s the View from the Country.

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